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Writing about finding your writing voice is strange.
It’s like shopping for shoes for strangers. I don’t know your size, or style, or preferred amount of arch support, so who am I to tell you what to wear? Do you like laces or slip-ons? Are you a steel toe or a sharp heel? A flip-flop or a slipper? Maybe you’re a croc, or you like Velcro — in which case I’m not sure I can help you as you’re clearly not one for taking advice… All I can really do is put a few pairs in a pile and let you see what the options are.
I don’t mean that I’m going to list different writing styles or anything like that. That list would have as many items as there are writers. The whole point of finding a voice in your writing is to craft your own, not merely step into someone else’s shoes. It might help to try on a few well-worn pairs to get a feel for what you like, but if you don’t take the time to understand the particulars about your own taste, you’ll always feel as if you’re speaking for someone else — or walking, if the metaphor helps.
Some people might have a hard time understanding what a writing voice even is, and I wouldn’t blame them. There are no rules when it comes to expressing yourself or conveying information, so who’s to say what’s expected of you?
If you are one to even think about these sorts of things, though, then that’s probably something you should take into consideration. Are you more concerned with how you personally sound in your work, or does the information you’re trying to relay matter more? There’s a line between expressive and informative writing and understanding where you fall on that scale is important. Obviously, the more informative the writing, the less expressive it needs to be, or should be for that matter. You don’t need to hear the hidden pain of the author of your biology textbook when you’re just trying to study for a test, after all.
I’ve had this conversation with myself before and still find it very hard to combine the different styles of writing I like to do. Usually, I have to make the choice between one or the other. Either what I write will be more accessible and function as a tool for others to use as they see fit, or it has the tendency to melt into abstraction and poetic romanticizing. The latter not normally being the one people gravitate to when seeking advice, but learning how to combine my love of creative writing with the utility of genuine advice has made for what I feel is my best and most personalized writing.
It’s this quest for combination that is the main point here. You’ll find over time that your best work comes from being able to unite the best parts of yourself into one coherent and flexible voice.
This also goes back to trying to understand what you want most out of your writing. When you see yourself focusing too much on straight forward information, you may start to feel absent from your own work. Then again, if you find your writing has become so personalized that no one can relate to it, you might be unable to bridge the gap between you and a reader. Everyone has a creative sweet spot in them that is the perfect combination of experience and expression. Understanding the balance between what you’re best at and what needs more attention is the first step to fine-tuning a recognizable writing voice.
I’m sure that there are plenty of people that hold back from putting too much of their personality into their writing because then, if people don’t like what you’ve written, you can just chalk it up to poor writing and not an attack on your personal character. You can just say, “Oh well, maybe next time,” instead of thinking Wow, I must be a stupid and terrible person at my very core. The more of our authentic self we put into our work, the more we risk the pain of personal rejection. It feels like it’s not the topic or subject matter that was rejected, but that we were rejected. It makes it hard to feel as if you can, or even should, put your real self into your work.
The thing is though, when you don’t learn how to open up and allow yourself to become a bit more vulnerable in your writing, the less people are going to feel they can relate to you or that you’re being honest with them.
Voluntary exposure in any artform is the not-so-secret ingredient that we all see and appreciate in the creations of other people, yet when it comes to stepping into that revealing light ourselves, we always want to keep one foot in the dark. The weight of being seen feels heavy, too heavy to bear sometimes, and so we play it safe by sticking to the shadows and only peaking our heads into the limelight occasionally when we need the validation of other people acknowledging that yes, we are, in fact, still here.
It’s a difficult habit to shake when you built up walls around yourself as well as your work, but unless you’re able to access every part of who you are, flaws and fortunes alike, you’ll never be able to give the breath of life to your true writing voice.
People should be able to pick your writing out of a lineup as easily as they could recognize your face against a measured wall in a police station. That way when asked, “Do you recognize any of the convicted authors against the wall, ma’am/sir?” the reader can point confidently in your direction and the other shmucks on either side of you won’t be wrongly convicted of creative credit.
Finding your writing voice may seem like some arduous process, especially for someone who’s just starting to write, but it’s so much easier than most people make it.
It doesn’t have to be some kind of hero’s journey of self-discovery — that part comes later. It should just be a transcription of thought and feeling, making sure not to let one become too deluded in the other. As in, don’t overthink your feelings to death, but don’t mask your emotion with the bland platitudes of the lowest common denominator.
Your writing voice should be a combination of all the best sides of yourself. You don’t want to lean too heavily on one aspect of yourself more than another or you risk becoming trapped on one side of the scale instead of utilizing every color on your artistic spectrum.
Figure out what you’re good at, where you’re holding back, and find the sweet spot between it all that combines your greatest attributes into one utterly unique voice.