6 Tips on Discovering Your Writing Voice

I’ve never been a big U2 fan, but readily admit that they are likely the greatest rock band of my generation.  Whether you’re a fan or not you can’t deny the impact they have had on music and culture.  Bono is more than just a front man to many.  His message has authority from his own integrity over the passage of time.  He admits to never feeling anything for groupies in his undying love for his wife.

Many critics have doubted this and have questioned him in interviews about it, but he remains true to this story.  In the age of fact checking and the rise of courage from those who have suffered abuse at the hands of others, there would have been someone to come out with something on him by now.

Disclaimer: No human is flawless.  Getting within 30 feet of your hero ensures you starting to notice the cracks in the ivory of their character that seem completely out of place.  Quite the opposite is true.

Friends Fans

While watching a video from U2 “All I Want Is You // Where The Streets Have No Name”,  Bono sounds like he’s going to lose his voice at about the 3:45 minute mark, but… he’s Bono.  The song is dedicated to his wife Ally and he gave it everything he had.  Watching his performance is so moving because of something he refers to as “the segueway.”  In a moment, his love for Ally is overtaken by his love for something much larger than this world can hold.  He’s almost translated from an earthly consciousness into something transcendent.  I’m sure that there have been many concerts where his voice was lost but this was not one of them.

Singers can’t sing without a voice, and communicators can’t speak without a voice, but writers must access another kind of voice.  Much like performers can lose their voice, so too can writers.  The difference being that singers lose it from overuse, and writers from lack of use.

Many writers have no voice.  Some are, in essence, voiceless writers.  Currently I am reading a book called Writing Voice edited by Chris Frees.  It’s aimed at helping writers “create presence on the page and engaging their readers.”  Chapter 1, by Barbara Baig, is titled Writing for Readers.  She gives 6 steps on discovering, or recovering, a lost voice.  Your words have a meter and if developed can be a key to unlocking the hearts of your audience.  An author with no voice is limited to giving out information without the ability to create or articulate something in the reader.

She quotes Joan Aiken saying, “Voice, of course, has a strong connection with the imaginary reader.”  Not all readers are imaginary by nature, but striking the oil of imagination only comes from a well developed voice of the author.

“Imagine that you are talking face-to-face with someone, gesturing with your hands, making eye contact and breaking it, emphasizing a word or phrase by putting more energy into it. Now imagine that your hands have been taken away, then your eyes, then your face, then your whole body. What is left to get across your meaning to the person you’re talking to? Only your voice.”

HOW TO RECOVER YOUR VOICE

  1. Get comfortable with private writing.
    Sometimes it’s better to write privately before you launch your thoughts out into the world.  It may be that you haven’t had enough time to let your thoughts become your own, or that your hunch could become plausible theory with more research.  Some who write from a wound may need more time to heal.  Disclosure is a personal and potentially powerful choice but a full blown confession is not always necessary.
  2. Develop confidence in your powers.
    Confidence in your skill comes with time but even the most tenured writers aren’t confident with every piece they publish.  “In writing, as in life, what occasionally sounds like confidence is merely bravado.”  
    Your voice needs to be authentic to have power but assuming that you have to talk about yourself and your experiences to be authentic is false.  Power doesn’t come from authenticity.  It comes from authority.
  3. Practice writing to readers.

    Experiment by using different voices.  We change voices frequently in real life depending on the audience.  If you w
    rite primarily to persuade, switch it up to informing.  If you write to entertain, change things up by writing a poem.  She recommends an experiment: Choose a subject, collect some material, and choose a specific reader or group of readers that are real or imagined.  Write to a five-year-old and to someone who’s 95.  Write to mothers or to people who don’t like children. Write to people who know lots about your subject or to those who know nothing about it.  Use a voice that feels appropriate. Now keep the same subject, and write about it to a different audience. 
  4. Be considerate toward readers

    It does good to remember that the writer is not in the reader’s head.  Thinking through this carefully will help others not to get lost or confused.  When we read writing like this, we relax, recognizing that we won’t have to work very hard to understand it.

  5. Listen to your writing.

    When you do this, be careful not to judge your voice, just listen to it.  What do you notice?  
    Some people find it helpful to record themselves reading their words out loud, and then listen to it.  Having someone else read your material aloud is potentially painful, but helpful. 
  6. Read for voice.

    You can also learn about voice from reading the writers you love.  Read their words out loud and listen to their voice.  What aspects does it have that you like or dislike.

In the end, relax.  If you tend to be critical of your writing as you read it, reject those critical voices and simply listen.  Take your time as you read and try not to focus on words alone.  Take note of what you are saying and how your voice is getting your content across.  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below – happy writing!

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