Monday, September 6, 2010

Five Ways to Discover Your Unique Voice

Voice seems to be the most difficult concept for writers to grasp. Yet just as each of you has a distinct set of fingerprints, you also have a unique voice.

Then why do writers cry, “I don’t know what voice is?” Why does one book sound exactly like another in the same category? Why do editors pull out their hair reading proposal after proposal looking for a unique voice?

It’s simple, my dear Watson. You have a voice, but you’ve played nice for so long with your smiling church mask secured firmly in place that you don’t know who you are. To express your voice, you need to “know thyself.” Hmmm. Where have I heard that before?

Voice expresses your unique personality. To find it, you must dig deep into the corners of your soul and dredge up the pain and sorrow you’ve tried so hard to forget. You must remember the joys of your childhood and the quality of the air—the scents, the sounds, the sights. You get my drift.

“But, what if no one likes the real me,” you ask. Are you a child of the Living God? Did He knit you together in your mother’s womb? Does He love you? Then be true to the person He designed you to be.

Okay, I promised you five ways to discover your unique voice. Here you go: 
  1. Chose different words and cast about for a unique topic to write about than the author who’s written a best-seller. Populate your setting with characters we’ve never met. Take us to places we’ve never been. We don’t need another Lisa Samson. We need you. Lisa is popular because—you guessed it—she has a unique and wonderful voice. Let your personality shine through in what you write.
  2. Find your passion. Don’t write another mediocre romance just because you can. If you love romance novels, discover your niche. Sandra D. Bricker, who is brilliant and funny, found her voice in her distinctive style of humor. Read and laugh your way through Always the Baker, Never the Bride (Abingdon Press, September 1, 2010 release) and you’ll understand. She chose to write romantic comedy.
  3. Express honest emotions. There’s nothing worse than reading a book that manipulates your emotions. However, if those emotions flow out of the wellspring of your author’s heart—your experiences—they will touch your readers’ souls.
  4. Communicate your stories with authenticity—the truth of who you are. Why do you think politicians are unpopular? Because politicians all sound alike and promise voters the same things. Voters have a difficult time discerning who is a liar and who is telling the truth. Inspire readers with the truth. Fiction can be more real than life.
  5. Spend time daydreaming and remembering your life experiences. Your personality was established by the age of five. Can you remember who you were then? Do you let your individuality shine through in your narrative, dialogue, characters? Would anyone know who you are by reading what you write?
You have a voice. Use it. At first it may be painful and sound like rusty pipes to your ears, but you’ll get used to it.

Please let me know how today’s blog has helped you. This becomes a two-way conversation when you post a comment. Often I jump back on the blog during the day and will answer your questions or respond to your comments. I have both published and unpublished authors who read The Roving Editor, and we’d love to hear from you so that we can learn from your experience. Let’s talk!


  1. These are great tips and so true! Thanks Barbara. I hope you have a nice Labor Day. :-)

  2. Love blog posts on voice! Experimenting with my voice and letting it sing on the page is one of my absolute favorite things about writing. It reminds me who is behind the scenes, pouring the vision into me, encouraging me to get it out.

    ~ Wendy

  3. Love this, Barbara! I've posted a few times on voice. It does seem like this very mysterious thing, doesn't it?

  4. I never thought of a unique topic being part of voice. Thanks for a great post!

  5. Wow. We hear those comments about a "fresh voice" from editors and agents so often, but such good advice on how to find it seldom gets set down in black and white.

    It seems like a fear of what others will think of my writing can quench my voice faster than anything. Letting go hasn't been easy, but your reminder that God gave a voice to me is what helps me most. After all, if He likes my writing, that's what counts first of all.

  6. Have a wonderful Labor Day, everyone! Mike and I are going for a walk. There's not a cloud in the sky, and it's in the low 70s. This is the best weather we've had in Nashville since last May. Spend the day at rest and daydream a little.

  7. Voice seems to be the one aspect of writing that can't be taught. I have a couple of friends who have unique voices that I--okay, I admit it--envy. I'd love to write with a touch of humor, but I don't feel that's my voice. I'm learning my voice has a touch of snark and emotion.

    Terrific post!

  8. Exactly what I've been needing to hear!

  9. This subject is dear to my heart. We first have to learn the craft and so critiquers are so helpful.

    And we are warned not to be so married to our first, second or third words that we refuse to change and grow in the craft.

    However writer A uses words I would never use. Writer B thinks I am too nice. Writer C thinks I am too harsh.

    So it is a challenge to learn the craft while being true to our own voice. To be true to our own voice but letting go of what does not work.


  10. My students come to learn their voices through writing journals where they can be authentic, not writing what they think I want them to write. Their first attempts at essays are painful--mostly for me--because their writing is bran flakes when I want it to be Rice Krispies!

  11. Voice has to do with not just the author's personality shining through on the page, but also about perspective, the author's take on life. IT has to do with rhythm and cadence, choosing just the right word not merely a correct one. For me, it was a matter of finally allowing my inner quirk to come through.

  12. Thank you for blogging about voice. Many people have told I have to find it... now I see that I can just BE it. My first writing mentor was an elderly newspaper editor. He said, "Write like you talk." I thought he meant with my Southern accent... Now, I'm thinking he meant, the way I express myself, not the accent (which I never tried to write) but the unique way I think that comes out my mouth should show up on paper. Thank you for giving me a better view of voice.

  13. Thanks, I really needed to hear this today!

  14. Barbara, your posts are always helpful. It took me years to figure out what people were talking about when they used the term, voice, about authors but you explain it clearly in one word; personality.

  15. I daydream and remember the joys of my childhood and youth, so I must be doing something right. I write from my heart and soul,and I know my writing is unique. I shall continue to develop my skills and hone my craft. I loved the part about what if no one likes who you are. As you said, I'm a child of the living God, and He created me, so I'll be who He created :)

  16. Love this post, Barbara. I have often fallen into the trap of trying to be what I think someone else wants me to be. I like the comment about "Who was I at the age of five?" That's one way to discover my voice that I haven't heard of and, since I have a lot of memories from that age and earlier, it's one I can easily try.

    Thanks, God bless


  17. Kudos to you, Barbara. You've discovered and published some lovely new "voices" with fresh stories that made me laugh, cry, think and ponder my God more fully. At times, I still reflect on Christa Allen's Walking on Broken Glass when I'm going to sleep at night, or grip the steering wheel a little tighter because of Dr. Mabry's opening scene in Code Blue....or, wonder what's beneath the lake water after reading Ronie Kendig's tense dive scene in Dead Reckoning. That's just to name a few. None of these stories sound routine. None of the characters could jump from one book to the next. Great fiction program...keep 'em coming!

  18. That is the hardest thing to discover when plowing through proposals, finding a truly unique voice. Thanks for the great post.

  19. Thanks for this post, Barbara. I needed this.

  20. hi Barbara - first, let me say I was so very glad to meet you at the Philly conference. You're my best friend's champion and I am so thankful for that.

    Joyce Magnin has a unique voice. I never get tired of reading her pages. She makes me laugh, she makes me cry. And I think I know her better than anyone.

    I consider myself a children's author. But when I tried my hand at writing fantasy, Joyce said, wow, Pammy, you just found your voice!

    For me, voice comes through when the writing feels effortless, smooth, like there was joy in the author's heart when they wrote it. That's how I feel when I'm writing my fantasy. That's how I know Joyce feels when she's writing her quirky stories.

    Terri Dawn nailed it perfectly - when we worry about what others will think, we silence our voice.

    My voice is not how I talk in the real world. It's how I talk in my writing world.

    Thanks, Barbara, for a great post!

  21. I'm thrilled that this blog on voice has elicited so much response. Sometimes authors fail to find their voice because they take everyone's advice and wind up with mush. If you're part of a critique group, ask yourself if the other members have helped you find your voice or whether they've squelched it so that you sound just like them.

    Sharon, your comment reminds me of the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. LOL It sounds like your porridge is either too nice or too harsh. It can't be both, but it can be just right if you use the word that resonates with you. Does that make sense?

    What attracted me to authors like Joyce Magnin was her voice. I could read her prose and never mistake it for someone else's. Who could even think of her character names? They're so unique. She's opened the door and let her quirk play on the page.

    Joyce, if you're reading this, you need to teach a workshop in the Philly area on how to find and release your voice. I don't know of anyone more qualified.

    Christa, I think your idea of keeping a journal is an excellent idea. While writing about what's on your heart, you can let loose and be yourself.

    May the Lord bless all of you with His presence as you find your voices and lift them in praise to Him, and may He open doors of opportunity so that your words will bless His children.