Words are the voice of the heart.
For Session1: A Skillful Understanding link here.
For Session 2: Playing the Lead : Your Role as a Writer link here.
"Find your voice!" they (the mysterious they) say all the time. Your authentic voice. Your unique voice. The voice that is distinctly you.
Yes, we as writers or as budding writers hear this constantly, the same refrain, the same charge, over and over again. And we nod our heads knowingly, “Oh, of course! My voice!” Yet, what does this even mean? What is our own authentic, unique, distinctive voice? And how do we find it? How do we recognize it? Well, let’s think about this for a minute.
Voice. Obviously, when speaking of our writer’s voice, we are talking about a mix of several things: the words and language used to express our thoughts; the tone and style, the personality that comes across on the page. "My readers, when they meet me in person, tell me that I write just like I speak (or sound just like I write)!" so many bloggers tell me. Does this mean that we should simply write the same way, with the same words with which we speak? Is it good enough to just put down on paper what we say aloud? Is it that easy? Well, yes and no. Yes, this is the first step towards finding that writer’s voice, yet it isn’t always that simple, and it doesn’t always stop there.
Think about the way you speak to family and friends. I’ll bet that it is dotted and punctuated with a smattering of cultural references, slang, colorful language or curse words, inside jokes and personal references understood only by a few. Not to mention the occasional half sentence or grammatical error. Personally, I have read several blogs in which the writer/blogger attempts to get all of this down in the blog post (“Mooooore pancakes! ("but you have to say it like, “Heeeeeeere’s Johnny!”) Not the Shining one ; the Johnny Carson One.") or ("It’s for those times when it feels like the holidays are jumping directly up your butt, and you’re wondering what sadist put Cinco de Mayo, the Derby and Mother’s Day in the same week because your dog is still hacking up Easter grass."). So if we just put down into print what we say when we speak aloud, there is the risk that much of what we say will be lost on too many of our readers who don’t understand the cultural or personal references or who are turned off by the slang, the “colorful” language or the bad grammar.
There is often a transformation or some kind of shift that happens between brain – speaking and thinking voice – and paper. For some, this shift is natural and one doesn’t even think of it: we automatically correct grammar, adjust or eliminate personal or cultural references, shift into “grownup” or “company” mode. For others, this transformation is conscious and mindful: words are carefully chosen, often from a well-thumbed thesaurus, ideas and story lines are thought through and reorganized to sound like something the author has read. This can work extremely well for the writer. But, again, there is a risk: this can often lead to writing that is “overdone”: the use of words or phrases that the writer or blogger normally does not use in everyday speech, a way of writing that the blogger assumes sounds “writerly”. This type of writing can sound stilted, unnatural, stiff. ("We first splash a cup of cool water into the shimmering silver pan, clouding the clarity with a dusting of frosted flour.") or ("My fingers very soon became sticky and dripping with fragrant peach juices.") Again, at the risk of turning off readers who feel the discomfort or the effort, the exertion.
Where is the middle ground? How does one find the perfect balance?
We must actively search for our voice, and clear a path for it to emerge. One’s voice is uncovered, not manufactured.
Basically, yes, you want to sound like YOU when you write, but a better you. A refined you, a purposeful you. You want your writing to be recognizable as you, distinctively you; just as someone will hear your voice or your laughter, listen to you express yourself and know it is you, your written voice should be just as familiar. But thought out, written expressly for an audience. But how?
1) Speak out loud, speak to yourself: as you prepare a blog post, tell the story out loud, to another person, to your reflection in the mirror, to the dog – listen to the way you tell that story or describe an experience or discuss your favorite spice. Say it naturally, as to a friend, not necessarily as you would tell it to Oprah. Be comfortable with it, be comfortable with the language you use. Then write it down. Then edit it, adjust it and read it aloud again. And again. This doesn’t even need to be published…this could simply be for practice. In fact, do this for practice.
2) Write a blog post, read it aloud and ask yourself if this is really how you speak? If not, well, start over.
3) Read and experiment. You think your writing is too casual, too simple, doesn’t sound like a writer (whatever that sounds like)? Before you try and change your writing to sound more this way or less that way, change the way you speak, increase your speaking vocabulary… read. Read and absorb. And speak. A lot. Change the way you speak to others before changing the way you write for others. Practice.
4) Get to know your readers…. Decide who you want to write for. Will readers understand your language, your references, your jokes? Or does your writing fly above the heads of the average reader? Have someone else read a few of your past posts and listen to what they have to say about it. Make conscious choices when you transcribe that speaking voice onto paper, when you write, without changing the fundamentals of what you want to say or even how you express yourself.
5) Don’t forget that people will form an impression of you and who you are from your writing, how you write, the language you use, the things you say. They will decide whether you are funny, smart, serious, knowledgeable… but also whether or not you are silly, insincere, or acting, and whether you are professional or not. How do you want your readers to see you?
Writing, as I have said before, is a constant learning experience, a constant quest. Know why you are blogging or writing, who you are writing or blogging for. Think of your writing as if it was a musical instrument… you want to practice and get better. You want to enjoy playing and have others enjoy listening. You may want to play that instrument just for fun or you may want to sound like a professional musician. But either way, you want the instrument to feel comfortable in your hands and sound natural, easy but worth listening to.
- Practice. Read. Write.
- Find someone who will read what you write and give you honest feedback, both the positive and the negative. Take a writing workshop if you can and listen to the feedback carefully.
- Play little writing games: write something in your own voice (as you write now). Then rewrite the same in someone else’s voice, as someone else, a character in a book or someone who may be the complete opposite of you. Try different voices on for size, see what each character makes you write about, the vocabulary and the expressions that character makes you use and understand why. And then figure out what feels natural to the writer who you are.
Your mind knows only some things. Your inner voice, your instinct, knows everything.
If you listen to what you know instinctively, it will always lead you down the right path.
– Henry Winkler