How to find your voice as a writer

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Here’s the problem with writers: we are our own worst critics. We work ourselves up into a state where we genuinely start to believe everything we write is bad and unworthy, and then the anxiety of influence starts to run its cold fingers down our spines and we get so upset about it all that we just stop writing.

We start to blame writer’s block, which is a complete fallacy (have you ever heard of plumber’s block or teacher’s block?), as a means of justifying our lack of material.

What we need, really, is to discover our own voice.

For me, this started to happen while I was writing my university assignments, then got more and more noticeable as I started to write and write for magazines and for this very blog. And now it’s taken a life of its own – it is nuanced and has its own rhythm and personality and, well, if you want people to read your work then it needs tons of that.

So how do you find your voice as a writer? The easy answer? You don’t need to – it’s there already. Let me explain:

Interests
If you’re on a mission to find your voice, the last thing you want to do is write about things which don’t interest you. For me it’s sports and war. Even just thinking about them my mind starts to shut down and desperately try to divert my attention to something a little more interesting, like String Theory. You can’t write an engaging article about something you are tremendously bored by – your readers will KNOW you were bored when you wrote it, and time is too precious for people to spend it on things which don’t stir any sort of excitement in them. Instead, write about things you love. Write about things you could talk about for hours. Write about things which make you FEEL things and that enthusiasm will shine through your words.

Just write
Once you’ve got the ball rolling, don’t get hung up on sounding perfect – there is no just thing. Forget that backspace key and just write. Write and write anything and everything you want to write. Later, you can go back and edit bits and bobs but for now all that matters is that clickety clack of the keys (or the scribbly sound of pen and paper, if you are so inclined).

Say it
If you start to feel stuck or confused when you’re writing, stop for a second and say what you have to say out loud. Write down what you just said. That’s your voice, right there. Saying things out loud help you establish your rhythm and through it you will notice a certain type of vocabulary particular to you. Use it.

Know your topic
Basically, if you are writing non-fiction, don’t make stuff up. Do your research before you start writing. You’ll find that gaining knowledge about your subject will inspire you and spark off even more ideas in your brain. What’s that sound? It’s your neurons getting all hot and bothered!

Know your audience
Unless you are writing in your own personal diary, always keep your audience in mind. Every piece you write will have a target audience – whether it is a blog post, a short story, advert copy or a novel. For example, don’t use academic jargon if you are writing a piece about the Large Hadron Collider for your local magazine. Keeping your audience in mind will help you stick to appropriate tone and vocabulary.

Ask a friend
If, after you’re done writing something, you’re still not too sure of it, why not ask a friend to read it and tell you what s/he thinks in exchange for a cup of coffee? Your friends know what you sound like and will be able to tell you straight away whether or not a piece of writing reminds them of you.

Got any techniques for catching that voice of yours and pinning it down? Care to share? Leave a comment!

8 Comments
  • mommaruthsays
    October 13, 2011

    Wonderful advice! I always struggle with myself (though I’m apprehensive to call myself a “writer”) about my language and form and content. It can be overwhelming at times; I simply do my best to please myself and try not the let the outside voices bring me down. The inside voices usually do a good enough job of that anyway!

  • Sarah
    October 13, 2011

    Good advice. I’m trying to get back into writing again after that dreaded “writer’s block” got me! But it is just about writing as much as possible and, like you said, being interested in what you’re writing about.

  • Katrina
    October 13, 2011

    Brilliant advice! Thanks so much, Davinia.

    Kinda what I needed. I want to be an esteemed writer but evidently I am struggling, partly because I am deaf. It affects my ability to be able to write well. My teacher constantly said that I write quite well and the only problem is that everything I write contains a “deaf voice”. I dunno what he meant by that of course but I am determined to improve and everything. That’s why I blog. :)

  • Halley
    October 14, 2011

    I didn’t realize saying it out loud helps. Thanks!

  • Marthe
    October 14, 2011

    Great advice!

    I feel like I have a strong voice, what I lack is a message, a cause. Sometimes it feels like I’m writing just for the sake of putting pretty words and phrases out into the world.

    Post idea maybe?

  • Elle // Acquired Tastes
    October 16, 2011

    For me, keeping my audience in mind can totally shut me down sometimes. I try to think of what “they” want to hear, what they will think, etc, and I just feel lost and stop. I’ve discovered that not thinking about them when I am beginning is the best thing – just free writing (something! anything!!) like you recommend, and then going back and editing later for the audience.

    Also, I think another good tip is having several writing outlets – personal diary, school assignments, etc, because what is appropriate for one isn’t usually appropriate for another.

  • Yarelly
    October 18, 2011

    good advice I was suffer of that writer’s block & well I gonna use your adviece :)

  • Josh
    August 8, 2013

    Really loved your topic about writing! Josh

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