How to Find Your Authentic Voice

BlogHer Original Post

When I was in elementary school, I declared that I'd be a writer. By high school, though, I was sure I'd go to law school. That too, changed over the years. In college, I had a professor ask me to consider switching my major to English because she enjoyed my writing so much; it would be a "waste of time" to pursue anything else. I wondered if she was high. (To be clear, I hadn't yet declared a major, so, perhaps I was high. No, really. Maybe I was. It was the late '90s and I don't need your judgment. Great, now I'm off track.)

How to Find Your VoiceImage: Mickael DIA via Flickr Creative Commons license

Fear. I wasn't talking about that, but that's where I'm headed. Fear is the dominant factor in most of our writing. We're afraid of being misunderstood, of being understood but judged, of offending, of embarrassing, of writing crap, of writing well, of writing too much/too little/just enough to keep everyone but ourselves satisfied. I used to fear being me when writing. I don't much anymore, because I learned my words are worthwhile. But every now and then, depending on the topic I'm writing about, that too-well-known fear will creep up my back.

Let's back up.

It is 2009, and I've been blogging nearly a year. I have few readers, fewer commenters. I don't really care, though, because I started blogging for myself: to say what I wanted to say, when and how I wanted to say it. I'm not going to call this a parenting blog (in fact, writing about my kids is the farthest thing from my mind when I start the blog). I'm not going to label it at all, if possible. I decide I should see what others are doing. I don't read many other weblog writers. And then I find The Pioneer Woman.

I read The Pioneer Woman religiously, and want to be her. And by "want to be her" please know that yes, I'm saying it in a creepy, "peel off her skin and put it on me" kind of way. I hope she moisturizes. The more bloggers I start to read, the more I realize that I tend to (try to) write like the ones I like the most. They may not be the most popular bloggers, but their voice is compelling enough to get inside my head and make me want to imitate them.

I've read that this is a good thing to do, that it helps you find your own voice. I disagree, at least in practicing it continuously. If you copy too much, you wind up spending too much time on being another version of that writer rather than the best version of yourself. The Pioneer Woman, for example, temporarily changed the way I approached blogging in general, and writing specifically.

What I remind myself of is that I am me. It's essential that you remember that, no matter what or why you write, your voice is uniquely your own. Here are a few ways to figure out your own voice.

How to Find and Maintain Your Writing Voice

Write your first draft the way you'd say it to a friend.

Free writing helps me immensely. Here's a thing you can try, just to see what happens: take a current event that interests you and write about it. But! Do this without reading anyone else's stance or take on it. Don't think about how that person would approach it or what angle another writer would attack. Step away for an hour or so and go back and read it. If you like it, you did a good job; it's you. If you hate it, you're being too hard on yourself.

Figure out who you are.

List the first three things that come to mind when you're asked to describe yourself/your writing. Read something you wrote recently. Do you hear any of those descriptors? You should, if you're writing openly.

Be authentic.

Just tell the truth. Never be afraid that there is no one who will relate or understand. The show My Strange Addiction exists for a reason. There are people in the world who eat sofa cushion stuffing. You are never alone.

Be consistent.

I fall into spaces of lackluster writing, or not writing at all. When I do, I tend to look around at others, falling back into my desire to be someone else. But it is essential that you remind yourself that if you kidnap Ree Drummond and step in her shoes on that ranch, you are abandoning yourself, and you are a necessary part of the world. Your perspective matters. And probably you'll be arrested for abduction, so it's just not worth it.

The more consistently you write, the more used to your own style you'll become. You'll even start to catch yourself using words or short, punchy sentences just like that blogger you love. But the great thing is that you'll be able to fix those things through editing.

Edit.

I don't just mean punctuation and grammar, though those are important. I mean edit for clarity. Care about your writing and reread yourself. See if it reads as you, and if you're comfortable saying, "I wrote this," hit publish, and move on.

Be vulnerable.

Vulnerability is similar to authenticity, but different. People relate to truth, but also to honesty about hard subjects. Don't be afraid to write about something because of others' reaction. If it's your true opinion or it's about you, you have a right to share it, and to receive the discussion that may result. Vulnerability and openness are part of your voice, because they show transparency. Vulnerable writing doesn't seem sculpted, even though you've edited for clarity.

Listen to your readers.

Most likely, the people who read you consistently are coming for a reason: your take on an issue, your humor, your honesty. Guess what? That all falls into the realm of voice.

I am me. I write as me. It's the only way. My ultimate goal in writing is to have someone read a piece and hear me, recognize my style, without seeing my name. Be unafraid to be yourself, whatever kind of writer that is. And remember this: Nothing you write is for naught. It all has purpose, whether you share it with others or not.

Your voice is you. Find it, then own it, and you won't have to consider kidnapping anyone and buying a red wig.

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