People new to writing are often advised by teachers, mentors and other established writers to find their voice.
But before we delve into exercises to help you discover your own writer’s voice, let’s surmise what we mean by this phrase.
A writer’s voice describes the themes they write about, their perspectives on these themes, and the moods and tones they employ to explore them.
Your writer’s voice influences your writing style. It determines how you structure your sentences and how you choose the words within those sentences.
For example, your writer’s voice might be characterised by a light writing style that uses short sentences punctuated by quirky life observations.
Or your writer’s voice might stack sombre similes in descriptive prose that expresses the complexities of being human in such a way that your reader feels the emotion of every character.
There isn’t a right or wrong writer’s voice. It is simply who you are: your personality, your experience, your uniqueness.
Use the following writing exercises to learn more about yourself as a writer and to discover your writer’s voice.
Exercise #1: Make a List
This exercise involves listing your five favourite writers and noting what it is about their writing you most enjoy.
Make your list on a blank page (hard or soft copy). Start by making a table with two columns and five rows.
Dedicate one row in the left column to each of your five favourite writers. Then, in the corresponding row in the right-hand column, jot down words or statements that answer why you enjoy reading that particular writer.
If you want to go a step further, make a note of the name of their work you most enjoyed and why.
Note: This exercise isn’t about copying your favourite writer’s voice. Copying them would be unfair to you and to the world, because it robs readers of your unique voice.
This exercise simply confirms the influences and aspirations of your writer's voice.
"When you are trying to find your writing voice don’t try to emulate any writer, not even your favorite. Sit quietly, listen, listen again, then listen some more and write out everything the voice says with no censoring – none – not one word."
—Jan Marquart, The Basket Weaver
Exercise #2: Create A Three-Word Tagline
If you’ve written work that others have read, ask them to give you a three-word tagline.
Netflix now uses this technique to describe and categorise its movie offerings. For example, the series The Crown has the three-word tagline 'Lavish. Intimate. Period Piece', while The Matrix’s tagline is 'Mind-bending. Dystopian. Dark'.
Ask one or two of your readers to give you your own three-word tagline. The results will give you an indication of how others view the style of your work.
If you’re not ready to share your writing, think about three words you’d use to describe your writing to a stranger, and use these words as your tagline.
Exercise #3: Try Freewriting
Freewriting can be daunting at first. Sometimes called stream-of-consciousness writing, it's the practice of writing without purpose or structure.
Freewriting is an exercise in permitting yourself to write whatever the hell you want to, with no thought or rules involved.
It's about tapping into your subconscious. Letting go of your inner critic by writing so fast that you drown out its constant nit-picking voice.
If this is your first try at freewriting, use your smartphone, a kitchen timer, or an online tool like Tomato Timer to set a two-minute time limit.
Two minutes might not seem very long, but if you're not used to this practice, it can feel like an eternity. For those who have practiced freewriting before, consider setting your timer to five minutes or more.
Before you press start, make sure you're in a comfortable position. Have your writing tools ready, and promise yourself you won't let distractions stop you.
Clear your mind. Take a deep breath. Roll your shoulders. Tell your inner critic that this is your time.
Don't edit as you go. Don't delete or strike through any words. If you're stuck with what to write about, write exactly that. Write every single word that flows through your mind.
What you write probably won't make sense. It doesn't need to make sense. It's not for other people's eyes... ever!
This isn't to say that magic doesn't happen. Sometimes ideas springboard from this practice.
A new character might introduce themselves to you. A wonderfully strange plotline might emerge on the page.
The important element of freewriting, particularly when finding your writer's voice, is to continue the practice so the vocal cords of your figurative writer's voice become limber and strong and all yours.
Exercise #4: Stage An Interview
Imagine you’re being interviewed in a magazine or journal about your latest publication. How do you think the interviewer would approach you?
Are they going to try to be witty because your works are full of humour? Or will they come to you with bigger questions about life, death, relationships, politics?
What questions would you want them to ask you? And how would you answer those potential questions?
This exercise will reveal even more nuance about your voice as a writer – what it is currently like, and what you would like it to be.
Exercise #5: Explore Your Interests
Imagine you’ve been asked to give a five-minute talk on a topic that interests you. What would that topic be? How would you talk about it?
In other words, what interests in life do you have that you could be using to inspire your writing but aren't, for whatever reason?
Are you an avid gardener? Or are you particularly interested in Norwegian metal bands?
We don't mean you have to jam your work full of facts about your topics of interest.
But if you could speak through one of your characters about the music of the most intriguing heavy metal band in Norway, you’d be putting more of your voice into your own work.
Exercise #6: Take A Reality Check
Read your latest work. As you do, ask yourself:
- Is this something I’d read?
- Is this something that would pique and keep my interest?
- Did I enjoy writing this, or was I influenced by something else: deadline/expectations/publication type?
- Does this writing feel true to me as a person and a writer?
Ultimately, you need to decide how much of yourself you will write into the page.
The best writers explore and pick apart themes, and delve deep into their characters' motivations.
They breathe life into a story by sharing parts of themselves with their readers, being vulnerable, and adding snippets of their own life experiences – even the raw, messy, hurtful ones.
Exercise #7: Get Some Perspective
Your writer’s voice is about your perspective as a human in this world.
Of course, you can explore characters in your work that have differing perspectives in life. However, the themes you choose to write about, and the way your characters’ stories unfold through your particular lens, is a major influence on your voice as a writer.
If you give five different writers the same theme to write about, each will reveal different perspectives of that theme.
Do you know what your perspectives are? How do you feel about the big things in life: love, loss, forgiveness? What about the little things?
Our own perspectives dictate what we write about and how we write about it. Set aside some time to ponder your own perspectives about life. Meditate on them, and describe and explore your revelations in your writing.
Be prepared to capture new ideas that are unearthed during this exercise.
Ultimately, finding your voice as a writer is about discovering and knowing who you are in the world.
It's about embracing the very essence of your uniqueness – your particular insights, your passions, your personality, and your experiences.
Readers seek out work with a strong writer's voice because they know their investment of time and/or money won't be wasted. Publishers, too, favour writers who know their voice.
The above exercises will help you get closer to truly understanding your writer's voice, and becoming a writer that publishers will want to work with and readers will fall in love with.
So what are you waiting for? Go forth and let your voice be heard.