The term “writing voice” is bandied about but rarely defined. Your voice, though, will make you stand out from the crowd of other writers. So, how are you supposed to hone your writing voice if you’re not sure what–or where–it is?
For starters, I like to think of my writing voice as the sound of my work. If you were having a conversation about your article/book/post, think about what you would say and how you would say it. You want to capture the sound of that discussion in your written work.
I admit: It’s often easier said than done, especially while you’re still refining your craft. Why? We all want to sound funny, witty, intelligent, wry, whatever, and if you’re trying to force that to emerge in your work, you lose your natural voice. But you don’t have to! It took me a long time to get comfortable with my voice, and here’s what’s helped.
3 steps to hone your writing voice
- Think out loud. It drives my husband crazy, but it works. When you are in the early stages of a project, you’re brainstorming an idea, or you’re stuck for the right phrase to round out a paragraph, start thinking out loud. Talk to yourself or to your dog or to your spirit guide or to whomever you want to imagine. When you think out loud, you will hear what sounds truly like you and what sounds forced. Delete the forced stuff.
- Knock out that shitty first draft. I’m sure you’re familiar with the “Shitty First Drafts” chapter in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. If not, or if it’s been a while, the concept is simple. Just get words down on paper (well, word processor), and deal with the mess later. If you second guess every word you type, not only will you slow yourself down, but you’ll also interrupt your natural thought process, your stream-of-consciousness. Sure, it won’t be polished, but it’ll be finished – and, most likely, it’ll be a pretty darn accurate representation of what you really wanted to say. It just needs to be gussied up a bit.
- Proofread out loud. Your neighbors might start to think you’re losing it if you’re talking through all your pre-writing (point #1) and then again in the editing phase, but trust me. This is the single most effective thing you can do to refine your voice. When you read your work out loud, not only will you catch all your little glitchy errors and grammar mistakes, but you will hear–actually hear–when your work doesn’t sound like you. Then, you can focus your editing efforts on those places to generate a far more solid second draft.
I recommend proofing everything out loud. It makes a huge difference in the quality of your writing, and it will help you refine your writing voice until it really, truly sounds like you.