Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Discovering & Developing Your Voice, Part 2

You may spend lots of time discovering your voice. Or you may already know your voice and just want to make it stronger. You can do these in tandem, or as phased steps.

Part 2: Developing Your Voice

Blog. While many, many writers have debated the merits of blogging, a personal blog gives you an opportunity to practice your writing on a regular basis. And practicing is the best way to improve your writing, which will help you develop (or even discover) your voice. Of course, whether or not you blog, you should write – and write and write.

Let your voice dress up (or down). Susan Shapiro mentions her women’s magazine voice in her book Only As Good As Your Word: Writing Lessons from My Favorite Literary Gurus. Her women’s magazine voice has the same straightforwardness as her memoir, but there’s still a distinct difference from what you “hear” in the book. But both voice sound like the same person and are distinctively Susan. How do you sound when you’re hanging out with your best friends on a relaxed Saturday night? Probably quite different than when you’re dressed to impress your boss (or your boss’s boss) at work! Practice writing in these variations of your voice.

Find a writing group. If you can get your prose into the hands of people who aren’t shy about sharing your opinions, you have struck gold. Multiple sources of feedback provide a good sense of how others “hear” you. It can also help you identify your weak points. And ask lots of questions. If someone in your group claims, “This sounds like you!” ask them to tell you why – in detail.

Get an editor. Whether you’re trying to identify or develop your voice (or both), an editor can be your best resource. If you’re willing, an editor can help you push yourself to develop a strong, natural and unique voice.

An engaging, distinct voice is one of the best assets any writer can have. It’s what will get you noticed – and keep your readers hooked.

What’s worked for you in developing and strengthening your voice as writer?

A full-time freelance editor-writer and owner of a.k.a writer in Denver, Jesaka Long works her word magic for small publishing houses and authors, especially non-fiction writers and memoirists. She is also a Drama Editor for Conclave Journal. For more information email her at jesaka (at) jesakalong.com or visit www.jesakalong.com.

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  1. Thanks for the post, Jesaka. Very informative!

    A couple years ago I read Three Lives and QED by Gertrude Stein and I was struck with how different her voice was in those two books. I know Three Lives was written almost in a vernacular. Are writers who write in vernacular exempt from "the rule of voice?" Or was Gertrude Stein such a genius that she was exempt? Or was the power of the writer's voice not discovered until recently so that classical writers were largely unaware of what voice was? Or did she have the same underlying voice and I just missed something?

    Thank you in advance for any insights you may have! :)

  2. A lot of things can make a book unique, from the subject matter to the protagonist to the twists of the plot to other things. But it's often the voice of the writer that brings readers back book after book.


  3. I make it a point, when writing, to read the words out loud so the "voice" rings true.

    I find that I write very much the way I speak. Interesting post! Thanks!


  4. Voice is so important. This is a good article, very informative - nice job.

  5. @Alps ~ Thanks for such an insightful, thought-provoking comment! You've inspired me to re-read Stein's work - and it's possible I'd have a different response then. In college, I read a significant amount of theory (especially feminist literary theory) and there seemed to be a particular style for that work - very dense, complex sentences that the reader had to uncoil, almost one-by-one. Much of that work sounded similar because of structure and style, but each writer had their own perspectives that come through. Maybe that's a closer comparison to Gertrude Stein than the way we use "voice" today.

    @Helen ~ Great point that it's often the author's voice that brings readers back again and again. I have often followed authors across genres, simply because I love their writing -- their voice.

    @Mary - I love using your actual voice to make sure your "voice" rings true in your writing. Thanks for sharing that great point!

  6. Thanks for reading and sharing your comments, Marvin! I always appreciate it.

  7. Thanks, Jesaka. This is a fascinating subject. Thanks for your thoughtful reply to my questions.



The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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