Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Writing Wisdom Wednesday: Finding your voice

“A writer's voice is not character alone, it is not style alone; it is far more.
A writer's voice, like the stroke of an artist's brush,
is the thumbprint of her whole person,
her idea, wit, humor, passions, rhythms."--Patricia Lee Gauch

After I graduated with my B.A. in English, I was at a loss for what to do with myself. I knew I wanted to write, but that was accompanied by a restless sense of not knowing what the next move should be. So, approaching the dilemma from a scholarly angle, I decided I would go get my MFA in creative writing.

So I picked out my top school and began to prep the required application materials. After writing my first piece of short fiction, a piece I knew would swing wide the doors to this prestigious program, I sent it to my former advisor (and now VBFF).

I was shocked at her response.

Umm, Mandy…what was that?”

At first, I assumed she was in awe of my fiction-writing ability. While she had been my professor for numerous writing courses, Cheryl had only read my creative non-fiction. Perhaps she was dazzled by the brilliance of my work.

Yeah…that wasn’t it. At all.

The piece was a disaster. It was pretentious, abstract, and…awful. I had written what I thought would be impressive to the admissions board. I stifled my own voice for the sake of adopting someone else’s.

A while back, I wrote about the importance of being yourself as a writer. So to build on that concept, today, I’m going to give four practical tips to help you find your writing voice. Now, as a preface, let me say that there is no foolproof way of finding/developing your these tips are just things I think will aid you in the journey to discovering who you are as a writer.

1) Read.

Read everything you can get your hands on. The best writers are usually avid readers. Read your favorite authors; figure out what it is about their way of writing that entertains you. Read some authors you can’t stand. Try to pinpoint what you would do differently to make the story they’re telling more appealing to you. Use this as a way to strength your own writing.

A word of caution here: The point of this part of the process is not to find someone whose style you can copy. Readers can tell if your voice is authentic or is a pale imitation of someone else’s.

2) Analyze your personality traits.

Are you witty? Serious? Talkative? Introverted?

If you’re not certain, ask your friends how they would describe you.

This step may seem silly, or unnecessary, but understanding your personality is an important step to finding your voice. The way you are in real life is going to manifest in your writing. For example, my talkative nature tends to crop up in my writing as wordiness. I never use only three words when I can describe something in twenty. So I know I'll never write like Hemingway, who never uses more than like 5 words in a sentence.

3) Read what you’ve already written.

Go through previous stories, essays, etc. that you’ve written. If you’re new to the writing world and are trying to find your voice, go through anything you can get your hands on, journal entries, even old emails. Also, pay attention to how you verbalize information…how you relay a story to a friend.

This step is important because it gives you the opportunity to read how you write when you’re not worried about how it’s going to be perceived by an audience (or an admissions board!). Perhaps you’ll realize that you’re incapable of using words with less than four syllables. Maybe you’ll discover that you tend to address any issue with a healthy dose of sarcasm. Whatever it is, the traits you’ll find are your best tools to building your own authentic voice.

4) Write.

Always the most important part of being a writer!

To quote the cliché, “Practice makes perfect.” And practicing writing makes for a polished voice as well. So, write, write, write. And when you’re sick of writing, do it some more!

There's my advice (for what it's worth) on finding your voice. And I have to say, I never did apply to that school. Instead, I worked on fiction that I loved, that was me. And while I may not have an MFA, I have to say, I'm not disappointed at how everything ended up!

So what about you? Any struggles finding your voice? Any tips on getting there?

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