The Heart of Writing

Helping you to connect with the writer within

Strengthening your Writing Voice

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Last week, I ran a workshop called “Strengthening Your Writing Voice”, I asked the group, “What does this mean?”

When you think about a ‘writing voice’, what is it that you’re describing? This is the tone, style, pace, subject matter, character type and narrative that is completely ‘you’. We all know of writers who have their own voice, we recognise them through their work. For example, Ernest Hemingway’s short, stark sentences gave him his ‘voice’. Haruki Murakami’s quiet madness and slow, intimate thought processes in his characters is his ‘voice’. Anaïs Nin chose to create erotic narrative that was ‘heady’ and ‘perfumed’ with sensory and layered atmosphere, she chose to thicken her scenes with what was felt in the room, the air and in the bodies of her characters.

So what is your voice?

I discussed this once with the head of the Creative Writing department at university and she told me to “find my voice”. I was baffled by this suggestion as I thought I already had. I was wrong. I had been ignoring everything that was important to me and trying to write to a style that already existed. I was forcing myself into a category that didn’t necessarily fit me.

I decided to make a list of things that I believe in, things that grate me, things that I am passionate about, questions I have about life, society and our Universe. So start with this. What do you consider to be important to you? When you filter into your work the things that make you tick, the questions you’ve always wanted to answer, you’ll establish your voice.

I gave this exercise to my group to try, so give it go:

  • Write an anonymous letter to a stranger, telling them what you’ve learned in life.

This is a great exercise for just gaining focus on what drives you, what lessons you’ve got to give, what feelings you’ve understood about yourself and certain subjects. This is even important when writing genres like fantasy, sci-fi and comedy. Ask yourself why you’re drawn to these genres. What does it make you feel when you read them? Escapism may be important to you, or the need to question our existence, you may use comedy to hide your emotions. If you applied these thoughts and emotional vehicles to your characters, what happens?

I’m not saying that you should use yourself as a template for your characters and they should be based on you  (this does work tremendously if executed with balance of course) but the point is to connect with your work through what drives you in life. Your thoughts, hang-ups, fears, ideas, beliefs and questions may be different from someone else’s, so start thinking of yourself as unique. Don’t hold up a writer you admire to follow, they found their voice, you must find your own. By all means, read them, understand them and enjoy them but only take from it enthusiasm. If you think you’ll never be as good as Bukowski, Dickens, Rowling, Fitzgerald, Woolf or whoever it is you admire, you’ll silence your voice right there, it’ll diminish.

I finished off the workshop with an exercise that really helps you to understand what it is that you’re trying to achieve with your writing.

  • Write a review about a novel/story/poem that you haven’t written yet. Act as a critic reviewing your work in the future.

Doing this exercise will allow you to write down what you aspire to for yourself. You may highlight what you realise to be your strengths in this review. It may show you what your work should mean to other people as well as what it means to you. This should boost your confidence so don’t berate yourself, write a rave review about your work and don’t be afraid to be so positive about it – whatever you write in this review is what shall be your focus on what you wish to achieve.

Find your voice and settle it into a space in this world – there’s a place for all.

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