Voice

If someone were to hand you a sample of writing and ask you to identify the author, would you be able to do it? Probably not, unless the writing happens to belong to a person whom you’ve read extensively. If that’s the case, you can make an educated guess because of how they tell the story, in other words, their voice.

New writers know of the elusive voice, but often struggle to find their own. They feel as if their writing is too cut and dried, has no flair, so they try this style, then that style, emulating authors they admire. And that’s okay, it’s practice.

Writers are not born with their literary voice; it’s shaped over time while penning countless pages of work. To know that, all one has to do is go back to an author’s early work and compare it to her latest. The emerging voice is there in the first published piece (after many unpublished ones), but much the same as fine wine, time has bred character and depth to the writing.

How the author describes, structures a sentence, his use (or lack) of metaphors and similes, are some of the many ways voice can be discerned. And the more one writes, the more a skeletal pattern unfolds that binds the story together. A writer uses that skeleton, again and again, covering it with muscles, tendons, and skin to give his words life.

That skeleton, also known as voice, holds it all together.

Time and practice forms one’s own unique voice. There’s no shortcut to it, just lots and lots of hard work. And it doesn’t matter how much education one has or how much innate ability, one will invariably write badly before one writes well. That fact holds true in writing as it does for about anything a person chooses to pursue. Do you think Tiger Woods won a championship the first time he picked up a golf club? Or Paula Deen cooked a scrumptious, butter-dripping meal on her first attempt? Or people went wild the first time a young Bruce Springsteen picked up a guitar and belted out a song?

Nope. All of them put in the necessary years of practice to hone their craft, and you, dear writer, have to be prepared to do that as well. No more than singing is just about mouthing words in tune, writing isn’t just telling a story; how the singer sings, how the writer writes is equally as important.

Discover your how, and you discover your voice. 

©2019 KT Workman

26 thoughts on “Voice

  1. Kathy, I have a funny story to tell about Voice. Before I moved back to this city called home, where I grew up, I lived about 150 miles South of here. I was a teacher, but had acquired a group of friends from different classes I had taught. They were all women and we continued to meet even after I was retired on disability. We met once a week and although I was still leading the group, we’d been together, writing, for about three years. After moving here, I really missed them and knew they continued to meet, to write together, taking turns leading the group of now four. I had begun posting on a blog, doing mostly prose, but then created another blog for poetry. I had actually shared an apartment with one of the women, and we called back and forth about once a week. During one of those conversations I told her that I wanted to play a joke on the others. Told her I would start another blog under a fictitious name, do several poetry posts, and she should tell them that she’d found this poetry blog online and really liked the poetry. She giggled and agreed to do it. I set up the blog and posted about ten poems on it, called her with the addie and told her to let me know what they thought of her “discovery”. She later called and told me that it took them about twenty minutes to figure it out. They liked the poetry but one of them said she thought it sounded kind of familiar. And the others agreed and then they realized that Sandy couldn’t hide her laughter. One of them said it’s Elizabeth, isn’t it? I had been told I had a recognizable ‘voice’, especially within my poetry, but that was my first realization that the statement was true.

    I agree with you and what you say. We each own a certain ‘voice’ that over time becomes recognizable as ours. I equate that with painters who own a ‘signature stroke’ with the manner in which they apply the paint to a canvas, the pigments they use, the colors they prefer, and the visible strokes they leave on the canvas. We do the same when we lay down words, using certain idioms and phrases, certain structures whether in prose or poetry. And that Voice comes from practice. We find what is comfortable to us, and in using it, we create a certain cadence in our writing that becomes recognizable to those who read us. Just as the voices of certain individuals are often recognizable to someone answering the phone.

    Thanks for this post, it is an important issue.

    Elizabeth
    https://1sojournal.wordpress.com/2019/05/09/writing-and-memory/

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It doesn’t surprise me that your friends recognized your voice…yours is distinct, Elizabeth. When I ran across your blog, read your poetry, it was your voice that spoke to me, drew me in. We all have favorite authors, and I think their voice is a good part of what makes them our favorites. And I agree with your painter analogy. Those in the creative arts develop some form of voice over time…if they are good, that is.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it’s some of both. I come from a family of avid readers, and one of my sisters writes as well. Another of my sisters is extremely intelligent, has a PhD, and wants to write (not just research papers), but can’t.
      I think we are born with the talent, but have to learn the “nuts and bolts” to write well.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I had to google Malcolm Gladwell to see what you were talking about…I don’t know about 10,000 hours, but it takes quite a while for a writer’s voice to solidify. And yes, kindergarten counts, IF you’re writing. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You don’t become a master without spending the time to hone your craft. Even classical child prodigies like Mozart were very good indeed. But not a true-blue original master until his 20s!

        My grandson, Deangelo, once asked, “How do you always seem to know so much?”

        My answer, “It’s mostly bullshit!”

        Liked by 1 person

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