It’s not easy transitioning from a career in business communications to fiction writing. The hardest part about the transition is finding your voice. In business communications, the writing voice is impersonal, detached and, well, business-like. Communications are focused on the needs of the company or client that you’re writing for. Your personal voice is absent.
When you begin to write fiction, on the other hand, it’s imperative to find your writing voice because your story and characters are all extensions of yourself.
Finding your writing voice matters for several reasons. It establishes consistency throughout your body of work. It gives your writing personality. Finally, it helps readers know who you are. You can’t hide behind your words; you have to learn to write from the heart. That’s how readers will find you and keep coming back to you.
According to the NY Book Editors blog, a writer’s voice is a combination of three factors: the writing style, perspective and tone.
Style is the character of the writing; the words and phrases you use and how you express your ideas. Style is developed by years of practice and experimentation. It also helps to read the works of different authors from different genres to sample their writing style. Over time, you pick up bits and pieces from authors you admire. Style may be short, abrupt sentences or long sweeping poetic ones. However you develop your style will eventually become your hallmark, editors say.
Perspective is how you choose to view a situation and relay what’s happening. Perspective is drawn from your history of experience and knowledge of the situation. For example, when a car accident occurs on a busy street corner, one witness standing on the sidewalk will have a different perspective of the accident than the passenger in one of the involved vehicles and the policeman who arrives to investigate it will have yet a different perspective.
Tone is the attitude or feeling about the story that you’re telling. It can be serious or sad, or it can be humorous and upbeat. Tone gives readers a clue about how to feel about what’s happening in the story.
It can take years to find and refine your writing voice. Here are a few ways to help you find it.
1. Spend time alone with your thoughts. Be aware of the ideas, notions and imaginings going through your head. Note the conversations you have with yourself internally. Notice your own feelings too. Do you feel cheerful, optimistic, sad, guilty or fearful? What is the source of those feelings? Where are they coming from? It might help to learn meditation to be fully present with yourself.
2. Keep a journal. Most writers do keep a journal. It helps them take stock of their experiences. If you prefer, carry a small notebook in your pocket or purse so you can jot down ideas and observations as you go about your day.
3. Write letters. If you’ve ever written a personal letter to someone, you know how difficult it can be to find the right words to express how you feel. The practice of writing letters helps you access what you’re feeling in your heart. Writing from the heart is the key to finding your writing voice.
4. Read different authors. When you read different genres and authors, you expose yourself to different ways of storytelling. We naturally pick up bits and pieces along the way from other writers, especially ones whose works we admire. Over time, you will synthesize different styles to form your own.
5. Freewrite. As I’ve described in previous posts, freewriting is the practice of writing nonstop for several pages about anything that comes to mind. There are no right or wrong answers to what you put down on paper. It’s simply a fast, easy way to access parts of your subconscious that you may have kept hidden, even from yourself. You never know what shows up on those freewritten pages. When you go back to re-read what you’ve written, the writing will most likely be sloppy, but you may find hidden gems of heart-felt emotion. That’s where your voice will emerge.
If you want to explore this topic more, I highly recommend the book Writing from the Heart: Tapping the Power of Your Inner Voice by Nancy Slonim Aronie.
Finding your true voice as a writer does not happen overnight. It takes practice and dedication to access those parts of you that readers will appreciate.