Friday, June 14, 2013

Your Writer Voice

It took me a long time to find my writer voice. For a long time I wasn't even sure what that meant, then I thought maybe I didn't have one. Then it clicked.

I was writing the umpteenth draft of what eventually became my first novel, The Night Train, when it suddenly dawned on me that all those other drafts had been written by someone (me) trying to adhere to all the so-called rules of writing marketable fiction. I wondered what would happen if I just wrote the way I wanted to, without worrying whether or not anyone else would like it. So I gave it a shot

All those other drafts were missing something. I didn't know what they were missing, but I knew they were missing something very important. It wasn't anything I could put my finger on, either. Just a nagging inner voice telling me they were not what I wanted to create. I knew I could do better even though I never had proven it. I couldn't even explain to myself what it was I wanted to create, but I knew I would recognize it when I saw it. Not being able to close the gap was like hanging over the side of the Grand Canyon.

Like most writers, I wrote a lot of crap. I have files and notebooks with some really bad writing. Writing, like anything else worth doing, takes practice. It takes lots of hours of outputting stuff you hope no one ever stumbles across before you get it right. Never be ashamed of writing badly, just don't show it to anyone.

Find your voice.

How will you know you've found it? For me, it was that moment when writing became comfortable. It was when I gave myself permission to break rules, not because I didn't know better, but because I felt like they were in the way of telling my story.

My story.

Don't get me wrong: I want readers to like my writing. I appreciate every review I've ever received. I cherish every encouraging word, every when is your next book coming out, but the single most important thing to me as a writer is being able to read the final draft of my manuscript and say, yes, that's exactly what I was shooting for.

How did you know you had found your voice?


  1. Well said, Carl. You know me, I'm a rule breaker. I find that I can't always get what I really want to say across and follow the rules at the same time, but as long as we, as writers, are not breaking the rules just for the sake of being different or trendy or anything but following our own hearts, I think, for the most part, a little rule breaking could do us good.
    I tend to ignore the naysayers. As long as I'm happy with a piece of work when it's completed,and can put it to rest, I feel I've done what I set out to accomplish, then I feel a great deal of happiness about my career. When I look at all my favorite writers, artists, singers, song-writers -- they were all rule-breakers.
    So I say -- follow your instinct and write your own rules based on what you know to be right in your heart. The writing will come and your voice will become stronger and more defined with each new story. At least you will leave behind a legacy of authentic work. After all, we don't write to leave behind a body of work depicting the beliefs of an author we ourselves don't even know.
    Even if the world doesn't get it, leave behind your true voice. It's the only thing that, to a writer, should matter.

    1. This very topic came up in a forum I ran across this weekend and there was one writer who explained his process of plotting and outlining, then proclaimed that any writer who doesn't follow that process will fail. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Write that way or you can't possibly produce anything other than an incoherent mess.

      Listening to such self-serving advice can kill a budding writer's career faster than anything. If you can't follow your own instincts then you should be doing something else, in my humble opinion.

  2. I guess I am a little late posting on this topic but I agree that having an outline and writing toward the conclusion is the best and easiest way to write. I often hear or see something that i wish to write about and I just start writing without any hint as to an ending. I very often in mid story change the ending and the results are often better than the planned story.

    My theory is to write and if it turns out good use it and if it doesn't-save it anyway when you read it later it may be better than you think it is now.

    Claude Jones, Pontotoc

    1. I have two novels out, Claude, and didn't know the ending to either of them until the last chapter. With The Night Train, my first, I wrote the last sentence before it hit me that it had ended. As you get to know your characters, if you give them room to grow, you will find yourself chasing them more than directing. And, yes, write everything, but only show people the good stuff.