Have you ever noticed how different Harper Lee’s voice is from John Steinbeck’s? Have you ever compared the writing style of Aimee Bender to Betty Smith? The words they choose, the punctuation they employ, and the overall flow makes the writing speak to a reader in different ways. Yet, you’d never mix them up. One might give you the idea of prestige and power, while another one might evoke nostalgia, while another is insistent on making you feel every single detail.
Just like any modern artist, a writer can have a certain “voice” that distinguishes them from their contemporaries. Generally speaking, when I turn on the radio, even if I haven’t heard a song before, I instantly know if a song is by Pitbull, Marc Anthony, Santana, Bruno Mars, or Maroon 5. For other artists, it’s a little bit more murky (to be fair, I’m not so good with identifying most artists). I can spot a Jackson Pollock, or a Van Gogh piece half a block away. These artists have put their individual flair into their work so that it is unmistakably theirs. Ideally, this is what you would do as a writer.
When you first begin writing, you may write the way your think. You may not pay attention to how words come across, you just write what you feel. That’s okay. But after you’ve written a lot of pieces of various types, you’ll begin to realize that there is a pattern to your writing. Do you use lots of embedded clauses? Do you use short choppy words? Do your characters frequently drift off into thought? Do you rely on clichés? (It’s okay, most of us do that a few times over).
Keep in mind that not every writing inclination you have is a bad thing It is exactly what becomes part of your writer’s voice. Your true voice comes out once you’ve solidified all of your writing tendencies and have made them consistent with the rest of your writing.
I encourage you to give your writing a critical eye and see what patterns you notice. You might be surprised and pleased by what you find. Even if you don’t, that’s the joy of writing. There is always something to improve upon.
*Note* A version of this piece appeared on the August Rose Press Blog.