It’s often said that you can’t be a successful writer without finding your voice. That it’s necessary to have a voice that is unique, distinctive and discernibly you. When I began to write, this was something I worried about. I wondered how I would ever develop this voice or know if I’d found it. Whether my voice is unique and distinctive is for others to judge, but over the years, I’ve come to recognise that there is a voice in my work.
Voice is described in different ways. It can be said to be a mixture of the way you use words, description, character and style. For me, I see it in the turns of phrase that I habitually use, but less perceptibly, it’s in the feel of the writing. It’s difficult for me to describe the way I sense the ‘feel’ of my writing. I perceive it as an sensation in my chest – a kind of earnest searching. If I had to describe my voice, I’d say it was serious, introverted, maybe a little melancholy. To me, it’s reminiscent of stormy weather, autumn, exposed hillsides in the snow, abandoned things. It’s about the sea and the early, dark hours of the morning. That’s not to say I write about these things (although I might). It’s not to say I’m inspired by these things (though I am). It’s about the images and sensations I get when I try to describe my writing voice. My creative writing voice is different to the voice that comes across in, say, the reports I write for work, or the emails I write to friends. It’s different from my speaking voice – more formal, accentless, with a larger vocabulary.
As a teenager, I decided I would re-invent my handwriting to something a bit quirkier than the uniform loops and swirls I’d learned at school. I remember using the sleeve notes from a Cure album as a starting point. I got into the habit of it easily and I still write the same way today. But I don’t remember ever consciously trying to invent a ‘voice’ as a writer. I’ve read thousands of books over the years and there are some writers that I wish my voice was similar to, but I don’t ‘sound’ like them and even if I tried to emulate them I know it wouldn’t work and I’d still sound like me.
So where does this voice come from? And if it’s not the voice I use every day, but it’s nevertheless my voice, then what is it? Perhaps this is my authentic voice – what I would sound like if I met the world without the armour of the roles I play there. Or maybe it’s an unauthentic voice, a fictional sound that I’ve unconsciously invented from absorbing everything I’ve read. But I don’t feel that I can change my voice in the way I changed my handwriting. And my voice has limitations. For example, I could never write a comedy – my voice just wouldn’t suit it. It just evolved, whether I liked it or not. In fact, I know there are some words and phrases that I use too much, but they’re such a definite part of my voice I find it difficult to avoid them. Maybe we have a range of different voices – just like the different facets of our character – the ones that come out when we’re dealing with our family, our colleagues, our fiction – all of which are still recognisably us.
I’m comfortable with my writing voice. When I use it, it’s almost like going into character. That moment before I begin to write gives me an exciting, but cosy sensation. It feels as though my voice is deep down inside of me and when I begin, my attention moves from my head down into my body. And this suggests to me that this voice is authentic – it comes, not from outside influences, but from deep within me. Although I’m writing fiction, this voice seems real.
Do you recognise your voice as a writer? Where did it come from and what is it like?