Where my voice comes from

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

22 thoughts on “Where my voice comes from

  1. I think your voice is rich and sensual, and yes, melancholy. It invites me on a long walk through hidden forests 😉 ( and remember, we can explore with different voices for different projects depending what we’re writing and from what point of view. We can have many voices, the beauty of creativity!)

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    • Thank you Gemma, I’m very pleased with that description!! I did worry because I could hear my ‘voice’ that I wouldn’t be able to create distinct characters. Fortunately the feedback I’ve had suggests otherwise, but I don’t think you ever really know until you hear it from someone else.

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  2. I think one’s personality certainly comes through in his or her writing. And I think the two both reflect and influence each other. I’ve kept some of the things I’ve written over the years and every so often I’ll read them (perhaps out of boredom) and see how far it’s come over that time, and also how much I’ve grown as a person, reflected in that writing.
    I believe we are all multi-faceted, and for a writer, this reveals itself when writing something that includes multiple characters. The characters can be completely different from each other, even opposite sides of the spectrum. We draw from what we know and we create the rest, but it’s all somehow parts of us.
    I also feel that in that process, the careful contemplation of dialect, speech, and creation of these characters affects the writer. When one can consider each word before speaking it sort of exercises and conditions the mind as much as the subject matter. It’s as much an adventure and a lesson for the writer as it is for the readers.

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  3. I don’t fully know my voice in my writing. I have tried to keep it formal, yet, as I write, some other slips through and sounds very much like me.
    I enjoy my writing voice; others seem to, also. It has developed, grown, evolved, whatever term you wish to use for “changed over time”. It is fuller now, more complete, more individual. As I continue to write, I hope it continues to be honed until my writing is knowable by others without knowing that I am the author.
    Scott

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  4. I’m told my writing voice has an easy flow to it, which to me stands in stark contrast to my “public” speaking voice. When I speak, even with friends, I always think I’m stumbling over hat I want to say vs. what I’m actually saying. Maybe it’s the advantage of being able to edit and polish my written words.

    I can tell you that I find your voice is highly readable, and it evokes a sense of thoughtfulness and awareness of surroundings in me. I’d say that’s a very good effect to have on your readers.

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    • Thanks for your kind comments on my ‘voice’ JM and I certainly agree that your writing voice flows – there’s no sense of stumbling over words or not being able to articulate what you want to say. I also feel my speaking voice is less articulate than my writing voice, which, as you say, may have something to do with having more time to formulate what I want to say.

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  5. I think my voice came along with my experiences, and they reflect in the tone that comes out. There is only one me, so my voice is going to be as unique as yours. 🙂

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    • That’s an interesting point about the voice being formed from experiences and this being reflected in the tone. I hadn’t considered the role experience has to play, but I can imagine that if my life had been different, my voice could have been very different too.

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  6. Sweet post! I agree that the voice is something you cannot change, but something that simply is. It is so interesting to wonder all along if you even have one, and then suddenly you realize it’s there, staring you right in the face.

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  7. I thought this was so interesting. I think a lot about voice. What intrigued me is that your writing voice differs from your speaking voice. This was because of two things – firstly when I read this piece it felt like someone talking to me. There was such a vein of openness going through the whole thing it was like I was hearing a confession. Secondly, I use my talking voice when I write. Often I will do a first draft on a dictaphone, and if not – say I am writing a reponse to a blog! – then I speak each sentence out loud often before writing it. I think this has something to do with growing up as a stage performer – so speaking is something I associate with creativity and expression, but also I find saying things out loud a very good (excuse the french) shit detector. It means that I don’t write fussy, overly ornate prose, which wouldn’t be me at all!

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    • Thanks Gabriela, I’m pleased that my writing connects in a way that is like a conversation. In ‘real life’ I’m reserved and can be quiet until I get to know you, so it takes a while for me to share insights about my life – I do sometimes worry that what I write might be uninteresting or alternatively, too dramatic, but the relative anonymity, makes it easier to share. I can easily imagine from the way that you write that you begin with your talking voice because I too feel that you’re talking to me – though I feel that whereas my voice is introverted, your voice is much more expansive and vivacious!

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  8. Pingback: Voice | Adventures in Fantasy

  9. What an interesting and thought-provoking post Andrea and certainly a subject that holds different perspectives – many of which have been briefly touched in the above comments.
    In much the same way I can see and feel the many parallels in relation to the ‘singing voice’, one I have come to know through the years and still continues to develop (I feel I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg 😉
    It’s interesting to read your thoughts about whether your voice is authentic or not. We all get influenced by the outer world, it’s unavoidable and so our voice will always reflect in some way our life’s journey. Trying to suppress that is futile, so to me this too feels ‘Ok’. It’s all part of the game and of who we are in the full spectrum of our being. As with singing I believe there are two different kinds in writing; you can try to do your very best or you can write about what lives inside of you..effortlessly. I believe that’s where the authenticity comes from, as you mentioned, from deep inside that inner sanctuary. I agree with Kate in saying there is only one ‘you’, so your way of expression, your voice, will be as unique as you are.
    My writing voice has been calling me for quite some time and it’s only recently that I have come to answer it, so it’s only fair to say that I’m still at the dawn of this new exciting endeavour. Since English is not my native language, it took some courage to act upon this inner calling, despite the fears. One thing I can say Andrea, is that your voice is as much a beacon for inspiration as it is a support to my expanding vocabulary and writing skills. It evokes a deeper connectivity with the world beyond our visual perception. I still have so much to learn on this ever-evolving journey but I’m so much enjoying it..a never ending story 🙂

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    • Thanks so much for your lovely comments Karin – and I think your writing voice is developing wonderfully – I would never have known English was your second language, but you also have the richness of another language as well to draw on. I don’t speak another language well enough to write in it, so that’s another interesting thought – is your ‘English’ voice the same as your Dutch voice or does that give another level of uniqueness to your voice?

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