If your friend called you from an unknown number and started talking, what are the chances you’d recognize them before they said their name? What would give them away first? The sound of their voice, their cadence, how they started the conversation?
How about your favorite author? What would give them away if you picked up their book before seeing the cover? Do they have a trademark sense of humor? What drew you to them in the first place?
Your voice as an author can be as distinct as your speaking voice. It’s in the sound, length, and rhythm of your sentences; the way you reveal information to the reader; how you subvert or adhere to certain grammar rules; even the stories you choose to write.
If you’re a newer author, you may still be experimenting with different genres and styles and not yet know what makes your own writing voice unique. But with time and practice, your little idiosyncrasies will present themselves, and make you feel unequivocally *you*.
But how does a new writer start developing that Authentic Author Voice, and how do you know it when you see it?
Here are my five best tips for discovering your voice as a new author, in a very particular order.
What kinds of stories and authors are you naturally drawn to? And why are you drawn to them? Maybe you have a special place in your heart for horror. What is it about that genre that interests you? Which authors do it best (according to you, not the critics)?
Artists learn from other artists. And while we never want to cross the line into plagiarism, many writers spend years analyzing the work of their idols, attempting things in their style, and building off that as they develop their own voice.
What’s important is that you appreciate the difference between learning from another author and copying them. Reverse engineer all you want, but when the time comes to make your own version of another author’s work, don’t forget to make it your own.
Sometimes the best way to figure out what you like is to identify what you dislike. What genres or writing styles can’t you stand? If you’re the kind of person who won’t leave a book unfinished, what would tempt you to call it quits?
Give yourself permission to rant about this. Find a friend, or your journal, and talk about why you recently disliked a certain piece of writing, whether it’s a movie you saw or a book you read. Get specific about what didn’t work for you.
When you can articulate your pet peeves in writing, you can decide how you would do it differently.
One of the biggest inhibitors of authenticity is the inner critic. And when you’re working on something you know you’ll eventually share, it can be hard to keep that voice from influencing your writing.
If you find yourself catering to an imaginary room of Writing Judges, step away from your work-in-progress and reorient yourself through play.
Pick out some writing prompts that sound fun to you and try them purely for the sake of writing. As you respond to the prompts, ask yourself what you would write if no one was looking.
If you still find yourself stuck in your head, try experimenting with timed exercises. When the goal is to write fast, not well, the inner critic has a lot less to latch onto, and you give your own voice more room to breathe.
This is a classic exercise for authors who want to hone their writing skills. When we read in our heads, our brains naturally gloss over certain sounds and information that another reader might find distracting. By reading your work out loud, you can hear the rhythm of the words. You may notice that you tend to structure sentences in a similar way, and that more variety would help activate the language. Or you might notice a paragraph that landed just the way you intended.
Reading aloud can also help us see where our writing needs more clarity. If it’s hard to say, it’s probably hard to read. When you feel yourself tripping up on words, just make note of that and smooth it out in the next pass.
Most importantly, you can hear what your voice actually sounds like. Is it more staccato or melodic? What kinds of phrases or sentence structures do you favor? Does it feel more natural to read the text fast or slow?
Whatever you hear, I find the best way to approach this exercise is with curiosity. While you may find things you want to work on, the primary goal should be to learn about yourself as a writer. Use this as a tool to get to know your own voice and style.
This one’s probably a given, but I’d be remiss to leave it out.
The best way to develop your voice is to use it.
Whether you do this by working on one big piece or a million unrelated journal entries does. not. matter. You do not have to be writing a novel to be developing your voice as a writer. You literally just have to be writing. Like anything.
Obviously if you’re mainly writing business articles and you’re truly interested in fiction, you may want to try your hand at some fiction writing prompts. But even then, you’re still building sentences and structuring information in both formats. It’s still you. What matters is that you’re practicing.
Discovering your writing voice does not mean figuring out what you sound like and never changing. It’s about using language to communicate your personality. And just as our personalities change with time and experience, your writing can, too.
I’ve been writing for over two decades—shoutout to the 9-year-old who wrote short stories about puppies in the walk-in closet she converted into an office.
Even now, 20 years later, I still experiment with my authorial voice. I love trying on a new style and deciding if it feels right for me. I love playing with language, making messes, and seeing what those experiences can teach me about myself. Sometimes, even, I write something that doesn’t really sound like me, and I know I need to recenter.
Wherever you are in your lifespan as a writer, play with words as much as you can, celebrate what makes your voice you, and stay curious as it inevitably evolves.
I'm a fiction book editor and writing coach, specializing in anti-perfectionist writing habits for indie authors.
In this house, we leave perfection at the door and write with curiosity, clarity, and joy.
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