I've been doing a lot of thinking about what it means to have a unique voice as a writer. Mainly because (in my opinion) nailing voice seems to be the key to going from being an unpublished author to a published one. Often, especially while I was trying to find an agent, I would read lots of posts about voice and try to decipher what it meant. It is the one thing agents always talk about--finding a manuscript where the author has a unique voice--and I figured it was my ticket to finally clearing that first hurdle. If I could define it, then I could hopefully one day be published. But I think out of all the writerly things I've tried to educate myself on, this one is the hardest to pin down. Most of the articles, posts and books that I've read on voice have been somewhat vague. So, for what it's worth, I'm going to attempt to try to define it in my own way (the way that finally made sense to me) and hopefully it'll resonate with some of you who are trying to find your writer voice as well.
I think that a writer's voice is the individualized way that she ( I use she because I am one) uses language in combination with storytelling. It is a particular technique she has of describing a setting, scene, character, or situation that is unique to her and that with lots of practice, begins to come naturally. It involves how that writer strings together connections between seemingly unrelated things and then uses those connections to make new and original metaphors and similes in her own work. It's how she uses rhythm in language and tone and mood. In other words, it's the way that she arranges all of her craft skills within her writing toolbox. She takes all the do's and don'ts taught by others more seasoned than herself and assimilates them to the point where she is able to break them when it serves her and the story (and knows when this is appropriate) and is able to create something new, fresh, and engaging.
SO WHAT EXACTLY DO I MEAN?
In simpler terms: it's all about figuring out how to say what you mean to say in a way that only you can say it. It's that simple...and that hard. This can take months or years--the journey is different for each of us, but rest assured, when you begin to find your voice, you'll know it because people will say things like: I knew you wrote that, it sounded like you. But how do you find your voice if you're just starting out and have no idea where to look?
1. You read, read, read, read, READ!!! Your voice will be a blending of lots of other authors voices that inspire you combined with your own very individual set of experiences and perceptions. The more widely you read-across genres, age levels, etc, the more eclectic and unique your voice. I read lots of yound adult fiction, but I also read adult fiction, memoirs, regular nonfiction, poetry, song lyrics, children's books--basically EVERYTHING.
2. You learn the craft of writing...for the rest of your life. There is no finish line on educating yourself on craft. It is an ongoing process and one that should excite you...otherwise you might not be in the right profession. You know you're a writer when a good book on craft gets you as wound up as a good novel. (Stein on Writing by Sol Stein does this to me)
3. You write and write and write some more. I know you've heard this ad nauseum, but it's true. You won't develop your voice if you don't practice using it. AND it will be tone deaf and mostly horrible for awhile before you get it right.
4. You drink in the world around you. You have to take it all in and then store it away for future use. I pay attention to the sky, to the way clouds look on any given day, to smells in the air, to the conversations happening all around me, to the mannerisms people have. I hold onto the ones that resonate with me: the little girl who walks on the balls of her feet, the man who chews the sides of his fingers until the skin is raw, the waitress who keeps a stack of hair bands on her wrist.
5. You find ways to weave what resonates with you into your work. I wonder all the time about people's potential for behaving badly. It has always freaked me out how people who commit really terrible crimes can look so harmless, so normal. I work out my own ideas about this in my stories. Other common themes for me are learning to stand up, figuring out what you believe and adhering to it. You might be drawn to love and how it occurs or something else entirely. Weave these things into your story-not as a preachy opinion, but as an undercurrent of meaning that supports your story's and character's actions.
These are all things that I did as I worked on finding a voice that was uniquely my own. I'm still working on it...I always will be. AND my voice will hopefully grow and mature as I continue to work on it. I am slowly filling up my writer's toolbox (which is bright turquoise, on wheels, and plays Linkin' Park when it's cracked open--it is MINE after all), arranging it in the way that suits me best. If you looked in it, you would probably have to scratch your head and move stuff around to figure out where everything is and it probably wouldn't make any sense to you in the end, but THAT'S OKAY. You don't have to write with it. You'll get a toolbox of your own that's just as shiny, colorful and perfect...and most importantly YOURS.