When I first started writing, I had never read anything about how to write. I just did it. In fact I really didn't start reading a lot about writing at all till I was a teenager. After several years of soaking in a ton of articles, processing writing styles, and learning "the rules", though, I started to notice that my thinking towards writing had changed just a little.
I felt like I needed to write like "they" said. I hadn't given up my own thoughts or ideas or anything at all...but there was just that pressure to fit in, to follow the rules, to cozy up in the established mold for writing.
That's when I started really thinking in depth about unique voices in writing. I'm not talking about your novel's point of view, or the narrator's voice, or your character's voice, or any of that.
I'm talking about your voice as an author. Because even though your own books will all have varying "narrators" telling the story it's always going to be your own style. Sure, your style will change and develop as you grow as a writer. And of course you would write a mystery differently then you would a children's coming-of-age novel. But there's still a commonality between the books, because you're writing about what is important to you, from your own world view, and with your own personality.
Think about some of your favorite authors who have multiple books.
Even "similar" authors have different styles. Take a look at Lucille M. Montgomery and Lousia M. Alcott for an example. They both wrote lighter stories, often had a female protagonist, tended towards coming-of-age books that were set in smaller towns or within a unique circles of friends...and I could go on. But everyone who has read both authors know that they have very distinct styles. Lucille M. Montgomery, (author of the Anne of Green Gables books and more) tends to write romantically, with an emphasis on strong-spirited and deeply emotional characters. Even her slightly darker stories usually have a sweetness to them. She uses vivid word pictures and is always talking about the magnificent settings. Louisa M. Alcott of Little Women fame wrote realistic, amiable books with wonderfully natural dialogue. Her stories feature siblings frequently, and she really highlights strong bonds between family and friends. While they both wrote about characters in an ordinary life, Lucille M. Montgomery romanticized it, and Louisa M. Alcott praised the everyday.
So obviously your voice is unique and special--and there are dozens of posts out there on how you should define your own. But it gets a little tricky to focus on that when you have all these other things saying "write like this" or "write like that". Who do you listen to? What rules do you follow? How do you know what works for you and your unique author voice? Here is a process I like to do to get me back in the right "voice" for myself! :)
- Free-write for 20 minutes. Free-writing is when you just sit down at your computer or with a notebook and just start writing. It can be a story if it pops in your head, or just a continuous train of thought. The main point here is to simply write without thinking too hard about things. Don't worry if you're using too many dashes or if your story rambles on without much plot structure. Just write. It can be hard at first, especially if you're a perfectionist, but try it. Try to get a good amount written. Or maybe you even do this exercise a few different times and collect the pieces together.
- Read over what you wrote. Once you finish, go back and read over what you wrote. You can even set it aside for a day or so and come back to it later to have a completely fresh outlook.
- Make notes. As you read, make notes--mental or on paper-- on what you're seeing. Do you fall into poetic lines? Do you use big, intelligent sounding words? Does it sound like you're just talking to a friend? Do you have a flair for drama? Are the word pictures you're conjuring up dreamy and sweet? What type of words are you using? Are your sentences long and complex or short and brisk?
- Remember. Once you finish you're going to have a pretty good idea of the style of that piece of free-writing. If you want to, you can repeat the above process a few more times over a month or two and then compare notes. See what is panning out to be the normal for you personally. That's going to be what you're most comfortable with and what you have the knack for. Try to trim down all the things you found into a couple-sentence description of your writing voice. Now, keep those things in mind when writing. ;)
Once you have figured out and defined exactly what your writing voice is, it's a lot easier to stay natural in your tone and write like yourself. This isn't saying don't try out other styles--you might find they blend right in with your current voice. But don't be afraid to stick with what you know is your voice too, even if it's not the popular way to write, or someone else doesn't like it.
If you find yourself getting in a funk and you're having trouble writing or recognizing your own pieces, just free-write for a while. It always helps.
What do you think your unique writer's voice is like? Let me know in the comments below!
Before you leave, I have just added two different themes of the writer's planner on the Resource page. These are newly updated, insanely practical pages for any writer out there! Be sure to check them out!