One of the things that bothered me most about my high school writing experience was how my teachers would, more often than not, put unnecessary prohibitions on how we wrote our papers. I don’t mean how as in our writing process or word processor, but in the language and word choice. They would often tell me “never use the first person” or “don’t use rhetorical questions.” They would tell me not to use simple words, not to vary my format, not to write the way I wanted to write. This sort of teaching suffocates, until it stops kicking and lies more dead than your dinner, one of the most important features of writing: voice.
Voice is what makes writing special. Voice is what makes writing unique. Voice is what gave Shakespeare’s work it’s wide appeal that it is still loved to this day. Voice is what gave Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches the power that people remember to this day. So why, then, does seemingly every little rule that we were taught makes “good writing” in high school seem to be an effort to kill our own voice and replace it with the ever-monotonous voice of the academic papers we are all so enthralled by? After years of being taught such things, it may seem hopeless to you to have any chance of making your writing stand out, to have any chance of finding your voice. But it is not. Voice is not something that can be taken away, at least not in writing. Your voice is not dead, despite my above metaphor, for it cannot die nor be stolen nor replaced. It is simply lost, and you need only to find it. Here are a few tips that helped me find my voice, and I hope they will help you too.
- Write how you talk.
Possibly one of the most common pieces of advice for finding your voice in writing is to imitate your actual, speaking voice. I subscribe to this theory as well. By imitating how you speak on the page you observe how you speak, how you explain things, and, through that, can begin to look critically at what make your speech unique. Be careful when doing this, however, as sometimes things that work in speech do not work on the page.
- Look at writing you enjoy and observe how the author constructs their voice on the page.
One of the best ways to learn something is to look at how others do it. Take a piece of writing that you are particularly fond of and read through it. Observe the writing and try and pick apart the things the writer does to present their unique voice. It may, like in Shakespeare’s case, be the use of meter, diction, and syntax. Or it may, like in MLK’s case, be a use of repetition and chiasmus. Whatever the case, looking critically at how other writers write is sure to help you with anything in writing, voice included.
- Try imitation.
Branching off tip two, after finding a piece of writing and determining how that writer constructs their voice within the text, try imitating them. This is not to say that you should directly copy a writer, nor would I recommend doing this step in an assignment. But, same as how a dancer must first mimic their teacher, or how an artist may begin their training by tracing other drawings, imitation is a good way to begin finding your voice. You may find that some techniques the author used worked and incorporate them into your own voice. Or you may find that, while you enjoyed the work, the techniques used to construct its voice do not work for you. Even learning what does not work will help narrow your search for your voice. By finding what does and does not work for you, and thinking critically about why, you will be able to find out key characteristics of your voice, and even your writing in general.
- Don’t be afraid.
Do not be afraid to try new things out. Do not be afraid to fail. Do not be afraid that you will never find your voice, and that you will never be able to make your writing stand out. I am here to let you know that you will fail. You will struggle and still not know your voice or the voice of your text. And that is okay. Failure is a part of the learning process, and you can never improve if you don’t first know what you did wrong. Experiment. Do some research. Read and imitate others. And, if after all of that you still are no closer, then try and try again. Writing is an ever-going process and writers are always changing and growing. So do not despair. If you keep at it, you will one day find that voice that has been hidden inside you all along, and it will come out and shine like the sun in the sky and you will be able to say, “this is me.”
Contributed By: Blue Perez, Writing Center Tutor