March 10, 2017

#LifeWritten: Questions to Ask to Reveal Your Author's Voice

We, as writers, are intimately familiar with the notion of finding our— sometimes elusive— writer's voice, whether we've actually found it or not. This post is for all of you that fall into the second category. My author's voice can be traced back to pieces I wrote in the eighth grade. No, really. A short screenplay that I had to write for Lit class comes immediately to mind.

As I've grown up and changed, whatever that little section is in my mind, the one that tells me what and how to write, has remained relatively constant over the years, a fact that is unbelievable and amazing at the same time. How is it that I can read papers that I wrote when I was just 13 and recognize them as my own? That, my friends— that recognition— is how you know that you've found your writer's voice, that unique style of writing that is yours alone and that sets your work apart.

It isn't always easy to find your writer's voice, though. If you're new to writing, you haven't gotten into a groove yet. If you are not a novice, and even if you are a seasoned writer, you may still be struggling to find the missing piece, that one part of the whole that would make writing feel right for you. That one piece that would make words flow naturally, no matter what the topic. To find that piece, you need to dig deep and make lots of creative connections, and I hope these questions will help you to do that because the power of the written word is an incredible thing.

Which genres are you typically drawn to?

The genre that you prefer to read could reveal something about your author's voice. I grew up on YA fiction (Sarah Dessen, anyone?), and there's no argument you could make that would convince me that a John Green novel is not a great read. This love affair of mine is probably what subconsciously inspired me in my novel-writing. I didn't realize in what direction my first book was headed until it made a sharp right turn.

The a-ha moment was almost palpable. It's funny that, though I don't consume YA fiction the way I did when I was 12, my writing shifted, without my consent, to accommodate a YA-style plot and narrative. Whatever you read— the classics, historical fiction, original fiction, editorial-style pieces, blog posts— has the potential to profoundly impact what you write.

Click to Tweet: If the phrase "you are what you eat" was applied to writing, it would probably go something like: "you are the words you read."

Does that make sense? If you pick up on a technique that you love, or even a great word that you've never heard or one that you don't think to use, in a piece, you might find yourself using it in your own writing.

Which writing prompts are you drawn to?

What you choose to write about when you have limited options says something about you as a writer. Back in the day, when you were writing essays for middle school English class and personal statements for college applications, which types of prompts were you drawn to? The ones that you had the most information with which to respond or the ones that made you think? How did you approach these prompts? Did you answer the questions at face value, or did you dig deep and reveal unexpected answers?
When I was applying to colleges, I wrote some bizarre unconventional essays. My top-choice school is known for their unusual prompts, so in the hopes of acceptance, I submitted a paper about the mantis shrimp and the color purple. My personal statement, which I sent to every college that I applied to, opened with Panic! at the Disco song lyrics.

I'm clearly not the "take it at face value" type. If you're like me, that's awesome. If you're the opposite of me, that's awesome, too.

Maybe you write in a daily prompt journal. Which prompts do you prefer to respond to and why?

Consider the prompts you tend to gravitate toward, and ask yourself why you tend to choose them and others like them. Is it because they are easiest to respond to? Because you like a challenge? Because they seem like they would be fun to respond to?

What do you value the most in written content, yours or others'?

Good grammar? A story with which you can connect? Something with a clear, applicable message and takeaway? A totally unique approach?

Click to Tweet: What you value in writing reveals much about your author's voice and brand identity. 

If you hate slang, then maybe a colloquial style of writing is not for you. If you love flowery, descriptive language, writing lots of technical copy and blog posts is probably not for you; fiction, in contrast, could be a great genre for you to explore. Maybe you love figurative language: incorporating more metaphors or symbolism into your writing would work for you.

What do you hate the most in written content, yours or others'?

Redundancy? Poor grammar? A lack of purpose that leaves you asking why you just read what you read? Just as what you value in writing is essential to finding your author's voice, what you dislike in writing is essential. If there is a strategy or writing style that you often see being used by other writers or bloggers and that you've taken to using because you think you should, but you hate the strategy or style... what are you doing? (Make sure you are not making these writing mistakes, either.)

Stop right there. Don't do what doesn't feel right to you. It's your work of authorship, so why are you tailoring and editing it to sound like someone else's or, worse, everyone else's? You have a unique story to tell, and you can tell it in a way that no one else can. So tell it!

Need more help finding your writer's voice? Writing coaching can reveal what's just under the surface.

(P.S. My spring break officially begins today, so I'll be off the radar for the next ten days or so. You can catch a newsletter this Sunday, and make sure to check back in for a new post on Monday the 20th. You can also follow along on Instagram for my New York snaps!) 

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