When I first started writing, one of my instructors suggested that I enter contests to get feedback. I thought it was a good idea, so I entered several (ie Daphne du Maurier, Orange Rose, The Molly, The Maggies, Brava, Harlequin, Finally a Bride, etc.). You get the picture. I wasn’t exactly a contest queen, but I was well on my way. Contests are addictive and fun, especially when you start to win/place. One of the things that came up repeatedly in the feedback was that I had a strong ‘voice’.
I have to admit at the time, I had NO IDEA what they were talking about. New writers are constantly reminded to find their voices. It’s hard to find things you don’t know are missing. 🙄 It’s also difficult to find something that’s nearly impossible to define. Voice is something a reader recognizes instinctively. It’s what makes bestselling authors. Sure skill comes into the picture, too. You have to know how to plot, pace, create settings and characters, etc. But voice is what readers really fall in love with when they’re reading. It’s ‘HOW’ you tell your stories.
Here’s the one thing no one ever tells you because the writer organizations don’t want to discourage anyone: You either have a writing voice or you don’t. Voice can’t be learned like other writing skills. It can be uncovered, but if there’s nothing there–there’s nothing there. Sucks, doesn’t it?
Let’s talk about uncovering ones voice. From a very early age I knew I wanted to write romance novels. I’d read dozens as a teen and loved them. Couldn’t imagine writing anything else because frankly, I’d never read anything else. And that was fine. I quite enjoy writing them (and reading them). What I didn’t anticipate was ‘finding my voice/uncovering my voice’ in another genre. I’d found my genre. I was happy in my genre. So why in the hell did I ‘sound’ so different, when I attempted these ‘new’ types of stories?
See, that’s the catch about voice. The other thing they don’t tell you when you’re starting out. You never know where you’ll uncover your true voice. The ONLY way to find it is by writing in every genre. And I mean EVERY genre.
The contest I entered the other day can give you some idea of how much my ‘voice’ changes, when I write in a different genre. I’ve placed the entry below for those of you who’ve read my other work. Not quite the same style of writing, is it?
The ghouls followed me just like I’d planned. They loped in the shadows, gangly limbs out of synch, taking care to stay away from the headlight beam. Everyone knows that nothing melts a ghoul faster than an H7 bulb. I’d puddled three on my way out of the diner parking lot.
The cycle roared beneath me, rattling my teeth as I shifted to gain speed. I’d considered everything when constructing my getaway plan–or so I thought, until I noticed the gas gauge French kissing empty. Damn ghouls had sucked it nearly dry, while I was inside wolfing down a cheeseburger. I’d passed the ‘Last Gas Station For Miles’ exit five road signs ago. Vegas was another fifty, not that I’d make it to the mecca of neon. It was as elusive as dawn at midnight.
Something gurgled loudly behind me. I didn’t look back. The sound was followed by similar rumbles. The fact that I could hear it over the air buzzing in my ears was a testament to the power of a ghoul’s digestive tract. They’d eaten a half dozen people back at the diner and they were still hungry. Talk about compulsive overeaters. With any luck, I’d give them all heartburn. The bike sputtered and choked, then gradually slowed, bringing my one-way ride down this ghoul highway to an end.
You’ll know you’ve found your voice when your writing jumps up a level. That’s a sure indication that you’re on the right track. Can your writing get better by learning more craft? Absolutely. But craft doesn’t mean squat, if you don’t have voice. I’ve read a lot of beautifully crafted stories. Some might say ‘perfectly’ crafted stories, but they fell flat because the writer had NO voice. You won’t know if you have a voice until you start writing in every genre (even the ones you hate).
I’ll leave you with one final piece of advice: Don’t fight your voice just because it doesn’t conform to what you think you should be writing. I’ve made that mistake. It’s painful and a very big waste of time.
If you have any questions, toss them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them. 🙂