The other night I finished an important scene of my novel and I felt drained, so I took a break and read fanfiction, thinking it might be fun because I hardly ever do it. (Among others, I read this great/weird story about Once Upon a Time and Alias, two of my favorite shows that happen to share an actor.)
Then, when I was done reading, I went back to my novel and started writing again. But something weird happened. My writing voice was different. I no longer sounded like me; the only way I can describe it is that my novel suddenly sounded like fanfiction.
Not wanting my novel to sound like fanfiction (there is nothing wrong with fanfiction but I want my novel to sound like itself, not anything else) I stopped writing. Instead, I did something kind of embarrassing: I went into my Writing folder on my computer and read my own work.
Yes, yes I am that vain, I love my stories so much that I read them for fun like they’re an actual book. No regrets.
But when I went back to writing my novel, do you think it still sounded like fanfiction? Nope! I sounded like myself again. My voice was back.
You see, the tagline of my blog (“I’m a writer searching for my writing voice. Reward if found.”) is just a joke. I already have a writing voice. You have one too. Every one of us already has a voice, honed by years of communicating, and all we have to do is capture it on the page. Perhaps polish it up a bit. Not too much, though – what makes a voice unique is its quirks, its particular choice of words and sentence structure and punctuation.
If you find that you’re having a hard time sounding like yourself, you can try going back and reading something of yours that you think is good, but if you don’t have anything like that yet, try this: Record yourself telling a story aloud. If you listen to it and it doesn’t sound natural, record another one until you get comfortable. Then, when you listen and it sounds natural, write down a transcript of it, trying to capture exactly what you sound like. (Feel free to leave out any filler words like “um” and “like” if you want – you wouldn’t put those into most prose, but they’re really useful for dialogue.) Read your transcript whenever you feel like your voice is lost.
When I was just starting to get serious about writing, I tried to emulate the style of writers I liked, hoping that some of their awesomeness would seep into me and when I magically found my own voice, it would already be imbued with the essence of J.R.R. Tolkien and T.A. Barron and Stephen R. Lawhead and whatever other fantasy writers I was reading in high school.
I was going about it all wrong, though. To find my voice, I didn’t need to study other people’s voices – I needed to study my own.