Monday, 7 November 2011

Finding & Keeping Your Writing Voice

It is said that “finding your writing voice” is part of the journey to success, especially in fiction. We are led to believe that for some people it comes naturally and for others it’s a never ending battle. The truth is we all have our own unique writing voice and it’s there within us all if we dig deep enough and work hard enough.

Often it takes quite a while and a lot of writing before we feel brave enough to show someone else our precious story – the one that has been rattling inside our brain for ages and had to emerge and find its way on to the page (or screen). It is important to get feedback and let others see your work to tell you what works or doesn’t work for them, and perhaps what may or may not work in a particular line or genre. A big mistake often made by beginner writers is to take on board every piece of advice from various critiques, and systematically change everything that is pointed out to them. If several people have commented and suggested the same change, then the writer should seriously consider reviewing that point. But if you, the writer, change large portions of the manuscript as suggested without really thinking it through, then you risk losing your voice, what makes that story uniquely yours.

Some helpful hints:

*Try reading your work aloud. You’ll find that you might stumble over awkward words or phrasing, or long passages that can be condensed. This is a way to strengthen your style and maintain your voice.

*Be yourself and express yourself. Let your writing mirror your inner self. Don’t try to mimic your favourite authors. Find your own true self in your writing.

*Don’t wait for the “right” moment to write. Just like exercise which should be done regularly to be of any benefit, writing needs to be practiced regularly.  

*Think of your writing voice as a chunk of coal - solid carbon. With pressure and outside forces, it becomes a rough rock with promise. Then with practice and polish, it has the potential to be a stunning, sparkling, multi-faceted diamond.

I often tell people who have submitted work to me for editing, “You can fix grammar, punctuation and spelling - they are all easily learned – BUT you can’t fix or learn your voice. This is your individual talent to communicate and bring to life the kernel of an idea and make it compelling reading.”



  1. Great advice in the middle of contest season, Serena. Many of us are sitting with score sheets and comments in front of us and wondering just how far to go in changing our work. Thanks.

  2. Hi Serena!

    I still have a problem working out what exactly is 'voice'. For e.g. I can tell a Jenny Crusie or a Barbara Samuel by their tone, word choice and cadence of narrative. And I often read something that makes me think, "oh, this book has a feel to it." I did hear an author say that voice is your personality on paper, HOWEVER, if you are writing for different genres/markets, your voice/style may be different. AFAICS, my Desires are different to the romcoms or the fantasy stuff I'm writing. But then, I could be too close to see it anyway! :grin:

  3. Thanks, Louise. I'm glad you found it useful. Good luck with your entries!

  4. A great post, Serena! I know a lot of my aspiring writer friends struggle with 'Voice.'

    I'm going to send this link to some friends to read!

  5. Hi Paula,
    Oh I agree with you 100%. Authors have different voices for the different genres or lines they write for. I've commented on that while editing for a couple of published authors - how their category romance "voice" is so different to their single title "voice". Perhaps that's the secret of writing different markets. It's also the reason some authors choose to have a different name for different genres. If you're expecting to read a Nora Roberts romance, you might be a bit disappointed to pick up one of her suspense books (which she writes under J.D. Robb).

    I also agree that sometimes we're too close to our own stories to see what is or isn't there - that's why we need critique partners, competitions, and (of course) editors :)

    Thanks for coming in and saying hi.

  6. Hi Nas,
    Thank you for the compliment. It's always nice to see you here. Thanks for popping in.

  7. stupid Blogspot took out my "<>" comments!! and now I can't amend it.. :(

  8. When I first started out I was told by an editor that my voice 'disappeared at times' I realised it was when I had let a crit partner move into my m/s. Cautionary tale.....

  9. Hi Paula,
    I hate when that happens. Even worse is when you write your reply and it somehow gets gobbled up when you try to post it :-/

  10. Good example, Fiona! Your voice always shines through your stories. And you're one of the people who manages to have a different "voice" in single title (Boomerang Bride from Carina Press) to your category "voice" in the Mills & Boon Medicals. I know I commented on that when I first read BB.

  11. Hi Serena,
    Great blog. Very informative. Took me years to realise what voice was too. I also think too many CPs can be detrimental to your voice, especially if you act on everything piece of advice they give you.



  12. Very true, Margaret. It's really important that you have a couple of good crit partners, but beware sending things out to too many, changing everything they suggest and risk losing that spark that is your own.

  13. Excellent article, Serena.

    That gem in your last paragraph? An agent told me the same thing once.
    Wise advice.

  14. Great post! Voice is something I'm really struggling with right now. I wish there were a magic formula!

  15. This entire post rocks, Serena, but my favorite section is: "A big mistake ... is to take on board every piece of advice from various critiques .... If several people have commented and suggested the same change, then the writer should seriously consider reviewing that point. But if you, the writer, change large portions of the manuscript as suggested without really thinking it through, then you risk losing your voice, what makes that story uniquely yours." Thank you for these wise words! I am going to tweet them right now.

  16. Hi Nic,
    Thanks for that. It's good to know that agents also give out good advice (well, what I consider to be good advice :) )

  17. Hi Susan,
    Unfortunately there really isn't a magic formula for anything to do with writing. See one of my earlier blogs: Statement: There is a Formula to Writing Romance Novels

    All you can do is be yourself and let your voice come naturally. Good luck!

  18. Hi Janice,
    Glad you agree. Thanks for popping in.

  19. Hi Michelle,
    Thanks for that and thanks for tweeting it. I appreciate it. Nice to see you here again.

  20. Great post with lot of useful advice, Serena!

  21. Great post Serena!

    I started out listening to everyone who critiqued my work and while I learned a lot, I sort of lost the vibrancy in my writing. I still listen but now I go home and think about it first and if a few make the same comment I know I have to change something.

    Thanks for sharing your words of wisdom!

  22. Thanks, Romance Reader. I hope you find it useful. Thanks for drooping in.

  23. Hi Margaret,
    That's excellent advice. Take your time, mull it over and then decide. Thanks for coming in and saying hi.

  24. Thanks, Xandra. Glad you came in to say hi, too.

  25. Great post. I heard a lot about voice at the conference, and I think it's a very interesting topic. People reading my work tell me I have a very Australian voice. When I got feedback from the Missouri comp, I found that didn't go over so well. Mmmmmm....What do you do?

  26. Hi Natalie,
    Sometimes and Aussie voice can work to your advantage. One of my friends sent the same piece to An Aussie comp and an American comp - and she didn't do too well in the Aussie come, but came tenth out of several hundred entries (might have been a thousand) in the American comp! Good luck with your writing.

    Sorry I'm late in replying and thanks for coming in.