About four years ago, I discovered a powerful tool that helped me unearth my unique voice and hone my honest perspective. I’ll share with you what that powerful tool is, but for now I want to talk about your voice.
Notice that the title of this post isn’t How to Write/Sound Like the Masters. No, it’s how to discover YOUR unique writing voice.
As writers we fall victim to comparing our works of fiction to those of the masters:
If only my writing echoed the simple eloquence of Jane Austen!
If only I had the cornucopia of geek knowledge like Ernest Cline!
If only I could write geeky teen romance like John Green!
If only I had the wit of Oscar Wilde!
Whether we are aware of it or not, we often compare our works to someone who is a history-making, best-selling author.
We forget the fact that Wilde, Green, Austen, Cline- they all have been exactly where you are. They weren’t born best-selling authors. They weren’t even best-selling authors before their mid-twenties! So how is it fair to compare your works of fiction to theirs?
It isn’t, cupcake.
So don’t focus your energy on sounding like the masters. Focus on discovering what has shaped you, what you want to say, and what makes you proud to be who you are. That is the only way to discover your unique voice as a writer.
This is what I call “thanking your scars and celebrating your strengths”.
Now, what does this mean exactly?
I want you to take a moment and think about three pivotal moments in your life that affected you for the worse. Then, write down three of these scars. Think of three events in your life that:
- Hurt you deeply
- Affected you negatively
- Changed your view of the world
And write those things down in a journal. Note: you aren’t going to share this with anyone. These are your personal expressions. They’re for your eyes only. So don’t be afraid.
It’s definitely a challenge to face our demons, but I promise you it was worth your time for now. Thank you for being brave enough to write them down and face them.
But, why did I ask you to focus on dark moments? What does that do to help you discover your writing voice?
Well, first of all, it’s therapeutic to write your pain away– something you no doubt discovered long ago.
Second, because excellent writing doesn’t hide scars. It shares them. Ernest Hemingway said:
Every work of fiction depicts a character confronting monsters- either internal or external. Readers relate to that character’s struggles and find hope in facing their own. Therefore that character needs to be an utterly real representation of that battle, that journey.
As an author, you must take from the well of personal experience to write believable stories.
Artists take a difficult part of their past and turn their struggle, their pain into a beautiful work of art. Art is made from pain, built from struggles, shame, loss, sorrow, regret- built from scars- and that is what makes it beautiful.
Vulnerable, honest expressions bring people together in a profound way. So it's our responsibility as writers to share our truths, not hide them. Click To Tweet
But your writing doesn’t have to be morose, cynical, or depressing to attract readers. And it’s definitely not a biography of your life portrayed by fictional characters.
And, I’m not saying good writing doesn’t include comedy or happy adventures! People love to read stories that make them laugh, make them feel good, give them an escape from their problems- give them hope.
What I am saying is a beloved story reflects the author’s unique worldview honestly. It portrays a message that’s personal to the writer, in a truthful way. A good story addresses a truth people seek to connect over.
The hope you give is shared through your character’s journey, their choices, their emotions. The success in your character’s journey gives the reader courage to face their own monsters.
And that is what makes a story celebrated and a character beloved.
So when you strike your character with devastation, look to your scars to understand how the character would feel. Then, tailor the character’s response to their unique personality and situation.
Now, the same goes true for positive moments in your life that changed you as a person- the “celebrating your strengths” part.
Think about three life-changing happy or positive moments in your life. Yes, think of three moments that
- Shaped you positively as a person
- Shaped your view of the world
- Made you happy beyond compare
And write those down.
Tap into these happy emotions when you give your character a win. Be expressive, be sincere. And then tailor the character’s response to his unique personality and situation.
The point here is to give the reader realistic, honest feelings by tapping into your most raw and truthful emotions yourself.
So now that you’ve unearthed six pivotal moments that shaped you and your worldview as a person, it’s time to discuss how this shapes your unique writing voice.
John Green doesn’t sound like Shakespeare. Neil Gaiman doesn’t sound like Maya Angelou. But are any of them bad writers because they don’t sound like each other? No heckin’ way.
They each have/had lives that uniquely shaped their own voice and worldview. And they are revered and celebrated for each of their unique voices and perspectives. That means your voice is the most powerful tool you have. So don’t mesh it to sound like someone else’s or bury it under a pile of poetry and pretense.
Combine your scars and joys with your unique perspective to discover what your writing voice sounds like. So how do you do that?
Remember that powerful tool I was going to share with you? Well, it’s a little exercise called a “brain dump” and it’s hecka effective, my crisp little french fry. So, what in the hecksville is a brain dump, you ask? It’s a marvelous writing exercise.
- Find a quiet place where you will be uninterrupted.
- Grab a notebook and pen or open up a blank Word doc.
- Set up a timer for five minutes but keep the timer out of your eye line.
- For five minutes straight write every single thought that comes to your mind. Yes- every. Single. Thought.
- There’s absolutely no editing allowed and no sharing allowed!
This is a purge, or your mind dumping your inner voice onto the page– thus the name “brain dump”. Don’t try to make it look like anything or sound like anything. Think of it as a Jackson Pollock painting: no right or wrong and, yes, a total confusing mess. But that’s the beauty of this therapeutic exercise. There is no pretense here. No audience to judge it. It’s just you, your brain, and the page. And it’s teaching you the art of bravery while discovering your truest voice.
I have done this exercise every day ever since a fellow writer friend first suggested it to me over five years ago. It improves my unique voice, finely tunes my worldview, and it reassures me of my perspective- every time. It’s like magic.
When I feel like my writing is straying from my unique voice, I do a brain dump. It’s like a reset button. I remind myself of what my unique voice sounds like and I refocus the voice of my novel.
Why not give this exercise a go right now?
And while you’re at it, take a peek at my new course coming for new writers:
This blog post actually was your first peek at half of a chapter featured in my exciting new course.
The Fundamentals of Fandom-Worthy Fiction Course contains 13 packed chapters complete with video lessons and a personal writing schedule journal. This epic course discusses in detail such topics as:
- How to Get Your Story From the Mind to the Page
- How to Discover your Unique Writing Voice
- Pixar’s 7 Steps to Outlining a Story
- Unseen Story Structure Every Great Work of Fiction Needs
- The Elements of a Killer First Chapter
- How to Create Characters that Matter
- How to Create Scenes that Matter
- Grammar and Editing 101
- How to Create a Love Triangle that Readers Won’t Hate
- The Art of Showing and Telling
- How to Write Simple Yet Powerful Sentences
- The Art of World Building
- How to Write a Strong, Satisfying Ending
Find out more about this course by clicking here
For now, continue to do the brain dump exercise every day. Respect your perspective, thank your scars and celebrate your positive moments. By doing all of this you’ll unearth your unique writing voice. Share it fearlessly and you will gather a loyal audience!