Writers often talk about “finding their voice,” that unique way of expressing themselves that identifies them as an individual. Whether it’s the way you construct a sentence, the point of view you favor, a persistent use of imagery, every writer is looking for that special something that makes their writing stand out.
In The Right to Write, Julia Cameron tells us to stop looking. “Your voice is already there,” she says. “Don’t focus on your “writer’s voice” to the exclusion of having something to say. If you enter into what you want to express, you will intuitively arrive at ways to express it.”
Apparently, the writer’s voice is like the singer’s voice. Before I started working with singers, I had the mistaken impression that you were either born with a singing voice or you weren’t. How wrong I was! Everyone can be taught the craft of singing. Of course, some people are gifted with a more beautiful voice than others, but everyone has a singing voice inside them. By following a tried and true method of instruction, you can learn to make that singing voice work. Yet every voice will carry with it unique qualities that cannot (and should not!) be changed. Timbre, tone quality, and range, are all unique to each person’s instrument.
So it is with each writer. Even in the writing I do for my day job, which is completely technical and quite formulaic, my boss tells me she can “immediately” discern which of the three writers in my department have written a particular piece. We each have our distinct way of putting words together that identifies us one from the other.
Yes, I can study the techniques and craft of writing, I can use Stunk and White’s Elements of Style as my “bible,” I can do writing exercises and revisions galore, and all of this will improve my ability to write. None of it will essentially change the writing voice that I was born with – it’s as much a part of me as my hair color (although that’s certainly changable!) Even though it’s fun to experiment with diffent shades, the “true color” is still there underneath.
“Let the song do the singing,” Cameron tells us. Writing is about passing along a message, something that moves us about a person, a place, a circumstance, a feeling. Those things that speak to our hearts are the stories we must concentrate on telling in our own unique voices.
So, how about you? Are you comfortable with your writer’s voice?
Postscript: If you haven’t read Right to Write, I highly recommend it. For me, it’s the best of all Cameron’s books, because it includes so many of her ideas in a very succinct format, with great writing exercises as well.