Aug 14 2019
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How to develop your writing voice

A writing voice is a style or a manner of writing that is authentic to the writer. It’s your voice, how you speak and verbally emote, translated to the page. And your voice is the single most important element of your writing because it is what sets you apart from everyone else.

Think about how there are billions of people in the world, and we all have distinct voices. Some of us might sound similar, but you could pick your mother, your best friend, even your second-grade teacher out of an audio lineup based solely on hearing a few sentences in their unique voices. Remarkable, right?

Your challenge as a writer is to make whatever you write sound like it came from you and only you. How?

Know the elements that comprise your writing voice

Watch your tone. Tone speaks volumes. It reflects mood and personality. Chirping, “Please take out the trash, sweetie” to your teenager is entirely different than yelling up the stairs, “This garbage has been sitting here for two days, TAKE IT OUT NOW!” Yes, the words are different—but you could make the former sound biting, and you could make the latter sound sweet, just by altering your verbal tone. So it is in writing, through word choice.

Get technical. We can use inflection and volume in our speaking voices to denote tone, but when writing, we have only words and how we present and connect them. Using the word “chirp” in the above example suggests cheerfulness. Word choice is important, but so are mechanics. For example, using all caps to say “TAKE IT OUT NOW!” suggests irritation. Punctuation matters, too. How you punctuate a sentence can enhance the tone you’re trying to create (the exclamation point works as hard as the caps to convey anger, no?). Using complicated sentence construction with lots of clauses can create a meticulous, analytical tone, while writing pointed declarative sentences can strike a tone of confidence and authority.

Write how you talk. Maybe the person chirping “sweetie” is always polite and upbeat. Maybe the person yelling is always quick to irritation. These acts could reflect fleeting moods, or they could reflect static personality traits. Think about your personality and how it comes across in your speaking voice, and then about how you can show that with word choices like “chirp” and “yell,” yes; but more than that, consider the form and delivery of those chosen words. Do you tend to ramble? You could write long, meandering sentences. Or are you more nervous, speaking in fragments that could be translated on the page into clipped phrases (set off with lots of dashes) and incomplete sentences (that trail off with ellipses)? Do you always say exactly what’s on your mind? Your writing voice, then, might make use of direct, to-the-point phrasing, punctuated always with a period. Or are you a person of few words? Perhaps you can adopt a more minimalist writing style. Do you always use certain slang or catch phrases? Incorporate them. In writing, as in speaking, as in life: be yourself.

Your challenge as a writer is to make whatever you write sound like it came from you and only you.

Engage in practices to develop your voice

Do read a lot and consider what makes other writing voices distinctive. Raise your awareness of how word choice, sentence construction, punctuation, and other techniques create tone and mood and convey personality traits, and how the consistent use of them by a given author exemplifies that author’s style and unique voice.

Do write letters to friends, family members, or co-workers and try to capture how you speak.

Don’t try to sound like someone else. Even if you can’t identify what makes your voice different, just concentrate on writing how you talk.

Don’t consider audience. You can’t be fully authentic if you’re thinking about who might be reading or listening while you write. Whether consciously or unconsciously, being preoccupied with audience can lead to different choices, or make you so self-conscious you become blocked.

How do you characterize your writing voice? Was this post helpful? Share with us in the comments!

Related reading: Why good readers make good writers

5 reasons why word choice matters so much in good writing

How to write like no one is watching

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Comments on ... How to develop your writing voice

  1. Maya Neal says:

    Super helpful. This is the most detailed explanation I’ve read, on how to cultivate a “voice,” so thanks!