Writer’s voice is defined as the literary term used to describe the individual writing style of an author. Voice was generally considered to be a combination of a writer’s use of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works). Voice can be thought of in terms of the uniqueness of a vocal voice machine. As a trumpet has a different voice than a tuba or a violin has a different voice than a cello, so the words of one author have a different sound than the words of another. One author may have a voice that is light and fast paced while another may have a dark voice. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Writer’s_voice)
So, in other words, it’s everything thrown in, including the kitchen sink. Some writers are “good” writers in that they use correct grammar, have clear, concise writing, and, possibly, even write of interesting things, yet their voices can be interchanged with thousands of other voices.
It’s similar to American Idol. Every year I get somewhat upset because the judges pick the top twelve contestants with generic voices, voices interchangeable with hundreds of other voices. I believe with the number of people who try out, twelve unique voices should be easy to find. Many chosen by the judges may be labeled “good” singers, yet their voices are not unique.
But, perhaps I’m wrong and it is difficult to find a singer with a unique voice, even among thousands. Just as it is difficult to find a writer with a unique voice.
Why is it difficult to find unique voices among writers?
Let’s look at an analogy. Caterpillars are quite ugly creatures when they hatch out. Tiny at first, they munch leaves and grow bloated. They eat whatever they find in front of them, and when they’ve grown to a sufficient size, they enter the pupa stage. Inside the cocoon, something fascinating (and disgusting) happens. The caterpillar excretes enzymes that eat away much of the bloated body. The few remaining cells then regenerate into a butterfly. It emerges from the cocoon as a beautiful, soaring creature.
So, too, we writers munch on all the advice given to us. We grow bloated with information and misinformation. And that’s a good thing. Without the nourishment, the caterpillar would never become the butterfly. But when we have studied and learned our craft and grown as much as possible, we need to enter into a pupa stage, a stage during which we examine ourselves, our writing, and destroy the bloat, destroy that which is not essentially ours. And that takes courage. Courage to try new things. Courage to trod a different path. Courage to soar.
Soaring is scary. We’re putting ourselves out there, flying high, flaunting our colors, and it’s easy for people to target us.
Caterpillars are camouflaged with their “feet” on the ground, surrounded by many more caterpillars exactly like them. They don’t have far to fall.
But which would you rather be?
If we are brave enough, and spend enough time really examining, we will excrete those juices that will destroy the bloat (and yes, destroying our “body” will be painful). However, if we do it correctly, we will also leave a kernel of cells able to generate a much greater beauty.
And then we have to be brave enough to find a place of quiet, to allow that kernel to grow. Brave enough to prioritize our writing.
But our greatest bravery is needed when we emerge from the cocoon, unfurl our colorful wings, and fly.
- Have you munched enough leaves? Have you studied the craft? Have you learned from mentors and critiquers?
- Have you destroyed the bad? Have you learned to cut unncessary words? Have you learned focus? Is every sentence, every word, meaningful? Have you destroyed the "bloat"?
- Have you taken time to examine yourself and your writing? Have you practiced the "basics," so that now you can add your own special touches? Have you taken the time to really think about your writing style and to let the cells grow into beauty?
If so, unfurl your wings and fly.
Do you believe you have found your unique voice? Any insights on how you accomplished it?