Defining Your Writer’s Voice For Beginners

Defining Your Writers Voice via Nicole Lautore

Hello there beautiful human! Thank you so much for taking the time to set aside your books, coffee mugs, and works-in-progress for a brief lesson in Writer’s Voice. This is a vital topic for you to learn in the early stages of becoming a writer, and for you to keep learning about throughout your career. Your Writer Voice will grow and change just as you do, and it’s important to keep developing it.

So, what is Writer’s Voice?

It’s hard to tell. I’ve read so many different definitions in my search for developing my voice, that I almost got lost in the overwhelm. For this post, I decided to go with my instinct and just Google it. Here’s what Google has to say:

The writer’s voice is the individual writing style of an author, a combination of their common usage of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works).

This is the technical definition, but my favorite definition of voice comes from Rachelle Gardner, a literary agent, Editor, and Publishing coach:

“So what is it? To me, your writer’s voice is the expression of YOU on the page. It’s that simple—and that complicated. Your voice is all about honesty. It’s the unfettered, non-derivative, unique conglomeration of your thoughts, feelings, passions, dreams, beliefs, fears and attitudes, coming through in every word you write.”

— Rachelle Garner, What is Writer’s Voice? 

I like Garner’s definition much better, mostly because Voice is so impossible to define. Why? Because it’s a different experience for every single writer, and that’s what makes it so special. Voice is what makes you special. Without it, you’re flat. From restaurant menus to journal entries, every piece of writing has a voice. Your voice must be authentic. Distinct. Honest. A translucent ghost of your personality; past, present, and future, laid down on paper for all to see. At first, your voice may be difficult to discover. It will take months, maybe years, to get comfortable with and hold on to. Consistency will happen with practice. But trust me, it’s worth the time and frustration to figure out.

Why should I care?

Text on a piece of paper will not convey emotions like your facial expression, posture, or hand gestures do. Text doesn’t have natural quirks, weird insecurities, or a beating heart. Text doesn’t have a soul without the writer behind it, pouring themselves down into the words. Your writer’s voice will carry human emotion into your work, and set you apart from other writers in your genre. One of my favorite bloggers, Kristen from ShesNovel, explains how your experiences shape your writing in the best way:

“Everyone has a unique life experience. Every event you’ve celebrated, trial you’ve faced, challenge you’ve conquered, and test you’ve failed has shaped you into the person you are today. And some of those experiences are bound to spill over into your writing.

In fact, it’s your exploration of these experiences that will attract readers able to identify with them. This will make your writing memorable, and keep readers coming back for more.”

— Kristen A. Keiffer, Find Your Writing Voice

Letting who you are and how you see the world transform the way you write will take your skills and voice to an entirely new level. People will see the real you. You’ll be more memorable and easy to connect with. You won’t just have a high follower count or a wide readership, you’ll retain those readers. You’ll hold on to them like friends. They will keep coming back to your novels because they feel as if they’ve seen your heart on the pages. Isn’t that the ultimate goal? Connect with our readers? Telling them a story, and letting them see inside our hearts?

How do I find my voice?

1. Who are you?

So simple, yet so complex! Who the heck are ya? Start by pulling out a blank sheet of paper and listing 3-5 adjectives that best describe you. i.e.: Spontaneous, loud, vibrant. Start there, then reflect how these words may effect your voice. I’m an outgoing person, pretty messy, and sarcastic. My voice will sound very different from a more timid writer, who enjoys peace and quiet, or spending time alone. Both voices are great, and both are relateable to people in some way, but each are unique.

2. Who is your ideal reader?

Say you’ve written a SciFi action thriller aimed at 25 year olds and up, who probably enjoy Stephen King or Dean Koontz. This group that you’re targeting in your marketing and writing will have a specific voice of their own, and whether or not it blends well with yours will be a deciding factor if they enjoy your novel or not. However, while you should take this into consideration, don’t let it make or break you. Writing solely to please the masses almost never benefits the author in the long run.

3. Look closely at your favorite novels, blog posts, and poetry

Each piece of writing you’ve ever read has a voice, and it’s been molding your voice since you started to read. My Dad had a saying when I was young that he usually said when disproving of negative influences in my life, or bad apple friends that would come and go. He’d say: You are a product of those around you. Well, this applies here as well. You are a product of what you read. So read amazing works that you admire greatly, and let them influence you.

4. Read outside of your comfort zone

Self-explanatory! Pick up books that you normally wouldn’t. Read novels that scare you, confuse you, or challenge your way of thinking. So much can be gained from branching out. Last year I read a novel called MAGONIA by Maria Dahvana Headley. If you want a novel with a unique, out of this world voice, give it a try. At first I was freaked out by the writing style, and kind of turned off by how relaxed it was. For some reason I had it in my head that great novels should be written a certain way. I was wrong. MAGONIA flows beautifully and allows you to see the character’s true self. I highly recommend it.

5. Journal

Every writer should be keeping a journal regularly. Keep it informal and stream of conscious. Preferably first person. Just let the words out. Write your grocery list in it, your fears, and your dreams. Keep a list of short and long term goals. Even use it to reflect on the other writing you’ve done that day, and how you’re feeling about your writing journey. This raw emotion will bring out your unique voice in the best way.

8. Practice fearlessly

Writing a crappy first draft, as everyone says you should, is not just for getting the words down. You’ll discover yourself between the pages. Write with reckless abandon, and watch what comes from it. Don’t be afraid to make a mess. It’s at the beginning of the writing process, without fear or second guessing, that you hear your voice the loudest.

Leave a comment and let me know how you discovered your writer’s voice, or if you are having trouble. And happy writing. 🙂

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  1. Hm, I feel like I’m still discovering mine. I’ve noticed that even when I’m freewriting in my writing group that I focus on individual characters instead of building the world around them. When I write blog posts or social media posts, I feel like my voice is more light, fun, friendly, and heartfelt. Bookmarking this for later!

  2. Thank you! This is a very good read. It’s helpful and practical. 🙂

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting, I really appreciate it! 🙂

    • Jacinta
    • July 5, 2016

    Thank you,very good piece❤!

  3. Hi, Nicole,

    I just discovered your blog through Pinterest, and I wanted you to know how much I enjoyed this post. Writer’s voice is one of those things that I believe we overthink sometimes, but it’s so vitally important. I’m very big on the benefits of journaling, both as a processing tool and as writing practice. I’d never really thought of it as a way of developing voice, but you’re so right. We discover our voice when we’re willing to be honest in our writing. Thanks for the encouragement!

    • Anonymous
    • October 22, 2016

    I spent years developing my voice, but I took a job in 2013 that demanded dry , factual writing without embellishment. I quit in 2015 in part because I felt I was losing my voice. I’ve been trying to recover it for the past year. Keeping a journal is helping, but I’m not there yet. Thanks for the post.

    1. That’s a great point. You can lose your voice over time if you try to write within someone else’s boundaries. I admire you for identifying the problem and taking a leap to stay true to yourself!

      Thank you so much for commenting. 🙂

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