How to Find Your Unique Voice

One of the areas of craft I most frequently hear authors struggle with is voice—what is it, how do they find theirs, does it differ from story to story?

Part of the problem is that the term “voice” is used very broadly in writing, referring to the narrative perspective of your story, how your characters speak, and also to the author’s sensibility that permeates the pages: that thing that makes a story by Toni Morrison or Kent Haruf or Pat Conroy instantly identifiable as theirs.

Today I want to talk about the latter definition of voice: your artist’s voice as the creator of your work. This can often be the hardest type to pin down because it’s ephemeral—the author’s voice should never draw reader attention away from the story and characters, but rather infuse it, enhance it.

Voice isn’t something you create; you already have it. It’s simply something you learn to free. Rather than look to manufacture or artificially construct your artist’s voice, let’s talk about ways to strip away what’s keeping it from finding its way naturally into your work.


I recently listened to a TED Radio Hour episode called “The Artist’s Voice,” in which four artists in varying fields talked about this key element of their art.

What I loved about their wildly differing stories was the common thread that each discovered their voice as they began to find and define themselves in the world, to realize what mattered to them and what they had to say about it.

Sometimes this happens organically as we get older. As we gain comfort and confidence inside our own skins and have the proverbial “fewer fucks to give,” the inhibitions, fears, and self-consciousness that once papered over our authentic voice fall away.

But you don’t have to wait for the freedom of age to excavate yours; we can find ways to dig down to our truest core and determine what we have to say, and how we want to say it.

The trick is to stop defining voice externally. So often we as authors, as artists, may unconsciously parrot the voices of the stories and authors we love most, that speak to us, unconsciously mimicking or trying to follow someone else’s blueprint of what strong voice should be.

But there is no “right” definition of voice, and identifying another author’s version of it doesn’t necessarily help you find your own.

So instead of trying to create your voice from the outside in, explore inside yourself and honor your own unique perspective.

But you can’t free your voice without knowing what that perspective is, so let’s look at a few key questions to start your journey to the center of the artist.

You can read the rest of this post on my website here.

Are You Ready for NaNo?

I'm so excited to be presenting one of my most practical workshops with Jane Friedman. This hands-on, actionable approach to plotting will give you the tools you need to keep you on track in your story, whether you plan to try National Novel Writing Month this year or are simply trying to map your next WIP to keep you on course. I offer a system that's easily adaptable for pantsers, plotters, and "plantsers" in this 75-minute webinar that will help make sure you've got a solid road map for success in NaNoWriMo--or for any first draft. Register here for access to the live class with Q&A as well as the recorded playback.

Where to Find Me

Upcoming Webinars and Presentations:
  • October 6: "Five Steps to an Airtight Plot," for Jane Friedman (Get ready for NaNo!)
  • October 7: "Shoring up Middle-of-the-Book Sag," for Women Writing the West Conference (virtual)
  • October 8-10: Keynote workshop: "Character, Plot, and Stakes: the Holy Trinity of Storytelling," for the Permian Basin Writers Conference (Midland, TX)
  • Oct 13-17: Keynote workshop: "Deep-diving into Character," for WFWA Writers Retreat (Baltimore, MD)
  • November 6: "The Essential Supporting Elements of Story," for Steven James's virtual conference (link to come)
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