So this is actually two posts in one. The first is kind of me circuitously addressing the topic, HOW DARE I, A NEOPHYTE NOBODY, GIVE WRITING ADVICE ON THE INTERNET? And the second is, how does one find their voice in writing?
I’ve been thinking about doing blog posts about writing for roughly 10,000 years now. But I’ve been hesitant to actually start doing it for a very simple reason: I have no idea what I’m doing.
No really. I know some of you think I’m being modest, but I’m like a very early hunter gatherer over here. I’m just chucking different types of projectiles at the writing market to see what makes it bleed (boy that got dark), and if I started with like, balls of grass, I have probably only just progressed to rocks. Spears I have not figured out yet. Spears are a magical, futuristic technology that still await me down the line of creative evolution.
And like, one time I managed to bonk a crow on the head and it died and I ate well that night. So now I’ve somehow gained this reputation as the consummate hunter-gatherer professional, when really I’m still just a noob chucking gravel at mastodons. (The crow is the one story I managed to publish, for those following along w/ the metaphor at home.)
But, people in my life always come to me for writing advice. This, by the way, is completely fair from their perspective, because if there’s one fact literally every acquaintance knows about me, it’s that I spend a lot of time writing. And I feel bad sending them away with nothing more than the eerie sound of my helpless scream into the void echoing in their ears, so when they ask, I regurgitate some of the writing advice I’ve read elsewhere, or try to reason something together on the spot.
That’s not to say I don’t know anything at all. I’ve made good friends who know more about what they’re doing than I do, and I learn from them. And at least I’ve reasoned out that wadded balls of grass do not make a good hunting tool.
But I’m still figuring a lot of this shit out.
So, why am I gonna give writing advice? Because it helps me figure my own shit out to put it into words. And because I think it might be helpful to you if you get to watch me articulate all the crap I’ve been doing wrong, and also possibly funnier for you when I inevitably fall on my snoot.
AND NOW: Finding Your Voice in Writing.
This is one of the topics I recently found myself giving advice about to people. Three people, to be exact, who each came to me separately and to whom I then sent ridiculously long emails or google doc comments or chat epics.
I, personally, am still very much struggling to refine my voice. Both here on the blog, and in my fiction. (My professional email voice is the one voice I’ve got down, and for whatever reason it is the voice of a barrister out of the 1800s.) But here are some of the things I’ve noticed over the course of trying get my shit together.
1) Your voice finds you, except where it doesn’t.
One of the questions I know people who are just starting a writing project (be it a blog or a novel or a necromantic text) tend to worry about is: How do I find my voice right away so I can start writing in it? I know that’s what you’re worrying about because that’s what I worried about when I started the blog. And also because some of you told me.
The short answer is: you can’t. That’s not how it works. Which on the one hand, is some real fucking suckage, because that means your project isn’t going to be the perfect awesome thing you want it to be when you first start out. Dunno about you, but that slows me right down sometimes because I am a hellish perfectionist.
On the other hand it’s good news, because it means finding your voice isn’t as hard as you think it is.
How do you find your voice? You write. You screw it up a bunch of times and get it right in some places and eventually it sort of just slithers into your style and hibernates there. There’s no complicated formula you have to worry about, so you can just relax and get on with your project.
“Peri, that is so not flipping helpful.” Yeah I know, tell me about it.
So here’s some other things. A lot of the writing advice I’ve found on the internet or in books focuses on the idea of finding your own very special snowflake voice. This voice is the beautiful crystal image of your individuality and when you find it, it will be like no other very special snowflake voice in the world. Which is true, of course you’re you and you are a unique individual who brings your own unique voice to the writing table. But also how freaking intimidating is that and how the hell do I become a sublime snowflake?
As a person still figuring out their voice, I can tell you this:
You do not start out as a snowflake. You start out as a kid in the snow grabbing other peoples’ snowflakes out of the air and putting them under a microscope. Part of figuring out your voice is often mimicking the voices of other writers you like, especially early on. That’s our instinct. For instance, I dig the ever loving shit out of Chuck Wendig. He is my angry Buddha of blog writing. A lot of the early posts on this blog are me kinda going “how the heck do I be as funny as Chuck Wendig?”
I’ve since learned that nobody is as funny as Chuck Wendig.
Also, Mr. Wendig has this kind of sarcastic confidence that I just cannot pull off. Even when I’m telling a story verbally or giving advice in an email, my voice is full of self-effacing little asides. So I am not the internet’s next Chuck Wendig, and I just have to make my peace with that. But in the course of learning that I am not Chuck Wendig, I did find some of my own voice, so my early keyboard flapping was not all in vain.
A goodly chunk of finding your voice is finding out what your voice is not. Another part is also just trying a bunch of different things, and noticing which things you feel kind of comfortable and snug writing, and which things make your skin go wibbly.
(DISCLAIMER: When I say, “Hey it’s okay to find yourself trying to write like another writer,” I am not saying plagiarize. Do not plagiarize.)
And I suspect that in the end when you find the nirvana of Your Voice (if such a place exists, which I’m also beginning suspect isn’t the case, and maybe we get to worry about this stuff, to varying degrees, for the rest of our creative forevers) you will find aspects of others in that voice. You learn to be funny from one writer. Some of your rhythm is inspired by another. We learn through amalgamation and the end result is a thing that is both us and the aspects we love about other people.
2) Don’t wait until your voice is perfect to start putting your shit out there.
Don’t wait because finding your voice can take a long ass time, and it’s an ongoing process. It’s just not practical to wait until you feel like you’re wearing a bespoke second skin to start really doing your thing. Do your thing the best that you’re capable of doing it right now. Then learn from your thing. Then do another thing, and learn from that too.
Besides which, most of the time your perceived lack of voice isn’t going to be as obvious to people as you think it is. Most readers won’t know that you’re a protozoa singing someone else’s karaoke unless you tell them you are. (THIS IS A METAPHOR, STILL DON’T PLAGIARIZE.) And really, you are writing in your voice. Is it perfect? No probably not. But you’re already laying foundations of your future, better voice, even if it doesn’t seem that way to you.
3) You have more than one voice.
Even in the scope of the same kind of project. In the blog, my “I am telling a hilarious story about my misspent youth” voice is not remotely the same as my “I am pissed off about this political subject” voice.
And between projects, obviously my blog voices are not my fiction voices.
So if you write a thing, and it’s going well, but then you notice “This sounds nothing like that other thing I wrote” don’t worry about it. You’re a microcosm of other microcosms, my friend. You contain multitudes.
4) Your voice is going to change.
It’s a living organism. You’re going to find new techniques you like, you’re going to grow and change as a writer and a person. Two years from now you’re going to look back at stuff you wrote this year and go “Holy cannoli, did I really sound like that?”
Yes, you did. But it’s possible, and even probably, that only you have noticed that you sounded like that. And even if other people noticed, well whatever. They didn’t pop out of the womb as fountains of witticisms either.
5) A quick aside about sign-offs.
As a subheading to the HELP WHERE IS MY VOICE question, I was asked twice about signing off blogs.
I am obviously not a great resource for blog specific advice. I haven’t even managed to compile a blog posting schedule for myself and sometimes ice-ages come and go between the posts I do get up. Which means that, not only does my voice morph drastically between posts, but the sign-off I thought was cool three months ago is usually exactly the type of sign-off I now find to be utterly un-cool.
Therefore, my own experience with sign-offs is “Fuck it, I’ll figure it out as I go, like everything else.” But that doesn’t mean that’s how everyone does it. I’m sure there are bloggers out there who nailed it the first time. Maybe you can write a list of a bunch of different ones and show them to your friends to get a consensus. Do whatever you are comfortable with, and whatever you find works for you, but my advice would be, don’t totally stress yourself out over it. You have bigger fish to fry.
And, later, if you do end up changing it, that’s okay. That’s how a lot of creative endeavors work; the end result rarely resembles the initial plan.
To demonstrate: I have no clue how to sign this post off.
No clue at all.