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When you can’t find your voice

I got a question from a reader a week or so ago that has been playing through my mind ever since.  It looked innocuous enough at the start:

“maybe you could offer some tips on finding your voice?”

but each time I thought about it I found it a big question, a hard question, and one I didn’t know if I could answer in a ‘how to’ guide.

And I can’t, really, because the question is bigger and more demanding than that.  Some of it requires a different sort of response - from me, from my experience, and I’ll come back to that tomorrow.  But I also thought that I’d be copping out if I didn’t try and answer this.  To offer some suggestions, some pointers, some things that have worked for me, and that might, I don’t know, that might be the thing that works for you, too.

I know I don’t have all the answers so I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions - especially if you’ve gone through the experience of not being able to find your voice - and getting it back again.

Okay, here goes.

12 things to try when you can’t find your voice.

1. Let go of the style guides and grammar books.  They serve a purpose - but can bind you in tangleweed if you take them to heart.  Believe that you’ve already learned what you need to know

2. Work out the attributes in the writing that you admire – don’t go looking for a specific turn of phrase to copy (that’ll squash your voice) but think about the qualities of the writing that you enjoy.  What state do you think the writers were in when they were writing?  How does it make you feel when you read it?  Try and get yourself into that state – whether it’s friendly, human, kind, humorous, challenging, serious, inspired. Write from that state

3. Write freely – come back and edit later

4. Work out your purpose.  What are you trying to do, to achieve, to communicate, to express with this piece of writing?  What’s the positive intention that’s driving you?  Focus on that.  Enjoy the feeling it gives you when you focus on it.  Let it drive your writing

5. Write what you know.  Ground it in your experience.  It’ll make your writing more real, powerful, confident.  No-one else can do this better than you

6. Write for yourself: throw your caution to the wind, write for yourself, for your pleasure and enjoyment, the words that come to you, that tell your story, that talk of who you are

7. Enjoy the buzz of instant feedback.  There’s a time for private journal writing but when you’re ready why not experiment with writing a blog.  There’s nothing like it in terms of instant feedback, reactions, comments, affirmation, validation, challenge.  It can turbo charge your writing

8. Focus on one reader, not all possible readers

9. There’s no wrong way to write if you write with positive intention

10. Recognise your own voice.  You can tell when you’re writing with your own voice - and when you’re not.  How do you know? Where do you get the feeling? What’s made the difference?

11. Trust yourself

12. Know this: you already have all the words that you will ever need

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Comments

  1. cat says:

    Joanna,

    Thank you for addressing this issue. Finding a voice seems so simple, yet so difficult at the same time. There are so many voices out there, swamping mine.

    Sometimes I know the voice, the character I want to portray as mine. Then in the morning, I wake up. And start all over again.

    I guess, amongst everything, finding your voice comes down to knowing who you are. Being authentic.

    (yes, I’m listening to one of your podcasts while I’m writing this :-)

  2. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Well Cat, I enjoyed writing this piece.

    I found it a big question to begin with because, as you say, it’s such a simple but difficult issue at the same time. But I just tried to break it down into things I have done, or tried to do, and link it back to the writing process. Although as you say - the bigger question lying behind it is the other one we’ve been grappling with this month - finding out who you are…

    I suppose if I was to add one point - maybe it’d be this. If I told you that one of the 12 points was the one that was just right for you, now - and that you already knew which one it was - which one would it be?

    Joanna

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