On Finding Your Voice

Anonymous asked: “I’m unhappy with my writing and recently I’ve been trying to mimic a writer’s style. What can I do to change this and hopefully further boost my own writing style instead of copying others writers styles?”

Growing up I used to hear so many writers talk about “finding their voice” like there was something out there about their writing that they would one day just discover and feel great about. Years later, I don’t think it’s all that absurd.

I think for me it was a matter of not only figuring out what my writing read like, but then also looking around to see what other writers out there seemed to be doing something similar. I still experiment with my writing from time to time, but really, while it changes in someways, in others it doesn’t and it’s just not going to. 

The other day I read a short story that I wrote when I was 13. It was about 17 pages. While it sounded like my 13 year-old-self, it was hard to miss the kinds of things in the story that I would probably still have included today – for instance, a character in tweed goes to a candy bar to order a root beer float. That’s something that just aesthetically would come into my stories – that’s another thing too, you need to have written enough that you can get a sense of your style, it takes years. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, you can write and be successful without knowing “your voice.”  For me, I realized I write – not necessarily with a fixed style – but with a fixed ‘aesthetic.’ I could be writing in first person or third person and the stories would read very differently, but for the most part, the same things would still happen in them – the characters would still belong to the same world. 

Reading definitely opened my eyes to just what was out there. Though it took awhile, I found writers I loved who write the kinds of stories that I write and who have styles that feel familiar to my own. Their books gave me something I could learn from. How did this author handle characterization? What about that scene had me hooked from the start? And really, the more I read the more I found writers in some cases who just tackle issues the way I hope to in my own stories. For me, it was a matter of finding the writers out there who made me feel like my writing style was valid and to some extent what people might actually read. These writers made me feel excited about my own writing. 

The writers that inspire me include Kelly Link, Karen Russell, Angela Carter, Shirley Jackson, Matt Bell, Amber Sparks, Edgar Cantero, Joyce Carol Oates, and Siri Hustvedt. If you know these writers, they’re fantastic, feel welcome to come geek out with me about their books any time, but also, you’d know they’re very different and unique. I could never “mimic” one of them. I just know it would come out sloppy. When I write, I have to find my own way into my stories, my own voice for it. The writers who’ve inspired me are the ones that showed me this story is ok to write in this way. They gave me the go-ahead to feel confident that what I’m working on is not all that crazy. 

I think your style will mature with time, but also, be on the look out for writers that not only inspire you, but that are also going to make you feel confident about your own writing. They’re out there. 

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