Your voice as a writer consists of the specific ways in which you tell stories. It’s made up of the words you choose, the way you structure your sentences, the overall tone of your prose. It’s what makes your writing uniquely yours. I like to think of voice as the way writing sounds in my head as I’m reading: snarky, timid, informative. So that’s what voice is, but how do we cultivate our voice as a writer?
I know, I know, that’s not what you wanted to hear, but this is one of those instances where there’s no way around it. You have to practice. In fact, finding your voice as a writer is the BEST argument I’ve ever heard for keeping a journal and writing every day.
I don’t usually go in for all this “you have to write every day” nonsense, because I feel like it puts a lot of pressure on writers, which can be crippling. You don’t have to work on your novel/memoir/essay/poems/etc. every day, but you should seriously consider doing at least a little writing in a journal (paper or digital) every day.
The reason is that when we write for ourselves, with no expectation of publication of any kind, what we are doing is simply connecting our brains to our hands. We have a thought, it comes out onto the page or screen, and the more we do that the better we get at actually capturing our thoughts in writing, the way we think them, the way they might come out of our mouths if we were using our actual voice.
Enjoy the Process
If you’re new to journaling, I’d invite you to pair it with something you already do: that morning cup of coffee or tea, your bedtime routine, anything. After a while, it will just become a habit, a daily way to improve your ability to authentically capture your thoughts on the page.
Have fun with it. Buy a nice journal. I love the Nanami Paper journals (yes, $28 is a lot to pay for a journal, but the pages are super thin, so it holds 480 pages in a slim bind with faint lines – it’s a work of art). I write every day and one of these lasts me about two years. I also have a nice fountain pen that was a Christmas gift from the kids one year. As writers, we don’t have to buy a lot of gear, so I say splurge. If you spend $50 on two years of journaling, that’s money well spent, an investment in your voice as a writer.
And Then What?
What you do with that writing doesn’t matter AT ALL. Delete the file. Burn the pages. Stack the journals up on your shelves. I keep all my journals, but I don’t know why. For years I told myself that I was keeping them so I could go back and mine them for material some day, but I’ve been journaling regularly for decades have only once, recently, gone back to read anything I put down. I just like having them.
More than a record of my life, they are my daily practice as a writer. Seeing them on the shelf is a reminder to me that actually, yes, I have put sh*tton of work into honing my skills as a writer. And those are just the pages that no one will ever see.
What do you think? Do you journal regularly? Do you have another method for developing voice? Would love to hear your thoughts.