Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

10 Steps to Finding Your Writing Voice

Bonus: Need help finding your writing voice? Click here for free tips.

I write only because / There is a voice within me / That will not be still.
–Sylvia Plath

Awhile ago, I wrote an article called, “Finding Your Blog’s Unique Voice.” In it, I explain that a blog needs a voice that is both exclusive and authentic.

Writing Voice

Photo credit: Dan Foy (Creative Commons)

But here, I want to share a little bit more about how to find your overall writing voice. Which is, I believe, the single greatest struggle for most writers. And it’s also the key to unlocking your creative potential.

Spending some time deliberating over voice is worth your attention and focus. Whether you blog for fun, write novels, craft poems, pencil melodies, or inspire people with your prose, it’s essential that you find your unique writing style.

If you struggle with getting people to read your writing or with staying consistent in your craft, you need to stop chasing numbers and productivity and reboot. It’s time to start finding and developing that voice of yours.

An exercise for finding your voice

Not sure where to start? No problem. Most of us need help understanding our voice. Here’s a short exercise that can help you — just follow these 10 steps:

  1. Describe yourself in three adjectives. Example: snarky, fun, and flirty.
  2. Ask (and answer) the question: “Is this how I talk?”
  3. Imagine your ideal reader. Describe him in detail. Then, write to him, and only him. Example: My ideal reader is smart. He has a sense of humor, a short attention span, and is pretty savvy when it comes to technology and pop culture. He’s sarcastic and fun, but doesn’t like to waste time. And he loves pizza.
  4. Jot down at least five books, articles, or blogs you like to read. Spend some time examining them. How are they alike? How are they different? What about how they’re written intrigues you? Often what we admire is what we aspire to be. Example: Copyblogger, Chris Brogan, Seth Godin, Ernest Hemingway, and C.S. Lewis. I like these writers, because their writing is intelligent, pithy, and poignant.
  5. List your favorite artistic and cultural influences. Are you using these as references in your writing, or avoiding them, because you don’t think people would understand them. Example: I use some of my favorite bands’ music in my writing to teach deeper lessons.
  6. Ask other people: “What’s my voice? What do I sound like?” Take notes of the answers you get.
  7. Free-write. Just go nuts. Write in a way that’s most comfortable to you, without editing. Then go back and read it, asking yourself, “Do I publish stuff that sounds like this?”
  8. Read something you’ve recently written, and honestly ask yourself, “Is this something I would read?” If not, you must change your voice.
  9. Ask yourself: “Do I enjoy what I’m writing as I’m writing it?” If it feels like work, you may not be writing like yourself. (Caveat: Not every writer loves the act of writing, but it’s at least worth asking.)
  10. Pay attention to how you’re feeling. How do you feel before publishing? Afraid? Nervous? Worried? Good. You’re on the right track. If you’re completely calm, then you probably aren’t being vulnerable. Try writing something dangerous, something a little more you. Fear can be good. It motivates you to make your writing matter.

Why do you need a writing voice?

Finding your voice is the key to getting dedicated followers and fans and that it’s the only sustainable way to write. If you’re not being yourself, you’ll eventually burn out.

Once you’ve found your voice, make sure you continue to develop it. It’s a discipline, one that can’t be overlooked if you’re going to have the impact you desire and that your words deserve.

The bottom line is that there’s a lot of noise out there in the world. If you’re going to get heard, you can’t just raise your voice. You’ve got to set yourself apart, showing you have something special to say, and that you have a unique way of saying it.

Recommended reading: For more on this topic of finding your voice as a writer, you should read Bird by Bird (affiliate link), an excellent book on the writing life by Anne Lamott.

What does your writing voice sound like? Have you found it, or are you still searching? Share in the comments.

Bonus: Need help finding your writing voice? Click here for free tips.

About Jeff Goins

I help people tell better stories and make a difference in the world. My family and I live outside of Nashville, TN. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. To get updates and free stuff, join my newsletter.

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  • http://amyepatton.com/ Amy E Patton

    I needed this. Half way done with the exercise and challenged already. I discovered that I hide an important part of my voice in writing- as well as in life- because of fear. When I expose it- even briefly- that is when people flock to me and my words. Here is my heart. I must show it.

  • http://amyepatton.com/ Amy E Patton

    I have had this post open on my computer all week. Every day I tackled a different question. I am finally beginning to see threads of commonality through what I read and what I write. I see and feel my heartbeat. Thank you for being my teacher.

  • Jane

    Thank you so much! I’ve learnt how to write in a lighter way rather than as serious as before!

  • http://souldreamscapes.com/ Renata

    That’s great article. Thank you for sharing your insights with us. I have learned a lot about myself in the process of doing this exercise. I hope it will help me to find my “voice”.

  • Adrianna Chisholm

    These tips are so helpful! I especially find it helpful to ask myself if my writing sounds the way I talk. When I ask myself this as I read my blog aloud, I’m able to eliminate unnecessary words or sentences or awkward phrases. As I continue my blogging adventure, I’ll be sure to refer to this list to find more continuity in my writing style.

  • angel

    Thank you for this. Great tips to reflect what voice do I really have in writing. This also helped me realize that how I don’t take time to “feel” while writing making. Now I’ve got somewhere to start to improve my writing. Thanks!

  • Ani Cobb

    Thank you for this article! I had stopped writing for a while, There were other factors, but not knowing my voice was a major factor. And I had no idea what the problem was. You not only helped me to identify it but gave me tools to work my way through it!!

  • Jamie Delaine

    Dang, this is SO good Jeff. Thank you SO much.

  • http://thesunnysideofthis.wordpress.com/ Laisa

    Bravo! Great advice, thanks!

  • Stephanie

    These are excellent! I can’t wait to complete some of these exercises.

  • Sabita Saleem

    Jeff, I just feel you speak my heart out. I’m still struggling with finding my voice. I’m already on the 500 word challenge and I hope to get myself on writing habit prior to practicing any of these exercises.

  • Matt Maszczak

    Finding your voice is funny. So many of us were taught that writing needs to be flowery and flawless. Nope. Writing needs to communicate. I try to write like I’m talking to my friends. They get me, so others will too. If not, then I’m not writing for them anyway.

  • Rebecca Kojetin

    My voice, as well as my personality and being, seems to change daily as I adapt to the idea of being a retired teacher. The weather also seems to change my voice. Sometimes I think that this is directly related to the fact that I taught high school theater, directed high school theater, and enjoyed my time on stage.

  • http://jkoch.me/ Jan Koch

    Hey Jeff,
    I just published a post as answer to this exercise: http://jkoch.me/finding-your-voice.

    The discussions in the FB group are amazing, I’m glad to be a part of this community :-)

    Have a great weekend,
    Jan

  • http://www.mccoywrites.com John W McCoy

    This is fun! #2 led me back to #1 when the word “laconic” came to mind – “concise to the point of seeming rude or mysterious.”
    Yep, that’s me.

  • Lamont Wilkins

    Jeff,
    I’m so new to the blogosphere that I don’t know the difference between a “guest comment” and a comment I’d make with Disqus, and I can’t get the Disqus
    thingy to work. So, hope I’m not just writing to myself.

    I enjoyed reading your 10 step exercises for finding your voice, but I think those exercises are more helpful for online content writers than fiction writers. From comments that I’ve read on your blog posts, a whole lotta folks who love you and your posts are in various stages of wanting to be fiction writers. Not saying that a new or emerging fiction couldn’t benefit from your suggestions. Just saying that fiction writers—even the most commercial fictions writers—have to focus on a lot more than attracting an audience. Among other things, fiction writers need to stimulate and cultivate their imaginations. Having an audience might do wonders for my ego, but I doubt that it would improve my imagination much.

    A lot of new writers read novels and short stories in their favorite genre, and only by their favorite writers. I think this is not only damaging to their imaginations, but also to their ability to “find a voice.” One way to nurture your imagination is to read literary fiction. I don’t mean stuffy 19th century classics, but they are OK too if they get your creative motor running. And I’m not suggesting that a new writer start out by reading Infinite Jest—off and on, I’ve been reading that most excellent monstrosity of a novel for almost a year, and might finish it before I die. By literary, I do not mean difficult reading. There’s plenty of contemporary, entertaining, and easy to read literary fiction.

    Please don’t think I’m a literary snob. I was raised on genre fiction—westerns,
    sci-fi, adventure, mystery—and still like genre fiction. I’ve read so-called genre novels I think have as much literary merit as novel that have won Pulitzers. I suggest literary fiction, in part, because the greatest genre fiction writers were nurtured on literary fiction. Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Elmore Leonard, John Grisham, and other noted genre writers became interested in writing by reading writers who made them think, as well entertained them.

    Besides stimulating your imagination, literary fiction can show you the magic writers can
    do with sentences. And a variety of writers and writing styles can help emerging
    writers stop trying to emulate or imitate their favorite novelist. Most important, it can help writers to start focusing on finding a story instead of “finding their elusive voices. All that to say, they might start putting words on paper or the computer screen. When a new writer starts performing that magic of giving life to words, she or he will find this voice they’ve been looking for. More likely, it will find them. Just sayin’.

    I need to end this before I stray into my mental area that requires me to write another
    post nobody will ever read.

    Keep up the good work.

    Lamont

    http://www.measure-and-madness.com/

    • Emma Hoyle

      Hi, Lamont. I totally agree. I have a personal rule in which I do not read another book by the same author in the same year. Tough going sometimes -I’m about to leave the Mervyn Peake quarantine period, and I cannot wait to read Gormenghast book 2. :)

      (BTW, I’ve just glimpsed your blog and hope to read more of it soon. Looks really interesting. Love your statement on your bio: “The way I see it, if an astronaut is an astronaut before she gets locked inside a metal container on top of huge tubes filled with millions of pounds of explosive gas and is blasted into outer space, why isn’t a writer a writer before he publishes a story?” Hear, hear. I’m beginning to finally realise for myself that the only failed writer is a writer who doesn’t write.)

  • http://josuemolina.com/ Josue Molina

    These are great questions. You’re making me think here.

  • http://www.assistingauthors.com Janis Friesler

    When I was teaching English, I used a technique to help students understand voice in the writing process. I used the character of Truman Capote’s aunt in the short story, “A Christmas Memory.” He described her so beautifully that his voice was easy to find. The students were challenged to change some of the words so the passage would describe a tough Harley Motorcycle gang member. They came up with some interesting passages. They were very surprised to find out that they wrote the descriptions in Truman Capote’s voice. I thought I would share this because in order to find your writing voice, you should understand what you are looking for. Just a thought.