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Finding a writing voice

Who am I? What is my message? What is my writing voice?

I had never thought I would be pondering these questions in a blogging course, yet here I am. In the last two days, I went through an unexpected self-discovery journey which is worth sharing here.

When I started this blog I picked two topics I was most passionate about – writing and creativity – and started writing about them. Then I went traveling and travel writing got added to the mix. I am still extremely passionate about these topics I am not sure where they are taking my blog.

Am I confusing my readers? Are all my readers interested in all the topics I am writing about? I know some of my readers are reading just the travel articles and other only creativity or writing tips.

In comes the blogging course Intentional Blogging by Jeff Goins.

The first thing that strikes me in the course is that blogging is not about picking the right topic and writing about them but about finding your voice.

Your writing voice is your unique way of sharing whatever it is that you’re going to say. It’s your particular perspective. It’s the way that you view the world.

There are three aspects of a powerful writing voice. It is distinct, it is attractive and it is personal.

Jeff Goins

How to find your writing voice?

Jeff has a three-word exercise to find writing voice to be done in three steps.

“First, review a piece of your own writing and describe it in three words, or short phrases, but try to use adjectives such as funny, smart, and super-cool.”

Okay.

“Second, select at least five of your favorite writers and list three words to describe their writing voice. This will indicate the kind of voice you like, read and engage with.”

Done.

“Third, ask five of your readers to describe you in three words or phrases.”

Not too much to ask on the surface.

But when I put the question to my father-in-law, first-ever reader of my blog, he had to go for a walk to think about it.

My devoted, encouraging lawyer-daughter wanted to know the purpose of the question. “It’s to determine what my readers would want to read?” I offer.

“That is a wrong approach,” she cried, “You can’t ask us what we want to read. It is up to you. You should write what you want to write about.”

“Yes, but it will help me find my writing voice.”

“I like what you are writing,” she said.

“But it is too broad. I need to narrow it down. I probably need to drop travel writing.”

“But you are traveling. You should write about your travels. Some of your best writing is travel writing. I like your post Words are better than 1000 pictures. I love the anecdotes there.”

In a roundabout way, she told me she wanted me to include anecdotes in my writing. Like the everyday stories post, I wrote earlier also Aunt Grace’s Philosophy, A story that will touch your heart, Evoke the senses with your writing, only that she wanted to write my stories, not other people’s stories.

“I don’t have a word for it,” said my son-in-law, “but you say in your writing you did such-and-such and you found so-and-so.”

“Learnings that it. Life’s learnings.”

“Your writing is not preachy but informational. Information based on personal experience” chimed in my husband.

“Insights, is the word.” said, my daughter.

“Seeker, courage-of-conviction and go-getter” declared my father-in-law, the three phrases he thought during his walk.

“Diligent, creative and consistent,” said my brother.

How finding my writing voice exercise led to important discoveries

At night I sat quietly and looked back at the arc of my life, from a child to a young woman to an aging adult. I was surprised at all the transitions I have gone through. First I was who I was. Then I didn’t know who I was. Then I became what everyone around me wanted me to become. Then I invented someone I really wanted to be and became that. And finally, I am what I am again.

It is a privilege to be my own person.

When we are young we don’t know what we are. As we go through life we learn about love, about marriage, about betrayal, about failing, about falling and getting up again, about work, about staggering towards success, about raising children, about caring for the aging parents, about what matters to us and to the world around us.

And when we get towards the end of life we learn who we are.

“Life must be lived forward but understood backward.”

Soren Kierkegaard

It is interesting to note that most of our learning happens not in a classroom or in a library but in the school of life. We can look back and identify the moments – the friends’ betrayal, the work promotion, the careless comments, the difficult forgiveness, the silence, the debates, the hurt. All these things shape us, make us the person we become and give us the wisdom to share.

Two discoveries:

  1. We learn about life in retrospect.
  2. The wisdom of everyday life is timeless and worth sharing.

My daughter was right. It is the anecdotes that capture the essence of my writing voice. My father-in-law was right too, I am a life-long seeker. Seeker of answers, seeker of knowledge, seeker of wisdom. My son-in-law pointed out another one of my traits, learnings from trial and error. And my husband said the evident – I am not a preacher. I just say my truth.

This exercise has changed the focus of my blog from a topic-based blog to a personal blog. I have discovered I have so much more to share now. My passions give me a unique perspective on life, my seeking, learning, and insights give my writing voice a distinct flavor that hopefully will attract the right audience.

“Curious, insightful and inspirational.” I wrote down on the course notes and went to sleep.

life, voice, Writing

  1. Stefan says:

    Voice can be an echo of one’s views, values and opinions. Voice can be a description of how you speak and express yourself as a person. A writer’s voice is distinct and separate from those voices. Voice is cadence, rhythm, expression, tone, words, and sentence structure which are determined by a character’s backstory. A writer’s voice is also a separate entity from the content of what a writer writes and the audience for whom they write. I have heard many writers say that they do not write according to how and what they expect their readers want but they write for themselves and the stories they want to write, then the readers pick it up and choose to read or not write because they enjoy, appreciate, admire the writer’s style, expressionand voice. Voice varies according to the type of writing. Voice does not preclude you from writing travel blogs. If one writes an article, the voice can be a certain expression; non-fiction also has its own voice; voices in a writer’s novels will vary from book to book and from character to character, even in the same book. Geraldine Brooks used different, distinctive voices in People of the Book and Caleb’s Crossing, each voice suited to the story and characters in the separate books. I loved People of the Book but failed to be engaged by Caleb’s Crossing. Not a failing of the book, in fact, a mark of its success. It’s just not the style I enjoyed. The way a character speaks and expresses his/her voice is different to the author’s voice. There is the author and then there is the character. The author invents/creates the character but the character should assume a voice of his/her own. If every character has the same voice or the authors voice, then there is no voice or it’s just the writer’s own voice, more like a journal or diary, although Pepys showed that diaries can be significant documents. I wrote a character in one story and gave him a temporary name until I determined the final name. As the story and character developed, I couldn’t change the name because it was the character’s name, imbued as part of the fabric of his being. If I changed the name without cause or reason in the story, the character was not the character anymore. It was a strong realisation at the time of the power of voice. What’s in character’s name? A lot.
    Voice is a deep and intriguing concept. It is what makes writing such a challenge and joy. It keeps a writer fresh.

    1. Oh, Stefan! What a beautiful summary. Loved your story of temporary naming a character and not being able to change the name. The same thing happened to me with my novel. I gave the protagonist a temporary name until I could find a suitable one. Now that name is stuck to her, I can’t even imagine another name. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

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