The definition of a writer’s voice, as found on Wikipedia, is “the individual writing style of an author, a combination of their common usage of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works).” I believe that each writer’s voice is as unique and natural a part of them as are their fingerprints. However, learning to trust that voice can be hard when faced with the overwhelming amount of writing advice we are inundated with each day. A writer can’t swing a pronoun without hitting advice - it’s everywhere and most of it begins with the word never:
“Never use adverbs.” (I kind of feel sorry for the poor adverb. It gets such a bad rap.)
“Never use a dialogue tag other than ‘said.’ ”
“ ‘Said’ is over-used as a dialogue tag. Change it up.” (Did I mention that much of the advice conflicts? No? Well, it does.)
“A chapter must be at least five thousand words.” (No. Just no.)
Trying to follow all of the advice given not only stifles our voice, it can completely stifle the creative process. To be honest, I’m still learning to navigate the advice minefield. As a general rule of thumb, I’ve learned to avoid the advice that begins with never. I’ve got enough living under my belt to be a firm believer in the old adage, “Never say never.”
For those times I am feeling overwhelmed by what-ifs, and should-I’s, I fall back on the one piece of advice that has saved my writing sanity more than once: Write to express, not to impress.
I’ve learned that when I am really struggling, when the words are feeling heavy-handed or I’m staring at a blank page, unable to begin, it’s usually because I have started writing to impress. When writing to impress, I become more focused on the turn of a phrase rather than the story I am trying to tell. Writing to impress also means that I am worried about what others might think of what I am writing, or whether it meets the myriad of “rules” that I’ve read that week. When that happens, I have to take a deep breath and remember why I write, which is to express all of the stories that I have to tell.
Once I put my focus back on the story, make that my story, the words come easier. There is nothing like the feeling when the words suddenly click - that feeling is what lets me know that I’m once again using my voice to tell my story. After all…
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