In Search of Your Voice: Conquering One Grain of Sand at a Time
April 13, 2016
My advanced fiction workshop class and I have been talking about voice a lot. Voice—that somewhat enigmatic characteristic of a work that can make or break the reader's (or publisher, editor, or agent's) willingness to come along. I told my class, and believe, that voice can't be taught. Fortunately, the components of compelling prose that meld together to create a writer's unique voice can be.
The journey to finding one's voice is a gritty, intentional struggle, much like the voyage our little friend above is making. You have to want it. It has to be part of the fibers of your instinctual fabric to seek it, because it is not easy. To borrow from Wesley/The Dread Pirate Roberts wisdom in The Princess Bride:
Swap the word "Life" for the word "Writing," and this wise quote aptly captures the writerly hunt for voice.
Not to knock anyone's hustle, but people think having a story to tell means that they are a writer. I believe that anyone (who's literate—but that's another topic altogether) can write. Being able to write and being a writer are not the same. A person can help another with first aid, but we're not going to start calling her or him doctor just yet.
Being a writer and finding one's voice is hard. First you have to figure out what you want to say and how to say it in a compelling way. And then finding and consistently employing your voice means you attain that mixture of craft elements—diction, sentence structure, pacing, etc.—that makes your work, your voice unique. But those writerly choices, how to make them wisely and refine the aspects of your craft, can be taught. The learning and practice to refine your voice are well worth the effort.
As put by character Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own:
So keep your eyes seaward, fellow writers, and don't let the sand's grit slow you down.