Finding Your Voice As A Writer

finding your voice

Once your voice is real and audible, people’s attitude to your writing will change. Finding your voice means you are writing something no one else could write.

George Orwell wrote a famous essay called “Why I Write.” In it he lists what he describes as the four reasons any writer writes: sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose.

By his definitions, all four of these motivations lead a writer to want to impose ideas upon others. Readers sense this. This is why writers get it in the neck so hard.

People react badly to egoism. No one likes someone writing just to show off, appear smart, or as Orwell puts it, “to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc.”

People also react badly to being told what to do or think. “Who are you to tell me what I should think? What I should do? How the world works? Why are you special?” is what they are thinking. And finally, “Why are you writing?”

You need to have a good reason. A reason you can stand by. Hopefully it’s good enough, and expressed well enough, to convince readers. Many people are suspicious as soon as you say you are a writer. How could you be so self-absorbed and arrogant, resentful people wonder.

The equation changes when you have a voice

When writers are persuasive, readers know by instinct. This is the definition of a good writer, one with authority. This means a writer with a voice. Ideally, it’s a strong voice that resonates. Finding an author whose writing you can submit to and trust is a wonderful feeling. Orwell is widely admired for his voice.

Singers are said to have a voice when they are immediately recognizable. Great singers without a “voice” do fantastic backup. They are perfect for a chorus where no one voice stands above the rest. Singers with a voice bring a special sound to a song, that only they can bring, but so often this voice is as metaphorical as the one that writers have.

Singers are far more than a physical voice. Their voices reflect the choices of the songs they sing, the emotions they express, the styles they adopt, the personalities they are, what they stand for. Whether your readers agree or not, they will recognize if you have a distinctive voice. They will immediately put down your writing if they find it absent.

Having a clear voice is no mean feat. It takes time and conviction to develop. It is your greatest asset as a writer. Having a recognizable voice is an achievement in and of itself.

Of course, you’ll be most satisfied when readers agree with it. Then your voice gets louder, like a chorus. Hopefully, readers will find your voice pleasing, entertaining, funny, or inspirational. This is the best case scenario.

You need to be 100% behind your voice, because times might come when you’ll need to defend it. In fact, the more you are battered for it, the stronger it should make you. This doesn’t mean you want to be attacked. It just means choose what you stand for carefully.

Your voice is yours. People can think what they want of it.

Keep focusing on “it’s yours.” Everyone has a right to their own opinion, their own view of how the world works, their special type of expression. The more unique your voice becomes, the stronger it becomes.

Readers’ reactions range from dismissive to engaged to enraged to enrapt when a writer has a voice. This is why you need to have one you can stand by. If you are timid about your voice, people will sense your fear.

The hardest part is making sure the voice that comes across is the one you want to. Often attacks are launched because you are being misrepresented or misunderstood. You can easily lose heart when this happens. Just let it be a lesson and make sure your writing is tighter the next time around. Keep working until your voice is solid and you can stand behind it. Then you are immovable.

Immovable, that is, until you learn something new or experience something that alters your voice. This is also part of developing a voice. You might find deeper parts of yourself. You might find hidden parts. You might just change your mind. This is fine too. That’s still honest and valid.

Once your voice is real and audible, people’s attitude to your writing will change. You are writing something no one else could write. Anyone with a voice is someone different.

It’s a huge lifetime accomplishment. Voices are listened to. People love to admire a great voice. They are rare.

So, who are you to tell me? Your success as a writer depends on how you answer.


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  1. “People react badly to egoism. No one likes someone writing just to show off, appear smart.”
    Well, Americans love egoism. They just elected the top of the line Narcisissistic brand president and he filled every possible office with littler (though not by much) narcego boys. Also, what is the “reason” for shooting a ball into a net? Money, and of course, to show off one’s skill. It certainly is not to cure heart disease. Also, believers love to be told what to think. As long it’s what they like to believe. Also, they like to be told what to do. How do I change the window in my basement coal bin? Up springs a utube video!

  2. Excellent analysis. And as F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “You don’t write because you want to say something. You write because you have something to say.”

  3. This piece offers a rather negative view on voice. Perhaps it is because it appears to be aimed primarily at non-fiction. The intent to persuade with ones voice. Being a fiction writer, I understand that my voice, as it is revealed in my stories, can be critiqued for its strengths and weaknesses regarding how I present my plot. But there are no overt personal opinions in the book that should leave me open to comment with respect to having an inflated ego or a wish to impose my ideas on others. I am telling a story, hopefully to entertain, definitely to satisfy the creative side of my soul. An exceedingly good voice may attract readers to works of fiction, however, I do believe that when it comes to non-fiction, even a stellar voice cannot overcome objectionable ideas and opinions. George Orwell, as a novelist, did indeed have a unique and interesting voice, however, I cannot agree with his views on why “any writer writes”.

  4. For me this is timely and relevant, so thank you. It’s the one thing I am trying to hone right now as I work through my manuscript as I know how much I’m affected by it in others work.

    • Well said, Natalie. Your opinion that “…all real writers write purely through compulsion” is spot on. Perhaps Orwell and MS Field avoided the term ‘compulsion’ due to its negative connotation – psychologists define compulsion as a strong, usually irresistible impulse to perform an act, especially one that is irrational or contrary to one’s will.
      Although, in her eloquent post, MS Field didn’t hesitate to employ the term ‘narcissism’ as a negative attribute of President Trump. And psychologists’ definition is negative when referring to writers, or any adult: “Being a normal condition at the infantile level of personality development.”
      I believe that compulsion is an accurate term to explain why some writers write. I know that term fits me, whether it’s songs, essays or novels. I can’t explain why, but something inside me needs to escape. I’ve often said that if I didn’t write it down my head would explode.
      I can’t explain it any other way. Narcissism or ego? Perhaps. But getting the work done is more important to me than selling the product. Although, I desire to sell my works, mostly because I have a strong aversion to the term “starving artist”.
      Thank you, Natalie, for broaching the subject of a ‘compulsion to write’. I believe it is far more relevant than many writers choose to admit.

  5. This is wonderful because it gets at the common thing that all great artists possess in spades. To me, a singer-songwriter as well as a novelist, it’s relevant and resonant in a very specific way.

  6. Dr. Field, Thank you for this article “Finding Your Voice As A Writer.” I have been writing for a number of years and I am still developing my voice. I write in different genres, including books for children. But I think my voice should be clear/the same no matter the genre. I have several pieces of writing including a blog and my recently published children’s book, A Birthday Story, which showcase my current voice. Please leave a comment for me.

  7. Hi Dawn. Thank you so much for this great article. I read it twice- for understanding on the first round, for inspiration on the second. I think writing is so hard because you cannot separate your words from your soul. I just had a piece of my work critiqued, and it wasn’t pretty. I was devastated because of it. The critique was not without merit, I grew from some of it and had to let some of it go. Your article could not have come at a better time. Thank you and I will take a peek at some of your other articles. Take Care.

  8. When I wrote my memoir ” Even Rock and Roll has Fairy Tales” I had been telling my stories to friends for years so not having a clue how one wad “supposed” to write a book I just told the story exactly as I would to a best friend. Lord knows I had plenty of practice. over the years so the first draft just flowed right out really easily. All the jokes were already well rehearsed. and had settled into the perfect spots for maximum comic effect. the dramatic pauses well practiced, well timed and well placed from decades of practice! the highs to skies and the lows as low as they go and every twist and turn of my wild ride was already taking the curves already at full throttle and careening around every edge on two well oiled wheels . For me this shocking rollicking rock. and roll roller coaster ride , though still a thriller had become a well loved , well practiced favorite, safe familiar ride. l knew that to turn it from evening round the campfire after dinners entertaintent to a proper adventure in novel form was going to have to be a balancing act between voice and vision and if I dint get that right. it would be a failure in both respects on paper . in really wordy and am always thinking why use 6 words telling a tall tale when you could use 16? lol So its a constant battle for me. to walk the tightropes between talking and typing in a way folks could follow with just enough wobble in between forced and free to keep the crowd just a tad frightened.and fascinated enough to just have to stick around long enough to see how it all ends!

  9. “Your voice is your voice. People can think what they want of it.” Bravo! I am a self-published author and I only share that because, in the marketing trenches, I visited a book club that read my first novel.

    One of the women told me that she owed me an apology, which was odd- we had just met. She said that she originally found the voice in the book a little contrived. But, after having met me and hearing me speak, she knew the voice in the book to be genuine and all mine.

    Unfortunately, people are going to react to your voice however they please. We must remember to have one anyway…

  10. Voice. Ineffable as it is, like porn, you know it when you see it. I read somewhere that you need to write 1,000,000 words to find your voice. That is probably why so few people do. What I found is that the convergence of subject matter with the skill and maturity of the author and the structure of the work sparks the birth of voice. When you finally do a re-read of your work and there’s precious little to change and you sit back and say “That’s pretty good,” it’s what a friend said was a Mozart moment.

  11. My sister died in July of a stroke. She and I have never done anything like this,( writing a book), but now that she’s gone I want to get it done for her and for me too. Thank you so much for allowing me to learn from your beautiful voices. I loved and I think I learned from Ms. Dawn Field’s article about voice. Thank you for your time and consideration.

  12. Your article reaffirmed my reasons to continue writing my second book. The first book. YOU WALK PRETTY, is a book of poetry based on my life, living with cerebral palsy. The second book will be fiction and feature characters with disabilities. Your article helps me realize that perhaps I have found my voice
    after all.

  13. “Having a clear voice is no mean feat. It takes time and conviction to develop. It is your greatest asset as a writer. Having a recognisable voice is an achievement in and of itself.” I do think this applies to fiction as well as non-fiction writing. I think it is about feeling comfortable in your own skin as well as taking time to hone your craft.

    Thank you for the parallel with singing. I have friends who have beautiful distinctive singing voices and other friends who paint and their artist’s ‘voices’ are personal and distinctive also. Thinking about these parallels helped me to muse more deeply with what you mean. It encouraged me to recognise that just as my friends can only sing and paint if confident in their unique vision of what they are doing. So too me as a writer.


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