As we start writing for publication, we suddenly become very aware of how our words “sound” on paper. Unfortunately too many of us feel like we have to sound very literary. We start looking for big words and high-sounding phrases. It isn’t until we get a few more words—or a few rejection slips—under our belts that we begin to realize that something is wrong. What’s wrong is that the big words and high-sounding phrases are not what makes a good writer. In fact it is just the opposite.
The most successful writers are those who can write in a way that is simple and straight forward, avoiding big words, flowery language and simply being themselves. Unless you are writing in a highly specialized field, for a highly educated audience, never use a big word when a small one will do.
At one point early in my career I started wondering about my “voice,” or what some might call my writing style. I knew that some people could simply read a passage from a certain author’s work and know immediately who had written it because they recognized the author’s style. I was curious as to how a writer develops that recognizable voice. It was some time before I discovered that voice, but I did learn some things during the process.
For most writers, your voice emerges when you reach the point where you can write honestly, when the things you say ring true, and the real you begins to filter through in your writing. Often those around you, like those in your critique group, will begin to recognize that voice before you do. It seems to surface more readily when you are enthusiastic or care deeply about what you are writing. At the same time, you don’t want to resort to shouting on paper; let your passion bring power to your words and your voice will be heard. Voice is simply your personality on paper—write until you discover the real you.
Some have found that writing regularly—and honestly—in their journals helps to bring their true voice to the surface. Once you have mastered it in your journal, you can start transferring it to other kinds of writing. Constantly striving for authenticity in our lives and our words will bring not only power, but clarity, force and flavor to our voice. Trying to copy another’s style, or writing things we don’t believe passionately will leave our voice flat or without that ring of truth. No one can teach you how to have that authentic voice, it comes from a personal journey in which you open up your life to your readers.