3 Rules for Nurturing Your Writing Voice
You’re in deep with your writing, and through commitment and the power of letting go, you’ve got words on the page. You’ve even had moments where the words have come pouring out, leaving you, the writer, feeling almost swept away in this tsunami of story.
Despite what you’ve accomplished - pages and pages of work - you are questioning yourself as a writer. You are questioning the time you’ve poured in and whether you actually have it in you to make this work worthy of publication (or showing to anyone, for that matter).
The problem is you haven’t found your voice.
We hear this term a lot, which maybe makes it seem a bit cliché, but it’s a real thing, and an important thing. Your voice is how your reader hears you. It’s also how you speak to your reader through your writing. It’ll come through no matter what words you are putting on the page, but what you’re looking for is the voice that actually feels good to you - as a writer. When you “find your voice,” you’re going to feel a whole lot more competent. You’ll feel like you’re saying what you mean and you’ll feel good about saying it.
How do you get there? Easy. Just rope in your free spirit a little, and make the decision to follow some rules. Here are three critical voice-discovering rules to try:
1. Set Deadlines & Hit Milestones
Set yourself a schedule for writing milestones you would like to achieve. This will mean you actually finish something, and finishing something is important. Ends, and how they tie back to beginnings, are a critical piece of your writing structure. So… if you decide to have a chapter complete in a week’s time, what you’re actually doing for yourself is committing to an end-point in at least part of your story (fiction or otherwise).
2. Using a Word Count as Motivation
Writing a roughly 200 page book means you’re looking to get 55,000 words on the page. This is huge and, for most of us, overwhelming.
Try to divide your work into 800 or 1000 word ‘chunks’. Consider each chunk the skeleton of a chapter. Doing this will force you to cut away the self-indulgent bits of your writing, and allow the really important elements to shine. When you finally show these sections to your trusted writing confidants, they will point to parts of your writing and say, “tell me more about that.”
You can do just so later on when you’re bringing it all together as your book.
3. Define Your Audience
This is a big one. Knowing who you are writing for determines how you write, much as knowing who you’re speaking to determines how you speak.
If you’re making an argument, are you writing for the people who are already on your side, or are you writing to engage with the people who disagree with you? Those are very different conversations. If you’re an academic, writing for your peers is probably easy, but reaching out to a wider audience may be out of your comfort zone. You might bristle and think, “Am I dumbing myself down?” It’s a fair question to ask, but it is also fair to ask whether you are dumbing yourself down when talking to friends at a party, as opposed to a conference. In any case, making this decision will take you far in terms of “finding your voice.”
Rules aren’t sexy, I know, and they seem to run so contrary to all that right-brained stuff that the creativity gurus tell us. Setting rules for your writing, at a certain point though, is like setting boundaries in a relationship - you need them to move forward and grow. The best thing about these rules is that you get to set them, and when you start to reap their benefits you’ll want to sing out loud - in your very own authentic voice.
Meribeth Deen is a writer, coach and makes up half of the Writer's Compass. She passionately believes in the power of writing and storytelling, and loves helping emerging writers find their voice and deliver it to the world.