Much of what passes across an editor’s desk has a dull sameness. There may be nothing really “wrong” with the writing. It’s competent, but it falls under the category of NNUTS (Nothing New Under the Sun). Nothing new in the ideas, nothing new in the characters or plot, and nothing new in the writing. Beginning—and sometimes experienced—writers often submit manuscripts that do not have unique voices.
Our greatest writers write from their guts, from their truths. They dig deep until they reach a vein within themselves that is pure gold. They tell stories that only they can tell, as only they can tell them. That, in a nutshell, is voice.
It often takes years for a writer to find his or her authentic voice. Voice is not simply the way a writer says things; voice reflects a writer’s unique way of viewing the world. Every editor is hoping to pick up a manuscript and find an original voice. That’s why finding your voice should be on the top of your writer’s to-do list.
Here are six ways to begin to understand voice and find your own:
Get a journal with a key—one of those kid ones. Write things in there that are so honest you have to keep them under lock and key for fear anyone will read them.
Write a page a day. Come on—you can do it! If you can’t stop yourself after one page, keep writing.
Read, and learn to write, poetry. Even if you don’t consider yourself a poet or have any desire to write poetry, you will develop your voice. (I’m not talking rhyming doggerel here. I’m talking Billy Collins, Rita Dove, and Langston Hughes; Eileen Spinelli, Karla Kushin, and Myra Cohn Livingston.)
Use photos from your childhood as writing prompts. Write from the voice of who you were in (or at the time of) the photos.
Blog. Much like a vocalist’s morning scales, this kind of “conversational” writing will help to loosen your writing voice.
Read the first pages of these books: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, Love That Dog by Sharon Creech, The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch, every Newbery winner you can get your hands on. (I dare you to stop reading after page 1.)
Finding your voice will help your work rise to the top of the same-old-same-old manuscripts piled on editors’ desks. And that’s a goal worth pursuing!