Finding Your Writer's Voice
Updated: Sep 23, 2020
When I first started writing on a serious level, that is, with intent rather than on assignment, I wrote poetry. I enjoyed the economy of language; a single word’s precision in slicing meaning into several layers, then splicing it into Ariadne’s thread to weave a story. And I enjoyed how such sparse language could envelop the reader with passion.
I still enjoy it, but truthfully, it often made me feel like I needed to lighten up.
Then, I took up screenwriting, which was a great deal of fun. I wrote thriller scripts and historical scripts and spec tv scripts. My dabblings were enough to convince me to move to LA, where I landed an agent and got some writing work, mostly fixing other writers’ scripts. It didn’t take me long to realize that I liked scripts because I enjoyed writing dialogue. It’s surprisingly hard for a lot of otherwise talented writers to write realistic dialogue. Often, it contains a lot of fillers (from umms and uhhs to small talk that neither illuminates character nor moves the story forward.) Or it’s either too formal or too colloquial. Dialogue, whether for scripts or novels or plays, can be tricky as the key is to make it sounds realistic without it actually being real-life.
Long story short, turns out I didn’t much like writing scripts. The medium didn’t suit me. I like meandering around in my characters’ heads, and then shouting to world everything they’re thinking. So, the sparse descriptive language of television and film scripts left me feeling unfulfilled.
Over the years, as I pursued a career in marketing, I spent less time writing creatively and more time focused on business writing—the joys of email campaigns, press releases, white papers, and articles. On the side, when story ideas struck, I wrote short stories and essays, and a couple of novels, but, again, the writing never stoked a passion in me. I had tried historical adventure, mystery, and other genres, but nothing fit and I felt my interest in writing grow stagnant with frustration.
About four years ago, something happened one evening a few days before Christmas. My wife and I live in rural Texas. On this evening, a young man had knocked on our door around midnight. It startled us, scared us a bit, to be honest. After some interaction, we discovered the young man had been in a car accident. His friend had run across the fields and into the night, but he made his way to our house. The car had ended up in a stock pond. This young man was soaking wet and a cold front had the winds blowing at 30 mph while the temperature was dropping toward freezing. We got him into some warm clothes and a blanket until EMS arrived and took him to the hospital. That night irrevocably changed me. I wrote an essay about it, because I didn’t know what else to do.
That essay also changed something in my writer’s soul. Through the raw honesty of my words about that night, I discovered my voice. The language and tone and emotion of that essay was my real writer’s voice, the way I connect and bridge my soul to language to reader. In realizing that, I also realized the stories I wanted to tell—finding the pivotal moments that occur in everybody’s life and writing about resilience and strength and hope.
What about you? How did you find your writer’s voice?