New Ways to Gain Confidence in Your Writing Voice

Filed in Finding & Following Your Voice by on December 18, 2017 • views: 695

I had the pleasure of playing French horn in a recent local theatrical production of “The Little Mermaid.”

The typical process goes like this:

  1. the orchestra meets a few times on their own to become familiar with the music,
  2. then the orchestra meets with the actors/singers to go through the music alone (no acting, just singing), and finally,
  3. both groups rehearse the show as it will be, actors/singers on stage, orchestra in the pit, acting and singing combined.

The second step of the process is called the “sitzprobe,” a German musical theater term that means “seated rehearsal.” This is where the singers focus on singing with the orchestra, and the orchestra gets a chance to learn how the leads are going to approach their songs, so the two have a better chance of linking up in the show.

The sitzprobe is important for several reasons, but probably the most enjoyable part of it is that the two groups get to hear each other. For the singers, it’s their first time working with a full orchestra instead of a piano or a recording. For the orchestra, it’s their first exposure to the onstage talent.

In a local production, one doesn’t expect Broadway-level superstars, but I have to say that this time around, I was amazed at the talent. We had young kids still in high school with voices far better than any found on American Idol. The young woman who sang the part of “Ariel” performed so well you’d swear the Disney recording was on.

As I played and listened, I had to realize again how much creative talent there is in this world. It’s good to be reminded of this for two reasons:

  1. It reminds you that yes, the competition is fierce in all of the arts. If you’re not hitting the bestseller’s lists, think again about the sheer number of amazing writers out there—more than you can ever imagine.
  2. It reminds you that the only thing you have that no one else has is your voice—your uniqueness, the thing that makes your writing your writing.

Writing, singing, or playing well is not enough. What separates one from another is the deeper stuff—what comes from the heart, the spirit. The voice.

You may or may not want to write over the holiday season. There are pros and cons to both approaches. (If you want to keep writing, check out “10 Ways to Maintain a Writing Routine During the Holidays.” If you’d rather take some time off, check out author Lorrie Thomson’s post, “The Benefits of Not Writing During the Holidays.”)

Either way, I’d suggest you consider a new idea for this holiday: Why not use it to discover more about your unique writing voice?

What Does it Really Mean to Develop a Writer’s Voice?

There’s a lot of talk about “voice” in writing. When I was first starting out, I remember being really confused about it. I was writing in what I thought was my voice. I mean, who else’s voice would it be?

But after 20 years, I think I’m getting the hang of what voice really is. The closest example I can think of occurs in music. It’s your “tone” on an instrument, the unique sound that you create.

When a group of French horns play together, they make a harmonious sound, but have each player perform the same passage alone, and you’ll hear differences in tone, interpretation, how each one shapes the phrase and the individual notes. These are subtle differences, but differences just the same.

It’s why we can tell one singer from another, and one writer from another. It all makes perfect sense, but then you go thinking about your own voice, and what makes your writing unique, and it can get confusing in a hurry.

Adding to the problem is the fact that as we write or play or sing, our voices continue to develop, change, and evolve. Voice isn’t a set thing that once you find it, you’ve got it, and you can move on. Instead, you continue to build on it as you progress, gradually becoming more confident in what you’re doing. That confidence, in turn, inspires an even closer fit between your work and your artistic voice.

This may be the most rewarding thing about any sort of artistic endeavor, this gradual and accelerating journey into the voice. The more the person and the artistic voice become intertwined, the more the art shines.

So how do we make this happen—bring you and your artistic voice closer together?

5 Ways to Get More Acquainted with Your Writing Voice

The most basic answer to this question is time and practice. We have to write again and again, always with the goal of creating something better than we did before, to get closer to the voice that exists within us. But we can do other things too—and the holidays are a great time to try some of those things.

Below are five exercises you can do this holiday season that will help give you some insight into your own writer’s voice. No matter how experienced you are, you may be surprised at what you discover, and how it may help you write even more freely and easily in the future.

Note: I suggest keeping a document or journal over the holiday period and using it to write your observations on each of the following. Then, when you return, after you’ve let it sit for a few days, read it over. You’re likely to notice more things than you did in the moment.

1. Listen in to the conversation.

Say you’re attending a family dinner, a community gathering, or an office party this holiday. You’re likely to have some preconceived notions going in. (I hope I don’t have to sit next to Uncle Bill—he always has to rant about politics.)

The holidays can be a volatile time for a lot of reasons. Try to go into your writer’s brain this year, and separate yourself just enough to really pay attention to what people are saying. Listen to the words they use, how they put them together, and the subjects they choose to talk about.

Focused listening is a lost art in many circles these days, so it’s good practice regardless, but I’m suggesting you open your mind and observe those around you like characters in a book. Really listen to what they say and how they choose to express themselves, and you can learn a lot about what’s going on in their heads.

Then, the next time you get a few moments, write down your observations. What did you observe about the people you spoke to, or the people you simply listened to? Choose three of them and write up a short paragraph on each—a sort of character sketch.

Next, describe a situation in which those three people might appear together. Use your imagination and choose the situation that you find the most fun to write about. Maybe they’d end up stuck in an elevator together, or perhaps they’d all show up at the grocery store at the same time, or maybe they’d all end up involved in the same car wreck. Write one paragraph that would start this story, and have all three people appear in that paragraph.

Now—here’s the part where you get some insight into your voice. Once you’ve got all this done, turn it around. Choose one of the three people you had in your scenario and think about what situation he or she might have put the three people in, except substitute yourself for him or her in the group.

Let’s say you chose Uncle Bill, your nephew Jerry, and sister Kate to put into this situation. And let’s say you chose to put them into a broken elevator together, to explore the character drama that would play out among them in a stressful situation.

Now you’re going to choose one of the three—let’s say your sister Kate. What situation would she choose? Might she imagine Jerry got hurt and the three of them ended up at the hospital? Or would she put Uncle Bill in a political drama with the others caught up in his desire to present the perfect image?

Might Jerry have put everyone into a fantasy story with dragons and witches? Really think about how this person talked and what you observed about him or her, and try to channel their point of view in your writing.

Again, write a paragraph from this other person’s point of view.

Then, go back and review the paragraph you wrote, and compare it to the one you wrote from the alternate point of view. Ask yourself: Why did you choose the situation you chose, rather than some other one? Why did you put the three people into the scenario that you did?

Then ask yourself what that reveals about your writing voice. Are you drawn to the more dramatic, romantic, fun, scary, exciting, fantastical, other worldly, etc.? What personality characteristics did you focus on in each person? Why? What about the setting intrigued you?

Keep asking questions. Why these people? Why this place? What emotions did you explore? Why?

2. See what you’re observing.

We are often so entrenched in our own points of view that we have a hard time seeing ourselves objectively. That’s why it can be hard to imagine a “voice,” because we’re so close to it. It’s time to put on your “witness” eyes.

Watch yourself as you interact this holiday season. Watch what you notice. When you walk into the room, where does your gaze go? To the food? Someone important to you? The lighting? The warmth or coolness of the room? The floor under your feet? Or how you feel about being at the event, or about being with the person you’re with? Or about something else, like what this event means in your life?

Why do you notice these particular things, when someone else might notice completely different things? Try to be a witness on your own shoulder.

Imagine yourself 20 years down the road. What will you remember about this event? Why? Maybe you’ll forget all about where it was and what it was for, but you’ll remember that amazing drink you had with your cousin and how you talked about the childhood memories you shared.

Or maybe you’ll remember the whole shindig as a bore except for the white fluffy dog that you played with out in the back room while everyone else was socializing. Why would that be your memory?

What stands out to you about this event? Take some time to write your observations down.

3. What bothers you about the holidays?

Ask yourself: What bugs you about this time of year? Answer that question in your notebook, then keep your eyes and ears open over the holiday season.

What seems to bother other people? How is that different from what bugs you?

You might even ask the other people you interact with: What bugs you about the holiday season? Write your observations down. For some, it may be the commercialism. Others may not enjoy all the parties and social events. Some may feel there is just too much to do. Others may dread the travel, while still others may lament the lack of religious emphasis.

Record your answers, then look them over and ask yourself: Why did you give the answers you gave, instead of the answers the other folks gave? Why did you zero in on the one thing you did? What does that say about what is important to you in life?

You can do the same thing with the opposite question: What do you love about the holiday season? Compare and contrast the answers. Ask yourself, “why this and not that?”

4. If you could have the perfect holiday fantasy, what would it be?

Take a few minutes and describe your perfect holiday. Make it just one day. What would it be like? Would you have family there, or not? Stay home or travel? Have a big social event or keep it small? Go on some adventure or share stories with treasured friends?

Let your imagination run wild. Would you travel to another planet if you could? Take a flight over the city on a dragon? Build homes for all the homeless in your city? Attend a favorite concert or show? Who would you do these things with? Someone real? Someone imaginary?

Once you’ve finished, let the piece sit for a few days, then go back and look over what you wrote. Ask yourself why you went the direction you did. What does this say about the spirit within you? If this were someone else’s writing, how would you describe his or her voice?

Pretend you are an editor and you’ve received this piece to evaluate. Write a paragraph about the artist this writer is. Describe him or her as much as you can, but take only from the piece of writing. Try not to add in things that you know about yourself. Stay in the character of the editor who is reviewing this piece. See what you observe.

5. Choose your one book.

Imagine money is really tight this holiday season. (That may not be too tough to imagine!) There is no money for presents, so your family, friend, or loved on has decided to get you the one book you love most in the world. She’s going to get the most pristine copy possible and wrap it up beautifully to present to you on the special day.

And let’s imagine this is the last book you will ever have. The world is going to end, or all books are going to disappear, or whatever. There will never be another chance for you to get a book, and after this, all of the books you currently own except for this one will disappear. You will have only this book, and no other book, for the rest of your life.

Quickly—don’t analyze too much—which book would you choose?

Write it down. Don’t second-guess yourself. We’re writers. We love many books. If you allow yourself to think about it you’ll change, and change, and change. Go with your first instinct.

What is the one book you simply cannot live without?

After you choose, it’s time to evaluate that choice. (It may be best to wait a few days, first, to let the decision cool.) Again, imagine you’re someone else if you like. It often helps. What does it say about this person that he chose this book? Why this book of all books? What does his choice mean? What is most important to him in life, based on this choice? Write down your observations.

Apply What You’ve Learned to Your Work

Once you’ve completed all these exercises and the holidays are over, go back over your writings to find more clues. See if you can find answers to the following questions:

  • Is the project you’re working on in line with what you discovered about your voice?
  • Are you utilizing fully the things that really matter to you in your story?
  • Are there ways you can bring more depth into your work by incorporating some of what you’ve learned?
  • Knowing what you now know, are there other ways you could express what your voice wants to express that would enhance your career?

Have fun, and happy holidays.

What tips do you have for developing your writer’s voice?

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Comments (4)

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  1. Sharon Schnelle says:

    A very inspiring article! During the holidays, and before I read this article, I came to the conclusion that my strong point in my writing may be dialogue. I entered a contest based on a photo and my whole article was dialogue. I realized, too, that the most fun and emotional and thought-provoking parts of my novel are the dialogue sections. Then I read your article about holiday fantasies. I found myself outside, in nature, with pastel colors swirling around me. I felt in spirit, I felt totally free, and I opened up to myself. I shot straight up into the blue sky and spread my arms like a flower opening. Then it dawned on me just how much I need to be free. I need to rescue the me that has been hiding and doing to-do lists and making others happy. That’s nice, but I need to be free. There are so many voices in the ethers that have stories to tell. I need to watch and listen to my characters, and bring them to life. I feel my own voice in my writings is one of a teacher, and a student. I need to express my way, I need to be me. And your book, Overwhelmed Writer Rescue, is doing amazing things to help me do just that. Thank you for all you do and share!

    • Colleen says:

      Wow, Sharon, love your perfect holiday and the meaning you derived from it. I think many of us writers agree with you that the writing voice is a teacher. I know the writing life has taught me a lot. Thank you for sharing your progress and hope 2018 is a great writing year for you! :O)

  2. What a great article! Thank you for posting.