Have you found your voice?

In his book, Write Like the Masters, William Cane analyzes the writing talents of more than twenty well-known and highly respected authors — everyone from J.D. Salinger and Ray Bradbury to Tom Wolfe and Stephen King. The point in doing so is not to teach readers how to ape the style of any one particular author, but rather, to learn what each one does particularly well, and achieve that same level of excellence in their own work.

The temptation upon reading the book, however, is to focus on mimicking a particular author’s voice, rather than the skills he or she exhibits. Each of the authors in the collection has a particularly unique voice, so it’s an easy trap to fall into. Perhaps it’s the title that’s deceptive. One shouldn’t write like Hemingway (or any other author for that matter). Rather, one should understand what Hemingway did well and see if using similar techniques might enhance one’s own work.

Do you currently emulate any particular author’s writing style? Think about whose work you read and what you like about it. Are those stylistic details mirrored in your own prose? If so, make sure that your own voice isn’t getting lost or masked in the process. Your voice is what makes your work stand out. It’s why almost all of the authors in Cane’s book can be recognized by prose alone.

In Writing Your Way, author and writing instructor Don Fry defines voice like so:

“Voice is a collection of devices used consistently to create the illusion of a person speaking through the text. Writers create their voices by repeating the same devices over and over, such as sentence complexity and length, level of language, and sophistication of reference. Voice differs from tone, the emotional cast. The same voice can sound elated or sad, even in the same text.”

Trying to consciously create this collection of devices can be a mistake, however. Voice comes from within. It emerges during the act of writing and is unique to each author. It’s this unique voice that helps make your work memorable, attracting devoted readers who will come back for more. 

Consider your current work in progress. Are you aping another author’s success, or are you working on creating your own? Do you recognize yourself in your work, or someone else? When writing, try not to be self-conscious about your voice. Allow it to come through naturally. That way when your book speaks to readers, they know exactly who’s doing the talking.