I looked everywhere: in my friends’ heads, in the books of writers I love, on TV shows and in movies; even down the back of the sofa.
I looked inside my own head, and outside it, too.
But I never did find it. My voice, I mean.
I thought I had to. I thought that was a key part of Becoming A Writer—I had to Find My Voice and then I would finally Be A Writer.
That isn’t how this works, though. We don’t excavate The Voice and then we’re set for life—that’s like expecting to be able to execute a perfect triple salto on the ice-rink without practising.
Use your voice. Now. Use the one you have.
It’s the only way to develop our skills.
Emulate other writers, sure—pick stuff you love, copy it out, use the bits you like and adapt them to your purposes, try on other voices for size—but use your voice. It’s already there, waiting for you.
Use it and stretch it and try stuff you’ve not tried before—see how your voice changes and grows over time, and becomes something richer and more colourful.
We want to be good writers, right? Great writers? Entertaining writers? Writers that move people? Then write.
You already have a voice, and the only way to find it is to use it.
Write about shit you love. Stuff you hate. Things that amuse you. Your stories. Other people’s stories. Everything that interests you. Write about all of it, all the time, and as you do so, your voice will emerge.
Then it’ll change, because all voices do, because we change.
Let it happen. Embrace it. Try new techniques, use new words, play games.
Here’s a few ideas to get you started.
- Look for the tiniest of tiny details. Pick a thing—anything, say a glass of water or a frosty leaf—and examine it closely. Write about what it looks like, smells like, feels like, tastes like (although be careful don’t lick random stuff). Compare it to things. Be as detailed as you can possibly be, and then be more detailed. Think of ways to explain what you’re sensing.
- Write a biography of your table lamp. Or, really, any inanimate object. Pick something and imagine the journey it’s had. The life it might lead were it to spring into action. Make it funny if you like. Or tragic. Or humdrum.
- Write an A-Z of something. For a recent exercise, I wrote an A-Z of my many life digressions. Bascially what it’s like living with an ADHD brain. It was funny, and it was fun to do, and it got me thinking differently.
- Notice more things. Writers are incredible at noticing stuff, filing this stuff away, and then bringing it out to write about. Not all writing is actual writing; sometimes it’s thinking and exploring and playing. So take a different route to a regular place you visit, rather than your usual route. Instead of plugging your ears in, leave them open and eavesdrop on conversations. Go down a rabbit hole of information about something you’re interested in (like mushrooms, for example, so you can learn that actually fungi are more closely related to humans than plants, and some are millions of years old, and some are bigger than countries).
- Then write your thoughts and reactions to them. David Sedaris is an absolute master of this, and I am always trying to learn from him. Turn an observation into a little anecdote, like this one time I was in the Natural History Museum in London. I’d failed on all counts and gone during school holidays at the busiest possible time. As I was standing in a corner, doing nose-breathing to ward off the panic attack, I started watching people. They flowed around me, sometimes into me and through me, and the thing that struck me was the weird urgent chase that seemed to be happening. Almost nobody was stopping to really look or see or read the exhibits; it was a frantic lurch from cabinet to cabinet, as if this were a mere tick-list to be checked off, and all I could think was—why are you here? And then I entered the gift shop (I love a museum gift shop) and realised: it was all about the sugar and the souvenirs. An itch that Jurassic Park and 10 minutes on Amazon could scratch.
- Ask people stuff. Weird stuff. This is another trick I stole from David Sedaris. When he signs books for people, he doesn’t wait for fans to ask him stuff. Partly, I suspect, because he gets the same questions over and over again… but also because he collects stories. So he asks the questions. He asked someone in front of me, “What furniture do you like?” And he asked me, “Have you ever met anyone who’s truly evil?” (I haven’t. But there is a cat in our village that qualifies, and he found that funny.) If, like me, you hate small talk and are crap at it, just let your weirdness out and ask people random shit. Then listen to their answers, and write them down.
- Be really, extremely specific. Take the Grinch song: “I wouldn’t touch you with a 39-and-a-half-foot pole” is much funnier than a 10 foot pole. In more everyday examples, I see a lot of stuff on the internet about becoming a better writer. But what does that MEAN? Who knows? It’s not helpful. Better is subjective. And nebulous. I want to become a more persuasive writer. A faster writer. A more prolific writer. A more confident writer. A more unique writer. A funnier writer. A more moving writer. A more evocative writer. See? Be specific. Vague and general is boring. Specific is fascinating, and often funny.
- Keep a notebook and make it colourful. Not just for quotes and notes and random thoughts—although yes for all that. Use it as a scrapbook, too. Stick in stickers and receipts and things you find. Use coloured pens and draw doodles and sketches. Record your thoughts and feelings in colour and pictures as well as words. Follow Austin Kleon for some great inspiration. And I sometimes share my notebooks, too…
- Copy out writing you love. One of the things I use my notebooks for is copying out passages I love from books, articles, magazines—and then I make notes in the margins of the books and magazines, and later I make more notes in my notebook. Why did I love this? What worked? What didn’t? What stood out as funny or sad or fascinating? What can I take for my own writing and use and adapt?
There are thousands more creative writing tips and techniques out there, and teaching them is one way I work with my clients—but the best thing we can do is to write.
And not just write, but put it out there.
Because if we want to improve—by whatever measure we’re using—we need feedback and we need collaboration.
So write, for yourself first, but as soon as you can, start publishing it.
Yes, in your book—but before that, on social media, on your blog, in emails and articles. Develop your voice and enhance it.
Every. Damn. Day.
Psst: did you know you can book a 90 minute Book Breakthrough Jam session with me to get your book started? If you’re stuck and would like my help to get going on your book again, click the button below and book a slot.
Notes in the Margin
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