Writers are always hearing about voice. “We’re looking for a fresh, distinct voice,” or “You need to find your voice.” I think all of us instinctively recognize a distinct voice when we hear or read it, but how do we find our own? Where do we even begin to look?
In my early writing years, I wanted to write like Anne Lamott, much like in seventh grade I wanted to look like a girl named Kathy. I imagined myself crafting succinct, witty prose colored with biting humor and penetrating insight that delivered a bare-bones, heartfelt, sometimes kick-in-the-gut universal truth. Similarly, in seventh grade, I envisioned myself with long, golden hair flowing to my waist, a sun-kissed complexion with nary a blemish, and pearly teeth as straight as piano keys.
Alas, neither fantasy panned out. Rather, my choppy, canned prose left even me wondering what message I was trying to convey, and the only time I’ve had long, golden hair with a sun-kissed complexion was in drama class after donning a wig and mountains of makeup. And piano-key teeth? Nope. Never. Eventually, I accepted that I am not Anne or Kathy. I’m Diana. And that is when my own voice started to emerge on the page. I had to first find out who I really am by discovering and, most importantly, accepting who I am not.
And I do mean started to emerge on the page. L. Ron Hubbard is noted for saying that you must write 500,000 words in order to find your true writing voice. I break out in hives over all things mathematical, so I don’t know if 500,000 is an accurate number or not. But I do know that finding your voice requires writing a lot of words. And for me that began with trying to emulate an author I respect and admire.
So for those of you who haven’t yet found your voice, just start writing, even if you’re trying to sound like someone else, and trust that your own voice will come. And for those of you who have found your voice, keep writing and honing that voice that only you possess.