Lose Your Voice to Find Your Voice

Jul 4, 2018

I can get so darn sick of my writing voice. Too acid, too cheerleader, too dull, too… There are days when I want to never write another word.

Sometimes this does mean I need a break, that I’ve been forcing myself to produce too many words without taking in enough of the world. Or without enough “stealing like an artist” which Austin Kleon writes about and models so well.

But sometimes it’s not that I don’t have an inventory to write from and more that I’ve gotten too close to the voice of what I’m writing. I’ve forgotten who I am in relationship to the material. Or I haven’t yet turned it over enough times to know what I genuinely think.

Maybe I’ve fallen into my old trap of thinking I need to please you or have THE answers or get you to like me.

Either way, I need to do something different.

Here’s what I’ve been trying (and assigning to my writing students):

Find a short piece of writing—a few paragraphs will do—written in a very different voice from yours that intrigues you or perplexes you. It need not be a piece of writing you love or have ever read before.

Take this paragraph or two and write your piece using this voice.

I know, weird right?

Keep your material but copy the word choices, sentence length, sensory details (maybe he uses more sounds than sights or smells), and narrative modes used by the author you’ve chosen (narrative modes are description, action, dialogue, exposition, and state of mind).  If your author uses mostly dialogue, then so do you. Mostly state of mind (interior thoughts and feelings), then do that.

I do this with painting too.

I try to copy a painter who is different than me or who is doing something interesting I don’t understand. It’s a great way to get out of a rut where all of your work sounds the same or getting stuck in the same place in your work.

I lack the skills to copy well or even close, but it still works!

A couple of pointers:

Don’t spend more than five minutes picking someone to mimic. It’s not about learning how to do what another author does—although you will—it’s about making yourself uncomfortable.

Doing this exercise will probably be maddening. Focus on the stretch, the being out of your comfort zone and forget about writing something you like.

See if this sparks a new insight or recognition of your writing voice. It might even bring new insights into the piece you’re currently writing.

Hope you find this fruitful.

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