Who is That Author I See, Staring Straight Back at Me?

Finding Your Inner Voice as a Writer

By Audrey Quinn

Can you relate?

You open up Microsoft Word, a Google Doc, or a plain old-fashioned notepad, ready to start writing the story you want to write…only to find you can’t get the words to come out. 

Or maybe you’ve started writing this story several times now, but have erased them all out of frustration because none of them feel quite right. Maybe you don’t feel that those drafts are good enough, or you worry they sound fake or phony. 

If you relate to any of this, you may be struggling to find your voice as a writer.

What exactly does that mean though? 

What is a writer’s voice?

Just like in other forms of communication, such as speaking or singing, you express your personality, background, culture, and individual experiences through different “cues” in your writing. 

In speaking, these cues relate to your pitch, inflection, dialect, accent, grammar choice, syntax, and body language. In writing, these cues are similar, and relate to syntax, tone, grammar choice, punctuation, and use of figurative language and other literary devices such as metaphors, similes, and hyperboles.

Each person has a different, unique way of speaking that reveals both highly specific individual personality traits, as well as traits shared within certain families or groups of people. 

For example, my dad, brother, and I are all on the Autism spectrum, and we all have ADHD, so one of the shared traits we have when we speak is that we use echolalia, which is a repetition of words, phrases, and sounds that is common amongst Autistic and other neurodivergent people. One of the echolalias we have to express joy or delight is “YayYayYayYay!” (I wrote it the way we speak it–a string of “Yays” all strung together in rapid succession, like a weird, Autistic bird call). This is an example of how a person’s voice can reveal information about themselves and their background. 

You already have a voice

It’s a similar story with the written word! People reveal information about themselves as individuals and as groups they may be a part of through their written voice. 

Another trait my dad, brother, and I all share when it comes to our “written voices” is that we all tend to be verbose when we write–another trait common amongst Autistic and neurodivergent people. My dad and I both had trouble writing essays in school when we saw that there was a word limit, and often had to talk to our teachers outside of class to try and summarize what we were trying to say as best we could, with the understanding that it might not be possible to do so without sacrificing content in our writing that is important, which includes our individual voices.

But where is my voice? 

Now that you know what a written voice is, how do you go about finding yours? And when you find it, how do you accept it? 

The latter question is something I have struggled with at least since early high school. I would try and write something, usually for school, read over it, and think that I sounded “fake” or dishonest. I second-guessed myself constantly, and my inner critic was so loud that it started to actually suck the joy out of writing, which was something I used to enjoy. 

In college I started to feel like writing essays, even when the topic interested me, was like shoveling over-cooked plain oatmeal down my throat. I would get feedback like “This is good, but I would like to hear more of your personal opinion on this,” or “I would like it if you could expand upon that scientific discovery or experiment.” Looking back, I think a big part of the problem was that somewhere in that daily, constant grind of school, I lost my voice. 

Now, as someone who works for a non-profit writing organization, part of my job is to have a voice! 

Tell your story

The best advice I can give people who are struggling with finding and accepting theirs is to just keep trying to tell that story you want to tell. If it’s really a struggle, then at some point, you need to ask yourself: “Is this really the story I want to tell? Maybe I’m telling the wrong story.” 

Find your genre

Another thing I found out about my written voice is that fiction doesn’t come naturally to me the way that non-fiction does. I tried to write short stories after I started working at Wordcrafters, because I thought “Oh geez, I’m supposed to give the REAL writers advice about their writing and I don’t even write fiction!” But after struggling to write several fictional stories, I realized that I wasn’t even enjoying it, because that’s not my voice, and that’s not who I am as a writer. 

So keep writing the story you want to tell, and check in with yourself along the way. “Am I enjoying this? Does this feel like ‘me’? Is this blockage I’m feeling related to an element of the writing that I can fix, or is it something deeper? Am I doubting myself unnecessarily? Or is this just not the story I’m meant to tell?”

Trust yourself

When you write from the heart, it feels easy, like you’re speaking with someone you love very much. You know inside you when you’re writing “off-pitch.” You have to trust yourself to know when you’re in the right key! And accept the voice you’ve been given, not try to change the beautiful one you’ve got.

Photo by Sora Shimazaki

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