Find Your Voice and Forget It

Voice: (n) voice, in writing, refers to “the stylistic mix of vocabulary, tone, point of view and syntax that makes words flow in a particular way.” [1]


“In literature, the voice expresses the narrator or author’s emotions, attitude, tone and point of view through artful, well thought out use of word choice and diction.” [2]

Image intentionally upside-down. via pixabay.com

If you keep searching the internet for a definition of “voice,” especially of the literary type, you’d be hard-pressed to find something all that much different from what I’ve listed above. I don’t know if I’m alone in this sentiment, but when I first began seriously writing, I worked hard to find my writer “voice.” Like other parts of the creative process, this concept seemed somewhat elusive; unlike other parts of the creative process, this one was even more so. My voice was me, wasn’t it?


I love to give credit where credit is due, but for the life of me, I can’t remember which podcast I heard this on, other than to say I think it came from the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop The Writing University Podcast. I was recently listening (re-listening, in fact, as this podcast is an incredibly rich resource) and a statement jumped out at me. One of the speakers said something along the lines of “find your voice and forget it.”

I think I get that now, but it sure took me a long time to understand.

So, what changed? Why does it make sense now—to find your voice and forget it?


Recently, I finished a draft of a book that’s been a complete bear for me. Hot damn, I am proud of the thing. It’s a study in the concept of voice itself, and it took me ages to write, but it’s pared-down, concise, and tells a story with bare bones. I hope it’s okay. Fred’s alpha-reading it now, so we’ll see what he thinks once I get those edits back.


But, that story is put aside for a time so I can revisit it again with fresh eyes. Here I am, left to do something new in my own creative world. We’ve probably all been here, knocking on the door of a new story wisp.


“Hello, may I come in?”


Sometimes the door swings wide open.


Other times, we have to go around back. Knock three times. Peek in the window. Throw a rock to the second floor. Beg and plead to be let in.

Usually, there’s a middle ground… maybe a neighbor shouts over a tall fence, “Hey! here’s a key.”

The point is, a story without voice is only an idea. I’ve found that without an entry point—without knowing what the story is supposed to actually sound like—it’s hard to poke those initial holes in it.


I used to think that voice was the order in which words fell on the page; how could it be more than the way I thought? How could story be more than the way I typed or hand-wrote?

But, it is. Story is voice.


Voice is taking the wisp and corralling it. It’s putting the wisp into a container and examining it. It’s determining if the story will be blue or pink or glittery or silver or gold or matte black. Will it scream or whisper? Is it fluid and watery and does it spill when you tip it or is it rigid and hard and painful if you drop it on an unsuspecting toe? Does the story symbolize or is it a straight-shooter? Is it a story within a story or a story within a story within a story or does it simply stand alone? Since all a story can be is words, the shape the story takes depends on its voice.

This book that I recently finished writing—the one that’s been a complete bear for me—I love its voice. It’s assertive and reclusive; it’s fluid but holds its shape until it doesn’t. But, it’s a voice that doesn’t need repeating in another book. That voice was for a time and a place and a set of words that have already been spilled. This next story, the one I am now poking holes in, is entirely a new balloon. I will poke and poke, my pen a pin, until the balloon ruptures and I pop the structure, and then, I will have found my next voice

What a fun task it is to be a writer. I can take on a voice today, forget it tomorrow, and become something completely different the next.


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