Writer’s Workshop: Voice

My first blog post was “Why I Refuse to Judge Any Mother.” In it, I describe my observations of a friend’s mother, juxtapose her mother with how I felt about my own mother, and then explain how I hope my own daughters will see me as a mother—when they eventually begin to reflect.

Out of all the texts I received, I appreciated my journalist friend’s the most.

“Kathy, this is good,” she said. “You have what they call voice. In grad school, they used to always talk about how you should have voice in writing. You have it.”

In literature, “voice” refers to the rhetorical mixture of vocabulary, tone, point of view, and syntax that makes phrases, sentences, and paragraphs flow in a particular manner.


Whenever I write, I want the reader to experience exactly what I was thinking or feeling.

But how do I do this?

Brace yourself.

I may tell you something that goes against what you’ve been told before:

I pretty much write how I talk and think. Even that last sentence is an example. I promise you a grammar program will tell you to remove “pretty much” because it’s unnecessary, but I left it in because that’s how I talk and think. If we were together, and you asked me how do I write? I’d say I pretty much write how I talk and think.

What is also helpful is my brain’s duality. I was raised in a family that valued so-called standard English, so I grew up learning the syntax appropriate for news personalities and job interviews. However, I was also raised on the west side of Chicago, which by all accounts is the hood. I quickly learned how to switch the verb “to be” around or to insert a cuss word so as not to be accused of talking like a White girl. I’m not special. Many Black people know how to codeswitch in this way.

What this means for my writing is I can create a sentence that appeals to White folks and Black people…or should I say Black folks and White people. You see how just interchanging those two words—folks and people—shifts meaning and tone?

I also want my writing to be accessible. I want to have a conversation with you. In order to do that, I have to write how I would talk if we were together having a latte, green tea, or Caipirinha. So, sometimes I stop, and address you directly. Maybe I’ll add a question, like what do ya’ll think to invite you into this conversation we’re having, while also throwing in the Southern dialect I’ve acquired from living in Florida for over two decades.

Most of my in-real-life friends who read my blog say, “Girl, I could hear you saying…” And that’s what I want.

To reiterate, if you’re concerned with developing voice in writing, then you have to determine what “vocabulary, tone, point of view, and syntax” you want to use and why. Only you know what that is.

And remember, voice, kind of like personality, cannot be imitated because it’s something only you possess. (Full disclosure: I sat here for five minutes flip-flopping between the word possess and own).

Do you worry about voice in writing? Does it matter?

123 thoughts on “Writer’s Workshop: Voice

  1. I’ve had a similar case of writing how I talk and vice versa. It also annoys me when people use the term “talking white” just because they naturally talk in an articulate way. There were times where that was said of me when I naturally used some bigger words in some conversations without showing off.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes. Being accused of “talking white” is familiar. I grew up on the west side of Chicago, and the reason I know how to speak different ways now is largely due to that upbringing.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sure thing. I’m certainly familiar with Chicago since I have extended family there and my mom is originally from the south side. That makes sense. I know not everyone says that to me in my offline life, but I was so frustrated whenever I would have that accusation. Some people have even been surprised when they see me (context: I have a lighter complexion and I’m from a Black/White mixed family) and assume I’m either Arab, Native American, Latino, or of East Indian descent.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I get that. We seem to have an issue with nuanced shades of brown. I don’t want to give a speech, but…lol my husband and I were just discussing this idea this morning. There are a lot more brown people in the world than non-brown people, but I think we don’t realize it because of a list of reasons. What you’ve mentioned is one…we’re too busy trying to categorize each other, like what kinda brown person are you???

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Thanks. I hear you right there. It doesn’t feel that way being in America, but that is true with worldwide demographics. Even when I was in Ecuador on vacation a few years ago, it felt different. I get what you’re saying and I can’t stand colorism or people bashing someone if they are children of an interracial couple. There can be too many labels and stupid double standards going on.

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