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.

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-find-your-writing-voice

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?

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172 thoughts on “Writer’s Workshop: Voice

  1. This!!!! This is very reason I began blogging. After having the life squeezed out of my writing by APA guidelines in academic writing, I had to find my voice again. I wasn’t even sure what I sounded like anymore. I started listening to audio books and that helped a lot. I appreciate this post, I like sounding like me and after jumping through the hoops of academia, I only want to sound like me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m laughing as I read this because I was also raised in a household that placed a premium on perfect language and we were never allowed to use slang – I still barely say kids and will never write it without thinking of goats!
    In your case, writing with voice pulls your reader in and makes me [the reader] want more. Sometimes people have a writing voice that is off putting to the point I wonder if they realize how cringy they sound. I’m especially disgusted by people who have a problem distinguishing between fact and opinion. Facts aren’t negotiable. Opinions are different and a need to make you agree with their opinion feels like being pecked to death. If it’s an opinion, I’m allowed to have my own.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s so crazy how we influence once another with the smallest of things. One time, I was in the hospital, and I awoke out of a coma, and said something about my “booty” hurting. My mother was stunned that I even used such a word lol

      Thanks a bunch for this compliment.

      Don’t get me started on fact vs opinion. It’s part of the reason we’re in this US mess right now :-/

      Liked by 1 person

  3. First of all, your friend was right: you do have a great voice! It’s what makes your posts so accessible to so many people. Personally, it took me years to trust my own. In high school and college, I worried so much about what grade my paper would give, and tried hard to simply write the papers my teachers and professors wanted to read. Ditto later when I was trying to sell my writing….I couldn’t get the imaginary editor out of my head. But eventually, through reading some good book by writers who also had to figure out how to trust their voice, I began to write in mine. I’ve lived in both cities and small towns, so my voice is a mix of both. It may be odd at times, but it’s mine!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Ann ❤

      This is exactly right…we cannot write for some false person, editor, publisher. We have to write for ourselves and real people!

      Thanks for adding that part about the small towns and big cities; each has their own way of speaking, and when you meld the two…you get you 😉

      Like

  4. Kathy, this is so relatable! Firstly, I noticed with my writing now compared to years ago, my voice (my true voice) was absent from my work back then… I often focused on the “flow” of how I thought others wanted my writing to be… I worried about judgment so I always looked at it from the outside in. But as I’ve published more frequently (once a week for a year and a half now), I’ve started noticing a unique voice emerging, as you say, a voice only I, myself, can rein in.

    Also, I love that you put extra thought over the usage of those two words… lol I am realizing that is what all writers do!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aha! This seems to be a common issue. We’re all so worried about what someone else will think that we forget to just be ourselves (writing is a metaphor for life, I guess).

      Thanks for this compliment, too! And yes, agonizing over words is our whole life lol

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I have been described as “colloquial”; “can’t talk my way out of a paper bag” (I had to have this one explained to me); “what you see is what you get”; “illiterate” to name a few. Your writing is a gift and you do it beautifully. My SIL once said the gift of her brilliant son is to make everyone feel included. He includes the layman even though he is a rocket scientist. I often find those that insist on formality aren’t as gifted as those that can switch it up and that is their insecurity that drives their formality. At this point In life, I am clinging to “refreshing” as my style.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Illiterate??? Really? People have some nerve.

      Thank you for that compliment. I appreciate it ❤

      Refreshing sounds like something we all need right now.

      Like

      1. I am not sure if it was nature or nurture, but somehow I ended up with some learning disabilities. Our friends daughter tested with low scores and went to special learning class when young only to graduate at the top of her class in high school. Teachers really do make a difference!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. The codeswitch concept is interesting. It’s different than, let’s say a dialect, in that it’s intentional. The more I hear, the more I feel that at a fundamental level (language) we’re becoming more balkanized. But I digress! Excellent post, as usual, Kathy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know if this is a statement or a compliment, so I have two answers lol
      Statement? Absolutely! It’s why we can differentiate Steinbeck from Keats 😉
      Compliment? Thank you ❤

      Liked by 1 person

    1. EXACTLY! I remember being taught never to begin a sentence with a conjunction, and then I taught high school, where I learned it’s actually a strategy “real” writers use for effect. That’s when I started questioning ALL OF THE RULES lol

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree, voice is unique to every writer. I also sometimes overanalyze words when I write because like you, I write the way I talk. And when you write “wanna” instead of “want to” some people act like you committed a crime.

    I once watched a “How to Write” video where some author said that there’s no formula for writing. Whether you want to start a sentence with “And” or “But”, it’s only you that knows what you want to say.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Exactly, Karen! There is no formula. I think about that a lot when I read so-called classical authors we admire. Who taught them the style? Probably no one. They just did what they wanted, like a true artist 😉

      Like

  8. Thank you for this. I always enjoy your posts. Your voice and authenticity shine through in everything you write. This is what I aspire to as a relatively new blogger.
    I loved the reference to codeswitching, too.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Aww thank you ❤ Blogging is one of the first places I learned to be myself 😉

      And yes! You know some of us are better at codeswitching than others, because, well, we've had to be.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I think you nailed this! Your voice is your unique way of communicating, and that’s what makes your writing both good and uniquely yours. It’s authentic. When we start trying to speak only as others want us to, then it becomes stilted and false, which comes across in our writing. We all adapt a little bit in order to fit it (I didn’t speak the same way in my college English classes as I did later on, down at the college bar with my friends.) But it’s still our voice, because it’s coming from us even when we’re adapting.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you Ann ❤ That's it, right? Rules can be learned and then re-fashioned to make our voice unique. A friend of mine said she'll always know my work…because she can hear my voice in it 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I too have struggled with voice at times but realized something in blogging: people read me because they like my voice. So there must be something in the way I write, which is similar how I talk, that resonates.

    Seems many of us are experiencing this.

    I have two voices: me, and the erotica writer Cassandra. It’s not as easy to flip back and forth though…

    Liked by 3 people

  11. 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 4 people

    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 2 people

      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 2 people

      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 2 people

      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.

        Liked by 2 people

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