For five years I taught a course called ‘Finding Your Voice as a Writer’. The class ran for five weeks, then took a three to four week break, and then ran again. In the course of five years, I taught the class roughly thirty times, and — with an average of fifteen people per class — I taught 450 people how to ‘find their voice as a writer’.
So, with this in mind, how does one find one’s ‘voice as a writer’?
The answer: I have no clue.
But, before you think me a charlatan, I must confess that I did not name the course. I was offered a place to teach at Colorado Free University, and when the instructor who was leading the aforementioned module left for greener pastures, I was asked to pick up the class – title and all. Then five years went by, and I was still teaching ‘Finding Your Voice as a Writer’.
I barely remember teaching that very first class. I do remember some of the people in the class. A woman from Ireland who would arrive before anyone else and sit in the room alone. I thought she was just being punctual, until she told me that there was a ghost in the building that would visit her.
I also remember planning for that first class. Spreading out papers and books on the floor of my flat, and trying to remember pointers my from my University writing professors, as well as come up with quirky writing exercises and interesting discussion topics. That I clearly remember. I also have a vague memory of thinking, ‘I have no idea how someone finds their “voice”, perhaps we should just cover the basics.’ Yet, I cannot for the life of me remember how I responded to ‘How do I find my voice?’ when someone asked me.
Instead, I spent five years talking about character development, language choice, plot structures, setting, dialogue, point-of-view, dialect, reading, plotting, planning, and being a writer in general. I met amazing people, some who have since given up the craft and others who have gone on to become successful authors. I talked with people about their lives, their stories, their fictions, their fantasies and their fears. I learned how to manage a a room of students, how to provide individual attention, and how harness negativity into something positive. In those five years, I did everything I could to side step the question of ‘voice’ and, instead, became a writing teacher.
Even though I haven’t taught this class since 2004, occasionally the topic of ‘voice’ will creep into a writing course, and it still makes me nervous. Perhaps it’s because ‘voice’ is allusive, personal and ever changing. Perhaps it’s because people have different ‘voices’ depending on what they’re writing. Perhaps it is not my place to tell you how to find your ‘voice’.
Some people like writing short sentences, while others are long winded. Some prefer prose that is close to poetry in rhythm and style, while others like a fast narrative. Some authors like in-depth scene descriptions, while others are happy to have their reader create the environment. It’s all down to personal choice and will naturally become apparent in someone’s writing. It’s not something you learn, it’s something that just happens. You study and practice the craft of writing; you struggle and become a strong writer, and something comes out – that is your voice. The end. Nothing more fancy than that.
So, there you go. Nine years later, I’ve finally figured out the answer to ‘How do you find your voice as a writer?’
The answer: you don’t. It finds you.