I believe we sometimes get so hung-up on the technical aspects of writing that we forget the reason we write is to tell a story. Reading all the books and blogs in the world can’t get you published if you don’t know how to tell a good story.
Don’t get me wrong, honing your craft is exceptionally important. You must master good sentence structure, because what’s the use of telling a story if you can’t communicate the themes within it? The reader must be able to understand what you’re trying to show them, and this is where the technical aspects of writing belong; however, one thing that can’t be taught is voice.
This nebulous thing called voice can’t be learned from a book, because the writer’s voice is intertwined in the telling of the story. Voice is about your worldview, your tone, the way you talk and communicate with others.
Once at a writing conference, the chatter revolved to the question in every writer’s mind: if you could write like anyone at all, who would it be? Oh, I had a list at that time, and at the top was Harlan Ellison. I wanted to write like Harlan Ellison more than anything else in the world. After I had extolled the virtues of Ellison’s stories and why I wanted to write like him, my agent at the time turned to me and said, “What about writing like Teresa Frohock? You’re a good writer and you should write like yourself, nobody else.”
I just sat there with my face hanging open and for once was rendered speechless.
It’s taken me this long to understand what he meant. You see, I will never be able to write like Harlan Ellison. I don’t have his anger, his edge, or the life experiences that fuse his words into biting prose. As much as I admire Lisa Mannetti and Gillian Flynn, my writing will never contain their sharp wit and verve. My voice isn’t like theirs at all. I might try to mimic them, but my prose will be a weak echo of theirs, and the reader will know he’s being fooled by a mime.
My job as a writer is to cultivate and nurture my own writing voice. My voice is a little sad, haunting, if you will, but it rings clearer with every story I tell, and it’s not always the same. Sometimes, my writing voice is sharp or angry, but it’s mine, and as I edit and experiment with different styles, my voice grows louder. As should yours.
So take a break from the rigors of technicalities and work on your voice. Write like you, because no matter what you write, your writing is special and your voice is unique. Encourage yourself to try writing in different styles until you find the flow of words that fits your story the best. The technical aspects of writing can be conquered along the way or tweaked once you’ve finished that first draft.
Don’t try to write like someone else. Write like you. Develop your voice and tell your story.
Tell your story.