“‘Finding your voice’ is one of the biggest myths in writing and has caused more loss of heart for new writers than anything else. You can no more ‘find’ your voice than you can relax when told to.”
– Richard Skinner
This brilliant quote is from Richard Skinner’s book Writing A Novel, which I’m currently reading. While Skinner is talking about prose writers here, I feel the truth of his comment applies equally to screenwriters.
As Skinner implies, the phrase ‘finding you voice’ is bandied about so often that no one seems to stop and question it’s innate intangible and unconstructive nature – it sounds like something you dig up like buried treasure and then hang on the wall above your desk, finally able to call yourself a real writer with a voice. I heard it again recently at an industry event where the speaker called on screenwriters to ‘find their voice’, assuring them it would differentiate them from others and success would quickly follow.
But what is your ‘voice’ exactly? What do people mean when they talk about ‘finding your voice’?
Realistically, I suspect many people refer to a writer’s ‘voice’, and recommend writer’s keep working to ‘find their voice’, without actually knowing the answer to these questions. They sense a strength in the writing of those they feel have a ‘voice’, and struggle through the work of those who they feel are yet to find it.
For Skinner –
“…when new writers are told that they have to find their ‘voice’, what they are, in fact, being told is that it may take some time before they grow sufficiently in confidence to let whatever inherent ability they may have shine through in their books. What we mean when we say a writer has found their ‘voice’ is that their storytelling abilities and prose style have reached some kind of zenith in textual terms.”
So ‘voice’ refers to your ‘fluency of expression’ – your ability to clearly communicate what you mean. It’s your ability as a writer to articulate on the page, with clarity and ease, the particular stories you want to tell as a writer, and that you can do so in a way that makes your vision compelling. It is not your ability to use flowery words and beautiful turns of phrase; it’s your ability to immediately put your reader into your story. It is, in short, your ability to tell your story well. That’s your voice.
What a joyous revelation.
Your voice then doesn’t come from some unknown muse or mystical astral plane; it comes from working over time through the act of writing to improve your ability to put your vision onto the page. The search for your voice lies in the work you put in to improve your skill as a writer. And as an individual, you will develop with that work your own unique way of doing that, thus, your ‘voice’.
And while that’s easier said than done, this means that ‘finding your voice’ is not an intangible process. It is the process we all must do to make ourselves better writers. It means working on your skills as a writer through the act of writing, re-writing, reading, processing feedback, editing and yet more writing, over and over until you find yourself at a point where you can confidently express your meaning and tell your story with that crucial ‘fluency of expression’.
While it should be self-evident, it bears repeating no matter what stage of your writing life – you don’t become a better writer by thinking about writing. You become a better writer by writing. A lot. So finding your voice comes from writing. A lot. I know this is completely true of my own writing – my proficiency and ability to more deftly articulate my vision has improved with time and lots and lots of practice. Not from trying to find my voice on Google Maps.
And that, to me, is a grand relief.