I find this term humorous, apt as it is. The idea of “finding your voice” infers that you have somehow lost your voice and need to find it again. Or, that someone has stolen your voice and you, similarly, need to find it again.
Even the use of the “voice” fascinates me. It reenforces the fact that when we read text, we vocalize the words in our minds, as if reading it to ourselves. OK, I’ll stop poking fun at this phrase. We all know what it means. Finding your voice as a writer is a worthwhile aim. It’s a topic I think about daily as a professional writer. In one sense, having my own voice means that I am matching in writing what I naturally do in speech and thought. To a large extent, that’s true. I would just add that there is the possibility that you may develop a writerly voice that is distinctly different than your voice as a speaker.
So what defines someone’s “voice” in writing? There’s no one device or characteristic that shapes this aspect of writing. Length of sentences, word choice, and rhythm are obvious features of voice. The key here is to remember that it’s the recurring use of these features that establishes voice.
You will naturally develop your voice as a writer over time. And it does take time. As you follow your favorite writer or blogger, ask yourself what features of his or her writings are unique. Try imitating their writing techniques. Keep what feels natural to you. Before you know it, you may find your voice.
What does it mean to be a good writer?
The aim of good prose is to convey the writer’s thoughts, ideas, and feelings to the reader in a concise and (hopefully) elegant manner. To the extent that the writer is successful, that author can be said to be a “good writer.” Quality writing begins with a deep understanding of how language conveys information. Understanding these rules (grammar) is an important first step in mastering the pen. But it is only the first step.
The English language is constantly evolving. I see it not as a set of rigid rules but rather as an infinitely expressive medium for conveying thought. With tens of thousands of words in our lexicon, we are truly limited only by our imagination.
When we think of great writers, names like William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain top the list. Why? It is not because they were expert spellers and proofreaders, although I’m sure they were. It is because they had original thoughts and they knew how to convey them in prose. Being a good writer assumes that you have new thoughts to bring into the world. Don’t worry, this part isn’t as daunting as it sounds. Humans are creative by nature. Channeling that creativity effectively through language is just one of many skills I teach my students.
Edward Brown is an award-winning writer for several publications, including Fort Worth Weekly, Visit Fort Worth, Visit DFW, and Madeworthy. His hundreds of published articles include essays, long-form journalism, artist profiles, and performance reviews. As a contributing writer for FWWeekly, Edward has written over 30 cover stories and won national and regional journalism awards. He is also a regular guest speaker at TCU’s Department of Strategic Communication.
“As a lifelong educator, I bring many years of professional writing experience to students eager to polish their prose, broaden their understanding of the mechanics of writing, or simply liven up writing assignments for class.”
For students in the TCU/Tanglewood area, Edward offers customized weekly lessons for $50/hr. To schedule your first lesson, contact Edward via phone or email.
Edward Brown: firstname.lastname@example.org, (469) 487-6973
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An important but often overlooked quality in writing is tone. When we think of tone, we often think of the emotional state of the speaker’s voice. Children are often scolded for taking a disrespectful “tone” with their parents, for example. As with speech, all forms of writing inherently takes on some sort of emotional state, even if it is a neutral one.
It is my theory that tone can be explained through word choice, punctuation, and subject matter. A good writer uses all three consistently. For example, a solemn invitation to a funeral would probably use minimal punctuation and would certainly avoid use of the exclamation mark. A private email to a close friend should avoid overly formal words like “thou and whom.”
The first step in understanding tone in writing is to become aware of it. If you read an upsetting letter or edifying prose, ask yourself: What were the word choices, punctuation, and subject matter that made the experience emotional and effective? You can then begin to better control how you shape tone in your writing. Drafting an email to your teacher requires a different tone than a love letter or research-based article. You will be more effective in all your writing endeavors when you take the time to think about tone.