Defining Your Unique Writing Style & Voice
Do you know what makes you unique as a writer?
Finding your footing among a sea of storytellers can feel like an impossible task, especially in the early days of your writing journey. Every writer you encounter influences the tide, pulling you this way or that as you seek to understand your creative identity. If you’ve ever found yourself emulating the style of the most recent book you’ve read, you know exactly what I mean.
Defining your personal writing voice and style can help you grow comfortable and confident in your work. But how do you hold fast against the growing tide to build that sense of identity and assurance? Let’s dive in deep together!
What defines a writing voice and style?
As terms, voice and style are often used interchangeably, but the subtle differences in their definitions can lend clarity as you explore your creative identity.
Voice is the lens through which you write. It’s the sum of your experiences, values and beliefs, interests, personal preferences, and beyond. I like to think of voice as the creative flavor of an author’s work. It’s the thread that weaves through each of their stories even if they choose to write in vastly different genres, and it can manifest in the genre they write, the audience they write for, the tone of their work or the themes they tackle, their favorites tropes, their narrators’ voices, and more.
It’s a writer’s voice that often attracts readers to their work. Consider Stephen King, Toni Morrison, Neil Gaiman, V.E. Schwab, Dan Brown, Agatha Christie, or Haruki Murakami. Each is well known for the distinct flavor of their work.
An author’s writing style, on the other hand, is the unique way they use words to capture their work on the page. A writer’s style often manifests in their tone, word choice and sentence structure, figurative language, sensory details, and other such elements of prose. Here on the blog, my writing style is casual and friendly yet guiding, while my fiction writing style is more evocative and melodic. It has a stronger ebb and flow and a darker tone.
It’s important to note that both voice and style are fluid in nature. Just as your identity in life can change over time, so too will what makes your writing unique. For some, this evolution may be radical. For others, a mere refining. No matter the case, allowing for flexibility in the development of your voice and style is key to growing comfortable in them both.
* Note: Your personal writing voice is not the same as your narrator’s voice. For more information on developing your characters’ voices, give this article a read instead.
Getting to know your voice & style…
Uncovering both your voice and style as a writer can be tricky simply because they aren’t static concepts. Some elements of voice and style are inherent, yes, but others are shaped and molded through personal choice, preference, and experience. All the same, if you’re looking to grow confident in what makes your writing unique, don’t miss these tips for developing your creative identity:
Tip #1: Play to your preferences.
Chances are that you know what you like to write, at least in some respects. Adore feel-good romances with happily-ever-afters? Write them! Prefer the heart-pounding adventure of a murder mystery? Or the meditative nature of a quiet literary novel? Do your thing, writer. There are no wrong stories to tell.
Tip #2: Examine your experiences.
Stories can be both catharsis and creative playground (and even a bit of both). As you write, don’t be afraid to suffuse your work with elements of the life you’ve lived or to use fiction as an escape from any tough hand that life has dealt. Either choice molds your personal voice and style.
On a similar note, fill your stories with things you love: ice skating, obscure 80’s references, an ode to 18th-century couture clothing — whatever brings you joy. I’ve seen too many writers shy away from exploring their unique interests in the name of appealing to a wider audience when all they’ve truly done is dulled their voices.
Tip #3: Track your favorite tropes.
As you engage with stories as a reader and viewer, make a list of elements you love and work to include them in your stories. Do you have a soft spot for a specific setting or theme? What types of characters or scenes never grow old in your book? Give these elements free rein to influence your voice.
Tip #4: Experiment with style.
Do you prefer writing in first- or third-person? In past or present tense? Is your prose poetic or does it tend to favor simplicity over stylized language? These elements can change from story to story, but many writers develop a distinct style that feels most comfortable to them. The trouble comes in developing that style.
Early in your writing journey, no style may feel particularly comfortable. That’s okay. Use that time to experiment, adopting the elements of style you enjoy and ditching those that just aren’t right for you.
Tip #5: Admire, Don’t Compare.
Many writers struggle to identify and develop their creative identities because they’re too busy comparing themselves to others. It’s perfectly okay to emulate another writer’s voice or style in an effort to better understand your own, but don’t try to shove yourself into another writers’s box.
Admire what makes their work unique, then let go of the belief that your voice and style are in some way lesser than. They aren’t. Compare yourself only to the writer you were yesterday, and you can’t go wrong.
Tip #6: Give it time.
Voice and style aren’t developed overnight. I wrote fiction for nearly six years before I finally began to feel confident in what made my work unique. Most of that time was spent improving my skillset and unpacking the doubts that led me to believe my work was never good enough.
Your own journey may look very different, and that’s okay, but don’t stress if you haven’t quite found your creative footing after several years of writing. Be patient, and you’ll find your groove.
Tip #7: Be open to change.
As you journey further into your writing life, remember that voice and style are malleable. You may shape or mold these factors yourself or unseen influences may play their part. I’ve experienced the latter for myself in recent years as my voice shifted away from a young adult appeal and into a more adult tone.
Initially, I resisted this change. I didn’t want to be seen as a writer who belittled YA fiction in the name of becoming a more “serious” writer. But in time, I realized that this change didn’t reflect any unwanted bookish snobbery. It was simply an evolution that reflected my own growth and life experiences.
Don’t be afraid to embrace change in your own voice and style. There’s little as fulfilling as watching yourself develop in your creative pursuits.
Working to uncover your personal voice and writing style is no different than defining any other aspect of your life. From your fashion sense to your values, personal beliefs, priorities, and beyond, there’s hard work to be had in both understanding who you are and developing the person you’d like to be. Don’t shy away from that work.
Growing comfortable in your writing voice and style may take time and effort, but embracing that work is one of the best things you can do for your writing life. The more confident you grow in your creative identity, the more your skills and stories will shine!