Defining Your Unique Writing Style & Voice
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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 better 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 style and voice can help you grow comfortable and confident in your work. But how do you push back against the growing tide to build that sense of identity and assurance? Grab a cuppa and settle in, writer. It’s time we had a chat!
But wait, what are voice and style exactly?
As terms, voice and style are often used interchangeably, but I’d like to distinguish them here.
For me, voice is the lens through which I write. It’s the sum of my experiences, values and beliefs, personal preferences, and more. In essence, it’s the creative flavor of my work. Here on the blog, my voice is casual and friendly, yet guiding. It’s the voice of an older sibling or an experienced friend. In my fiction writing, my voice is evocative and melodic. It has an ebb and flow, and a slightly darker tone.
Style, on the other hand, is the overarching nature of your work. It can be defined by the genre you write or the audience you write for, the tone of your work or the themes you often tackle, your favorite tropes, your narrators’ voices, your prose, and so on — all depending on which elements frequently recur in your stories.
For example, my blogging style consists of actionable and encouraging advice for modern novelists, while my fiction-writing style can be described as character-driven medieval fantasy that explores hope and sorrow in equal measure.
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, though potentially similar, 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, even a bit of both. As you write, don’t be afraid to imbue your work with elements of the life you’ve lived — or to use fiction as an escape from life’s circumstances. Either choice molds your personal voice and style.
On a similar note, make sure to 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 far too many writers ditch their interests & idiosyncrasies 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.
Do you have a soft spot for a specific setting or theme? What types of characters or scenes will never grow old for you? As you engage with stories as a reader and viewer, make a list of elements you love and try to include them in your work. Even the most cliché of tropes are well-beloved by many. Don’t avoid them!
Tip #4: Experiment with style.
In particular, the style of your prose. Do you prefer writing in first- or third-person? 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, of course, but generally, most writers develop a style that feels most comfortable to them.
The trouble comes in developing that style. In the early days of your writing journey, chances are that no style will feel particularly comfortable. That’s okay. Now’s the perfect time to experiment with many different styles, exploring those 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 the effort to better understand your own, but don’t try to fit yourself into someone else’s box.
Admire what makes another’s work unique, then let go of any doubt that you’re somehow doing this wrong. You aren’t. Different strokes for different folks, right? 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. It took me nearly six years of writing fiction to finally begin feeling 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 stories were never good enough.
Your own journey may look very different, and that’s okay. But don’t freak out if you haven’t quite found your footing after several years of writing. Voice and style are hard-fought and hard-won, in many ways. Be patient, and don’t be afraid to put in the darn hard work.
Tip #7: Be open to change.
I’d be remiss not to reiterate the importance of embracing evolution. Your voice and style are malleable, with both conscious and unconscious influences playing a role in their development. I’ve experienced this myself in recent years as my writing shifted away from a young adult audience and into a more adult tone.
Initially, I resisted this change. I didn’t want to be seen as one of those writers who belittled Young Adult fiction in the name of becoming a more “serious” writer. In time, however, I realized that this change didn’t reflect any measure of unwanted bookish snobbery. It was simply an evolution in the type of story that most fed my soul.
All that to say, don’t be afraid to embrace change in your voice and style. There’s little as fulfilling as watching yourself develop in your creative pursuits.
In truth, 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 voice and writing style may take its fair share of 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!