The Writer’s Voice: An Unconventional Definition

voice water

A writer’s voice is that often intangible yet unmistakable something that defines the author’s work. Like literary DNA, it is as unique and complex as a fingerprint. Syntax, diction, dialog, and punctuation are combined with characterization techniques, scene delivery, and other stylistic elements and then distilled into an elixir that lets us see the world through the writer’s eyes.

But there is more to it than that.

The way a writer uses words to shape a story is only the tip of the iceberg. The true essence of a writer’s voice lies far beneath the surface. It is less craft and more courage – less ink and more blood. The text on the page is nothing more than the corporeal manifestation of the very spirit that drives the writer to write. The true voice of a writer is the nameless fire that burns inside, turning up the heat, licking at mind and heart until it becomes unbearable to wait even a single moment longer before putting pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard.

This.

This is the voice you need to listen to.

This is the voice you need to release into the world.

Like your words on the page, this inner voice, this internal fire is yours and yours alone. It may share certain aspects of other writers’ voices, but its particular alchemy cannot be replicated. It came into the world with you and was shaped – violently, subtly, irrevocably – by the journey of your life. Every story you consumed, every experience you enjoyed or endured, every doubt and dream and question became part of your writer’s voice.

Like the audible voice of a singer, a writer’s voice can lie silent for a long time before bursting into the world. And like the singer’s instrument, the writer’s voice must be trained. It must be opened up. Before a singer can perform, she must ground herself, find her stance, and learn to breathe properly. She must be practiced in the art of listening, and willing to spend hours rehearsing a single note, over and over again. Before a singer can let loose with her song, she must find clarity and develop confidence. She must learn the art of interpretation so that she can make every song her own.

So it is with a writer’s voice.

Your voice is not only how you tell your story, it is the story you choose tell. The story you must tell. It is the reason you write. It is the fiery truth that burns in your heart. Your writer’s voice is not merely a matter of grammar and word choice. It is the ache to know, to understand, and to connect. It is, perhaps, the reason you are here at all. Each of us has something to say, something to share. Each of us has a piece of the puzzle that is life. Dancers dance, singers sing, painters paint, parents parent, lovers love, and you – you write with your irrepressible, inimitable writer’s voice.

This is your story. This is your responsibility. Do not stay silent for too long.

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If you’d like to, you can listen to this post.

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Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of voice and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Image Credit: Navy Blue Stripes

52 thoughts on “The Writer’s Voice: An Unconventional Definition

  1. After tossing and turning for an hour (new job energy doesn’t turn off easily), and having the thought “Writing this ‘thing’ I need to do, and have not done yet, may be the reason I was born,” I get up for a Coke, turn on the computer, and read “It is, perhaps, the reason you are here at all.”

    I’m taking this as confirmation, not coincidence. Great post. Thanks, Jamie.

    • Hi, Deb.
      Congrats on the new job. I hope it doesn’t keep you up too late for too many nights!

      I’m so glad that my post hit your screen at just the right moment. Sometimes we need a little affirmation from the Universe. I’m happy to be the serendipitous conduit. 😉

      Happy writing!

  2. Wonderfully written, all coming from the inside of you. You are a writer indeed and it shows on how you wrote this. It makes a connection to another writer and the further I read, the more it begins to make sense. Nice job! Let me follow your blog so I can read more…

    • You are so right – this one definitely did come from deep inside. Finding your voice is a long journey with many challenges. I’m still unearthing my voice and learning how to use it. I know I won’t ever be done, but I still get a kind of high when I know I’ve hit an authentic note with something.

      Thank you for sharing that this connected with you. That’s what it’s all about.

    • Your voice IS your power. Very well put.
      And we need to use it both to celebrate the things that inspire us as well as call out the things that “pull our chains,” as you put it! 🙂

  3. Interesting write. About this issue of how personal the writer’s voice is, maybe we can indeed say so, not forgetting for a moment (as you pointed out, so I can emphasize), that there were quite significant contributions to this “very personal” voice from external bodies. All the way from childhood, learning languages, family upbringing, values and ideologies that now influence the story itself that we have to say, etc. It seems a long list.

    • Yes. We are the walking, talking, (writing) creation of our experiences. The influences on us are many and diverse and the combination of influences so unique. That is what makes our voices so impossible to replicate. It is a long list, indeed.

    • “Life-affirming” – that’s a wonderful compliment. Thank you.

      The writer’s voice is the thing that draws us in, isn’t it? That’s how a writer connects with a reader.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • Thank you so much.

      I’m glad that line stuck out for you. I think a writer’s voice is as much about substance as style. There are certain kinds of stories we tell, particular themes, underlying messages … these are all part of our voice as much as syntax or language.

      Thank you for visiting!

    • A friend of mine recently observed that I write many of my posts for myself – they are a way for me to talk myself through the things that challenge me. She’s right. The beautiful thing about that approach is that I am not alone in the challenges I face, so when I write for myself, I also wind up writing for many others who are facing the same challenges or wondering about the same things. It’s a nice win-win. 🙂

  4. Reblogged this on going to germany and commented:
    This post made me stop and think about my writing. I have started posting on my blog more regularly, but for some reason I haven’t made the time to pick up some of the many unfinished pieces I have started or done much with the ideas wafting around in my head. I’m not sure why I am resistant. Fear of finding the voices that keep speaking to me and really listening to them? Maybe. I think I am going to make a coffee date with those voices in my head (I’m starting to sound I’m Sybil!) very soon and let them speak.

    • Oh! DO make that coffee date. In fact, make it for both of us, would you? I’m LONG overdue for some quality time with my own unfinished (ahem … as yet to be started) story projects. To admit that is painful.

      Though the challenge of finding time in our busy lives to write is a very valid obstacle for many of us, I think you are right – fear also comes into play for each of us. The root of the fear changes from person to person, but that reluctance to be vulnerable runs deep.

      I hope you push past that and have those conversations and get the chance to listen. Good luck!

    • Thank you for the compliment, but mostly for letting me know it helped you in some way. That makes my day.

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  6. This is so amazingly true. A well written piece – that’s exactly how it works when your inner voice is heard. Sometimes, when you write with that voice – it actually clicks to many. Clicked to me as well.

    Thank you so much Jamie. I was in real need of this 🙂

    • Wonderful – I’m glad if I had any small part in helping you “click.” 🙂

      We need more people to click with their inner voices so that they can learn to let them out. It can take a long time to get there, but once you reach the point where things start flowing, it feels so right, doesn’t it?

      Write on!

  7. Excellent post, goes a long way in explaining to clients our PR paradigm of storytelling vs. cold corpo-speak (yes there is still a place for it) and claiming their media narrative before someone does it for them.

    • Love that you were able to apply this to your business writing. So many marcom/PR writers miss this critical piece and wind up unable to create real connections with their audience.

      Nice to know there are agencies who get it. 😉

  8. Hi Jamie! Just stumbled upon you here on WordPress by way of a circuitous route that I can’t recall right now, but very happy to have found this site. An excellent post about writing, and I very much like your singer analogy. I’ve just come out of the writing closet on my blog. This morning! Anywaym good to connect here, too. 🙂

    • Hello, Mufidah! 🙂
      I just scooted over to your blog to read your “coming out” post. So happy for you. I wanted to do a little happy dance. How wonderful that you and your “quiet writer” have decided to work together on whatever comes next.

      Glad that we have connected here as well as Twitter & Instagram. Just RSS’d your blog as well. I don’t have much chance to travel at the moment, so I particularly enjoy the chance to live vicariously through your adventures!

      Thanks for coming by. Always a pleasure.

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