How to build your writing voice and meet great people in one go

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – your voice, as a writer, is important. It sets the tone. And if you do it right, it will set your writing apart.

Sometimes a distinctive voice works even if other things are wrong. Take Hamish Clayton’s novel Wulf (Penguin 2011). It’s a fantastic read – up for an award in New Zealand.  He’s fictionalised a well-known story of piracy in 1830.

“Hmmn…books. New fangled rubbish. They’ll never replace scrolls, you know”.

The voice Clayton picked for his first-person narrator was literate, poetic, soulful and with a keen sense of metaphor. However, the character Clayton portrayed was a sailor. It is possible that intellectualised poet-sailors plied New Zealand waters, but I’ve never heard of one in all the historical research and writing I’ve done, including when I told the real story that Clayton fictionalised. And yet – yet the novel was fabulous. Why? Because Clayton held tight reign over voice.

So how do you get the right voice. How can you create different writing voices for different purposes – fiction, non-fiction, formal letters, blogging and so forth?

The secret is control. Control of your writing. Words must bend to your command, not the other way around. The ability to express an idea, in words, must become part of your soul. Writing classes can give you a great toolkit– but it’s only the beginning. The work follows. Write every day, without fail. Be self-critical; step back and ask whether you’ve really created a distinct voice, or for your characters. Don’t be afraid to throw stuff away – don’t get wedded to your words. Get wedded to your control over them.

It doesn’t happen overnight. But it will happen if you keep pushing – stepping back and reviewing where you’re at. And it doesn’t have to be too great a chore. In fact it can be fun – try blogging. Hone your writing skills and meet great people in one simple step.

What do you reckon?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012

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4 comments on “How to build your writing voice and meet great people in one go

  1. ljclayton says:

    Yes, sometimes the voice is the best character of all.

  2. I remember going to a book launch, a while back, in which the author read out excerpts from her novel to highlight the way the different voices carried the characterisation. That was interesting. The bongo drum concert that followed – in the bookshop – by way of highlighting the evening, wasn’t…

  3. Team Oyeniyi says:

    I reckon you are right. I know when I worked through my first chapter again I made a lot of changes. I’m not sure I totally changed my voice, but then I am worried my first chapter does not have the same voice as the rest of the book and that is a worry for me.

    I’ll work on it.

    • Good luck! It’s possible that the only real answer is to re-style the subsequent chapters to match the tone of the first. Potentially a lot of work, but sometimes those re-writes pay off in ways you might not anticipate.

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