Writing tip of the day: raise your voice. This post isn’t about singing or writing for someone else, but for discovering the voice that is authentically you and putting it on paper. I have three tips for you today!
In The Paper Bag Princess, Elizabeth learns to use her words to defeat a dragon. She uses her voice to do the bravest thing a person can do: she shouts into the ear of a sleeping dragon! The next bravest thing is to share our words. Truthfully. Unapologetically. Loudly.
Voices are a very personal thing. The pitch, the choice of words, the accent: all aspects of voice can reveal something about you. In writing, we are limited to marks to denote our intention, but we are unlimited in the power to convey.
I have raised my voice, strong and clear, with 150 other singers in my high school choir. I know the power a voice can have, the tangible quality of feeling your words melded into others. I know how it feels to be alone on a stage, in a spotlight, with nothing but a microphone and music.
I’ve also lost my voice out of fear and illness. I’ve confused my voice after writing for brands and clients with a voice that is different from my own. On paper, I can be more confident, more intelligent, more edited—or I can be someone else entirely. I have struggled with even whispering to the dragon, much less shouting in his ear. If this sounds familiar to you, I have some advice.
Here are 3 tips on developing your personal voice, with some additions from writers with far more success than me:
1. Practice your voice.
“Finding one’s voice is a process of finding one’s passion.”
– Terry Tempest Williams, When Woman Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations On Voice
Sing in the car. Read poetry out loud. Have a good conversation with a loved one, either over tea or over the phone. Make a note of who you talk to, what you say, and how you feel. Do you use different words when you’re angry or tired? Do you swear often? How to you greet your best friend, and how to do greet a child? What makes you yawn, and what makes you passionate?
When your throat is raw from smoke and your eyes sting with ashes and tears, go ahead and scream at your dragons. Then write down what you said.
2. Tell yourself what you have to say.
“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”
― Terry Pratchett
Get your story or your thoughts down on paper. Don’t worry about spelling or punctuation. Don’t worry about the audience: the audience is you, so speak with authenticity. Bare your truth. Once you have it outside your brain, you can clean it up during the editing process. Or, if you’re happy with the raw and paper-bag quality, you can share it as is. These are your words to share however you would like. The important thing is to say them without a hint of self-consciousness, just paper between you and the world.
3. Read it out loud.
“I read everything aloud, novels as well as picture books. I believe the eye and ear are different listeners. So as writers, we need to please both.”
– Jane Yolen
Does your voice on paper feel right coming out of your mouth? Are your words flowing like you wanted? Are there any words you only use in writing because you actually aren’t totally sure how they are pronounced? This is also a great editing step, because you are slowing down and looking at every word individually. Speak your words. Find your voice. Repeat throughout your life as you skip off into your own sunset.