What is your voice? Finding your personal style


I’m in the middle of a variety of writing work, applications for summer law jobs, and figuring out my new HTC Touch Pro (best phone in the world, btw.) My writing projects are for a variety of venues, which of course require different treatments and styles.

But in the midst of these, one question has been bugging me. What is my “voice”? Do you know yours? Different genres require different styles and approaches, but is it possible to keep the same “voice” within all of them?

The inquiry came to mind when I contacted a colleague for advice on writing for another country. He gave me some tips and then reminded me not to lose my distinctive writing “voice” in the process.

This, of course, sent me off to ponder exactly what *is* my distinctive voice.  I’m open to opinions. I’m interested in in-depth discussions and the exchange of ideas. And I’m willing to admit that I don’t know all the answers.

pondering21I think I’m re-developing my writing voice. I can identify aspects of it. I have a sarcastic tone at times, in others I lean toward comedically tragic, sometimes introspective, sometimes casual, elegant…  But I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what it is…

What about you? If you’re a writer or even if you write as a hobby, do you know your personal style, your writing “voice”? This can apply to other professions, also. Photographers certainly have a style to their work. I’ve heard that programmers can have a “style” to their projects, a telltale signature left behind in the coding. Has your style changed over the years?

Some fields of writing lend themselves more to personal style than others. Magazine articles of any topic, columns, blogs, screenwriting, books – these all hinge on an author’s voice. But what about technical writing?

And my last question… Would you change your voice if a job required it? Have you ever done so?

Interesting questions to ponder… I’m still answering mine. 🙂


21 responses to “What is your voice? Finding your personal style

  1. I haven’t a clue what my voice is, and I’ve got almost two decades on you. I’ll be querying soon, and how am I supposed to show my voice – supposedly vitally important in a query – if I don’t know what it is? The only thing I can think of is not to try too hard to impose a formula on it and hopefully my voice will show up all on its own.

    I suspect you have to work to suppress your own voice, rather than work to show it. It’s like my mother and sister: people always marvel at the similarity of our body language, but it’s not like we try. It’s just a natural manifestation of the way we are made.

  2. Interesting question, and I have no answer. I can recognize a photographer’s personal style or notice similar passages in music by the same composer. Does recognizing one’s own style or voice require an impossible objectivity? I suspect it’s something in our phraseology, our choice of words, the linguistic devices we employ or avoid, and simply the way we tend to string words together — something so innate that only someone else can recognize it.

  3. When I go back and check things out, my voice has stayed the same for years, pretty much, barring character variations. But do I know it? Not really. Knowing myself is pretty much the hardest thing for me, as a writer. One of my greatest challenges!

  4. My voice has changed over the years, as I believe it grows along with me. As a writer, the more I write the clearer my voice – practice, practice, practice.

    As far as legal writing (I say this as a former slave to attorneys), attorneys don’t have so much a “voice” as much as it’s more “style.” Some make you nap, while others get right to the point. Some lawyers are complete windbags, while others just get the job done (same goes for judges).

    Kudos for your choice in attending law school. I’d throw myself in front of a speeding train first, lol. You’ve got it going on and I’m sure will be brilliant. (My favorite attorney was one who worked as a legal secretary first – best boss I ever had!)

  5. @Janet – That is comforting! 😛 I do agree that it takes work to suppress your voice. I wonder if it’s possible to suppress it so frequently that it becomes habit after awhile?

    @PiedType – Good description of what that style would be. I do agree that it might be easier for someone else to describe my voice rather than doing so myself. 🙂

    @Spy – I think “knowing yourself” is tough for all of us! I wonder sometimes why I can’t figure people out, but it’s probably because they haven’t figured themselves out either. 😛

    @Kath – Yep, one’s voice definitely would grow and mature over time. Thanks for the comment about legal writing, lol! I hope I don’t become the “nap” variety. 😛 And thanks for the kudos! (I’m laughing about the speeding train comment!)

  6. For blogging, I write “off the cuff” and anyone can see that with all the swearing and vulgarity and total lack of respect for convention and contrivances. I let the true me come and play because well it’s my sandbox.

    In my professional life which revolves around conflict most of the time, I write like I’m taking you to court. Cold, emotionless and without spirit and this enables me to completely WIN in every dispute and battle. Never say I, never let your feelings show and let the other ones completely crack and breakdown emotionally and this gives me the upper hand.My motto is that of Conan “To crush your enemy, the see them driven before you and to hear the lamentation of their women” Most of my letters/E-mails in conflict resolution at work, are simply works of linguistic art, I can stand back and look at them like a painter looks at his tableau and say “Wow, that’s gonna kick ass” So I think my writing style at work could be called lethal. I am what I am but in a giant IT firm, everyone wants to stick the knife in your back, gotta play hard.

    HEY How do you get the Notify me of followup comments via email thing on your wordpress?

  7. Hmmm. Well, I’ve been told that I’m an “authentic” blogger. 😉

    I would be able to change or alter my style for a job (if I tried hard enough) but work is work and it many times requires us to do things differently than we would anywhere else. But I also think it’s possible to put your own personal touch on anything. Yes, even a boring old legal memo. I don’t think I’d want to do it all the time though. Writing, as far as I’m concerned, is for expressing your own voice. Of course, there may also be certain limitations to keep in mind, as far as it being the right time, place, and audience as well.

    Actually, my style probably has changed a lot. I used to do technical writing and a lot of user manuals. So I had to “translate” a lot of technical mumbo-jumbo into easy words and instructions and now I find that my vocabulary has suffered and it now takes me three thousand words and 50 steps to get an idea across that someone else could do in five words. LOL.

  8. Voice, voice, voice. Sometimes I think I have one and sometimes I don’t. I think of my voice as the one that’s in my head, and that’s just everything in the world. Good question. Now I’m thinking.

  9. Good question!!! I think, “The Rambling Housewife” definitely has her own voice. For me, it’s easier to find my voice in writing that is personal. In professional writing (or some of the writing that I do on the side), finding my voice is a bit more challenging.

  10. I really appreciate this subject, thank you for raising these questions.

    For myself, I know I have several different “voices” and I think that stems from my social interactions. I am a chameleon, I speak about different subjects (some funny, some very serious) with great comfort. As a result, I write across those subjects with a distinct voice for each area. Case in point, I write a humor blog abou the tv show “24”- once in while I will decide to throw my readers off by getting into very non-24 subjects like U.S. history, highway projects and incidents at the mall. If you read these articles one after the other and were not told whether they came from the same author, I would guess that you’d have a hard time linking the group.

    And I think it’s an advantage to have flexibility. Sure, your voice can become your “brand” as many prominent authors and commentators/columnists have learned, but to fully engage your curiosity, you should never feel bound to a voice when sometimes the subject speaks for itself.

  11. Thank you everyone for the great insight! I’m learning so much from reading your comments. 🙂

    @Dave – I think I should be scared of you! LOL. Actually, I could probably use some of those skills in the law arena, perhaps.

    @Kay – You have an ironic sense of humor!

    @Teeni – Whoever said you were authentic must be very wise… 😉 I totally get what you’re saying about technical writing changing your style. I’ve done a lot of screenwriting lately, which is more conversational with shorter sentences. This translates sometimes in my other work, much to my chagrin.

    @Kraze – LOL! Thanks for pointing out that was about you and not me. 😛

    @Stephanie – It’s a tough question, isn’t it? I think figuring out my own voice can be quite the puzzle.

    @Rambling – You definitely have a very unique voice! 🙂 I agree about it being easier to maintain in personal writing. I find that true even in blogging.

    @Jack – What a great point about flexibility. You know, I can definitely see that I have that, too (which is maybe why it’s harder for me to ID my voice.) Depending on the subject, I can come across quite differently. Very good point.

  12. This is ironic that I just wrote on this, too (which your recent comment led me here). It seems many of us writer’s ponder this. I find that my voice truly comes out when I write freely, I mean completely. Many times those thoughts do not get publicly posted! lol. But, when I feel stumped to write something ‘not creative’, I write freely and this seems to trigger my voice. Then, I go back and make it look appropriate depending of the forum.

    Legal memos? BLah!! I hope I never have to write in that format. No, you are right-NO voice there. Just jargon. Thanks for reading!

  13. Hmm… i was reallly stuck with my voice i keep practising but i find it really hard not to imitate; but i think a good thing to try would be taking a song that the opposite sex has wrote and try and sing it, dont look at any covers just the song you have chosen and the artist that wrote it. Also if you can play an instrement like piano and guitiar get the sheet music for your chosen song, sing-a-long. pull your voice in different directions see what you feel most comfortable with and sounds the best for you, record it, get used to it use it on other songs.
    contact me: jlabramwell@yahoo.co.uk

  14. I am the voice of a Silenced Child.

    I lived in a survival mode most of my life. It wasn’t until I had a right brain awakening that my true voice emerged.

    A writer needs to understand how the brain can shift from the left brain editor to the right brain creator. The true voice will express itself when the left brain editor is silent.

    That is the challenge.

    • Janie – that is a really good point. I think my left brain editor controls my thinking and writing most of the time! I’m constantly correcting/editing myself. Definitely is a challenge.

  15. Dube – here is a way to listen to your voice.

    We all have a natural I like, I want, I think, right brain mode (our original child-like thinking) that we can connect with. We also have the… you can, you must, you should (left brain) mode that is a learned behavior.

    Understanding our two brains and their uniqueness helps us to find a balance. Just remember that creativity and our true voice involves our right brain and the left brain editor needs to be silenced during this process.

    I know… I had to silence my left brain, a place where a very dominant voice had been planted.

    Will my mother’s voice ever leave me
    give me peace
    be silenced
    Will the silenced child ever speak
    and not hurt
    feel shame
    or grieve

    A voice walks softly across a page
    spelling out sound
    telling secrets

  16. The funny thing about voice is that once you get it, it is hard to get rid of it. I have finally got my voice after around ten years of writing. I think it is about word choice, rhythm and structure more than the content.

    My worry is that as you grow as a writer; you want to create techniques, find out better ways to convert images into words and I am afraid voice might interfere in that. I don’t know yet, but I am hopeful.

  17. Sometimes I wish I had more control over my style or voice. I try to change it up and be funny, quirky, cynical, light-hearted, serious, etc. But I’m not sure if these attempts actually change my writing style. I think to a certain extent you’re stuck being you no matter how much you try to change it.

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