If You Can't Find Your Voice

Have you found your writing voice?

A significant percentage of writers say they have not. Why is this important? As writers, we have limited tools. We can’t invent a new language or change the rules of grammar, for example. When everything else is stripped away, one thing makes writing unique: our voice.

I believe the study of voice is a crucial part of a writing habit. The search is both a blessing and a curse. Some writers find it easily; others struggle for years. Some writers discover their voice, but then lose it. They often take years to find it again. This latter scenario has been my own experience. 

How I found my writing voice, but then lost it

I became fascinated with writing in high school. After being exposed to great literature, I began to imitate writers I admired. I experimented and grew in ability. When I entered college, the standards were higher, so I stretched. The combination of urgency, criticism, and creativity led to a sweet spot. I found my voice.  

Once I’d found it, I started receiving compliments on my writing. I'd send an obligatory email, but I'd try to infuse it with some personality. Later, I'd get a reply from someone saying how much they appreciated the fact that my emails were interesting. I’d found a way to communicate that was unique. It caught people's attention, even if the subject matter was mundane. 

Fast-forward to graduate school. As a grad student, my writing came under intense scrutiny. Encouragement was sparse. The style I’d developed was questioned by my graduate instructors. They pushed me to assume a different voice. As a result of my graduate school experiences, my voice began to deteriorate. I lost confidence in my writing. I settled for bland prose.

In the years since, I’ve been searching to rediscover my voice. It’s a daily process of blending where I am in life with what I’m trying to say. The more I talk to other writers, the more convinced I become that this is a typical experience. Many of us, if not most, seem to go through stages of finding a unique voice and then losing it. The stages seem to repeat, as well. 

Writing voice and self-discovery

I used to view this phenomenon as a tragedy. What could be worse, I thought, than to find something as valuable as my writing voice and then to lose it? Well, my perception has changed. I now think of this search as just one part of an interconnected life experience. Because I believe that a good life is self-examined, I view this process of finding and losing voice as simply an extension of how mature humans observe their own growth. As we live, we change. Our voice changes with us. 

I’m embracing the challenge of finding my voice, even as it changes. I know the voice that emerges, although changed, will be better for the experience of growing. If you’re wrestling with a similar process, I hope you’ll be comforted in knowing that you’re not alone.