Own Your Voice by @EdenBaylee

Some years ago, another writer, whom I respected said to me, “You have a distinct voice.” She had read a couple of my books, and at the time, I was writing erotic fiction. Her words caught me off guard. 

“Oh?” I felt somewhat ambivalent toward her statement. “I guess my writing’s become predictable.” 

“I don’t mean that,” she said. “I mean you have a certain way of telling a story.” 

She was offering a compliment, but in that moment, I couldn’t fully appreciate what she was saying. I took it to mean she had read enough of my stories to notice a recurring pattern, a particular style of writing. I filed away her words in my brain, confident I’d eventually understand them more clearly. 

To have one’s own style isn’t a bad thing, right? 

I’ve been reading erotic fiction for years, so it’s not a stretch to think I’ve adopted stylistic details from authors I’ve admired. At age eleven, I read Pauline Réage’s Story of O. I didn’t understand all of it, but it made a serious impression on me. In hindsight, it's a book I shouldn't have read at that age, but what’s done is done—psyche be damned! I also read widely—from mystery to suspense to horror to non-fiction. I’m sure there have been writers and stories that have nudged me in ways I can’t even imagine. One of my favourite writers is Charles Bukowski, mainly because he was a crotchety, old bastard but a brilliant writer of prose and poetry. I’ve read almost everything he’s written, at least once. Post Office is an excellent book. 

To say my style is a fusion of the authors I’ve read may make sense, but … style and voice are not the same thing. 

So what is authorial voice? 
"Voice is … something you can bring out in yourself. The trick is to not concentrate on it." 
~ Renni Browne and Dave King, from Self-Editing for Fiction Writers 
Sounds cryptic, doesn't it? But it’s true. Voice is something you discover and is one of the last writing elements to fall into place. 

Voice is the distinct personality or point of view of a piece of writing. It encompasses vocabulary, tone, rhythm, word choice, phrasing, and how paragraphs flow together. A firm command of the language makes the work recognizable and distinguishable from the rest of the pack. In music, it’d be the difference between a guitar solo by Mark Knopfler vs. that wanker, Neil Young. 

Be like Mark Knopfler on the guitar, not like Neil Young

Writers with the most distinctive voices did not develop them overnight. If you’ve read David Sedaris, Ernest Hemingway, or a Toni Morrison novel, you can guess the author early on because of their powerful, unique voice. William Faulkner is wordy, whereas Cormac McCarthy writes sparingly. And though these original voices can be imitated, it’s nearly impossible to duplicate them. 

Lately, I’ve become addicted to the writing of blogger Paulie at The Life In My Years. He’s an American writer, who according to his bio, writes about: travel, history, literature, sport, photography, cooking and life in general. We connected via his political blogs initially. His posts can be long, and aside from news websites, I don’t read lengthy non-fiction blogs.  

Paulie’s site is the exception. 

His intelligent, humorous, sometimes irreverent, and deeply emotional voice dominates his blogs. There’s a consistency, a recognizability to the way he writes, and I’ve only been reading him since December 2020. I’m stalking his site because he’s one of those writers I’d read no matter the subject. That’s a sure sign of good writing, and I’d recommend you give him a follow

Two things I strive for in cultivating my voice are: control and authenticity. 

With a strong voice, the writer is in control. The words carry the reader through the story in a confident manner; the prose is buoyant. The story flows effortlessly, and the only reason a reader might return to a passage is to re-experience how it touched them the first time. 

Control is evident in fluid sentences, beautiful turns of phrase, and original expressions.

Authenticity speaks more to the personality of the writer. It’s the expression of humour, cynicism, anger, pain, hope all distilled into one voice. It’s being unafraid to expose oneself, to deliver a compelling and masterful narrative without apology. 

A writer with a capable, unique voice can help readers lose themselves in a story, and isn’t that what good writing is all about?

Feel free to share about your writer's voice or anything else for that matter! 

eden 💚


D.L. Finn said…
Great post, Eden :) I definitely notice an authors voice after a book or two. I do think it's important to develope our own voice. That was a huge compliment to you.
With some authors I think their voice is so distinctive (maybe I mean authentic) that you would recognise them when speaking even if the content were something quite different from their writing.
Sorry if this doesn't make sense - I haven't had any coffee yet.
Peter Leyland said…
Very interesting post Eden. With this AuthorsElectric monthly blog I feel I've been given the opportunity to develop a voice on the things I care about, mainly education and books with a bit of self-knowledge thrown in for good measure!

I can't go with you on Neil Young though. The guitar solo on Cortez the Killer usually makes me weep...

So now continuing my next blog with voice in mind. Thanks for pointing it up.
Wendy H. Jones said…
You’ve hit the nail on the head here, Eden. Find out own recognisable voice is crucial and we often do so without realising it. Thanks for this
Joe Hefferon said…
I agree with Wendy - we find it without realizing it. Once we do though, we should embrace and cultivate it.
Dannie said…
Well said, Eden. Both your voices are endearing- vocal and written. Several people have mentioned my written voice, which I took as a compliment, since I will grab at anything resembling a compliment, ha.
Ruth Leigh said…
Fascinating, Eden. I think we develop our voices the more we write. Gosh, I do love David Sedaris. One of my very favourite comic writers and what a voice!
Allison Symes said…
It's often other people who make you realise you have finally found your writing voice, Eden. The writer is often the last to twig!
Paulie said…
Wow Eden. Thank you so much for the kind comments. I’m overwhelmed. I need to find you some Aztec Chocolate and a Neil Young dartboard.

I’m from California (don’t hold that against me), and I’ve been told that I speak with a California dialect. I don’t even know what in the hell a California dialect is but I guess I developed one. It came from my surroundings, what I’ve listened to. I can pick out a Texan with the first sentence.

I think a writer’s voice is much the same. It develops, really without one knowing it but it has to have some origin. My father told me that you can’t be a writer without being a reader. Our surroundings, that is the authors who touch us in some manner, help to define our writer’s dialect. Add to that personality and life experiences.

While style can be a conscious thing, voice can’t. I’m a big Anthony Bourdain fan. In a previous blog I tried a sort of written ventriloquism, consciously imitating Bourdain. It fell flat. Rereading some of those pieces I can see how it was off putting. Bourdain had a voice that could be off putting but he earned it.

So if I’m sometimes irreverent as Eden says, that probably comes from surrounding myself with Bourdain and Norman Mailer. If there’s humor it probably comes from having loved reading Jean Shepherd when I was a teen (often in the Playboys that I hid under my mattress). Mind you I’m not in any way audacious enough to compare myself with these writers.

None of this voice is conscious anymore though there are times when I have to remind myself that ventriloquism is not my forte.

Or, “Hey, hey, my, my,” maybe I’m just wanking here.
Eden Baylee said…
Hi Denise, thanks for hopping over to this side of the pond and leaving a comment! You're right, it was a lovely compliment. ;)

Enjoy your week,


Eden Baylee said…
Hi Cecilia! You make sense even pre-coffee. ;)
Voice is subtle, and as writers of fiction, there are many voices to play with - narrator and characters. The challenge is to make them sound different from one another -- not an easy task, so props to the writers who can do this well consistently.

Enjoy your Tuesday,

Eden Baylee said…
Hi Peter! Thanks for your comment. Look forward to your next blog.
As for Neil Young ... ummm ...
"Cortez the Killer" solo has made me weep too, but for a different reason than you, I'm sure. ;)

Music is infinitely fascinating for this reason, isn't it?

Have a great week!

Eden Baylee said…
Hi Wendy, Yes! It's good to know when we have it, even without working toward it.

Have a great week,
Eden Baylee said…
Hey Joe, thanks for dropping by here. You have a clear voice - edgy and sharp, in the vein of Cormac McCarthy.

Eden Baylee said…
Dannie! How great to see you here, lovely.
I'm sure you deserve all your compliments. Hope you and your family are keeping well,

Eden Baylee said…
Hi Ruth, I agree. We need to write a lot to see what works for us, and then our voice grows from there.
David Sedaris has that dry wit that appeals to me, and it comes out in his writing. I really enjoy him too.

Thanks for commenting,
Eden Baylee said…
Hi Allison,

I imagine most writers are not deconstructing their words as they write (I know I don't), so this makes perfect sense to me.

Thanks for commenting!
Eden Baylee said…
Hi Paul! Welcome to my UK home away from home.

My pleasure to share your work. There are diverse writers and readers of this blog. They will, no doubt discover the gems on your site, as I have.

A writer's voice is difficult to define, isn’t it? There are so many moving parts that must come together to create a narrative. Anyone can deconstruct an event and write about it through the lens of their own experience, but not everyone can do it well. Not everyone can make it an interesting read. As much as I love politics, some of the stuff I read isn’t always well written. It may be factual, but that’s the extent of it. The journalist aims for objectivity, of course, but the quality of the writing shouldn’t suffer for it.

As someone who prefers to get my news digitally via online news outlets, it’s important I read in a voice I like. Reading should be enjoyable, right?

And that you no longer have to think about your voice? Well ... it means you've found it.

eden :D
William Kendall said…
Good post, Eden!

Mark Twain had the most distinctive writer's voice I can think of- the exaggerated drawl, the tall tales, the wink of the eye- it all comes across in most of his work.
Eden Baylee said…
Hi William, Mark Twain - absolutely! A great example of an author with a distinctive voice. Thanks for commenting here. xox
poetjanstie said…
Good heavens, Eden! On the subject of owning your voice, I’ve just sent you an email, which does require your immediate attention! What an extraordinary coincidence. ��
poetjanstie said…
Scottish poet and writer, George Mackey Brown. His book, “Greenvoe”, is a story set in an Orkney Islands village. It is a classic example of how a poet writes a story in prose ... it is poetic. His ‘voice’ is unmistakable.
Eden Baylee said…
John! Thanks for your comments. I've responded to your email. :D
Now I have to add GREENVOE to my TBR list.
Always a pleasure to have a poet of your calibre visit me. xox
Reb MacRath said…
You know what, Eden? I think this is the best thing I've come across on the mysterious subject of Voice. I've heard tell that it's the sine qua non in the eyes of editors and agents. And it damned well should be. Style is something we hone and perfect throughout our writing lives. But Voice? That's a great journey inward...and not for the faint of heart. Great post!
Eden Baylee said…
Hi Reb, wow, thank you so much for your kind comment. I really appreciate it. Voice is mysterious, isn't it?
Maybe the more we chase it, the harder it is to get. We should just concentrate on the writing and let our voice come through, even if it takes time to get us there. ;)
Enjoy the weekend, eden

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