Brain Babies: What the Hell is “Voice”?
When I see a painting by Luke Spooner, I immediately know whose it is. The guy has a very distinctive style. It’s unmistakable. Same is true for a lot of artists. You know when you see something by H.R. Giger, right? Can’t miss it. Picasso? Totally unique.
But, you know what? These guys all probably started out doodling on napkins. They took life drawing classes (where you get a naked dude for the first half of the semester, and then a naked woman; this is to weed out the bozos who only took the course for the naked woman). They copies other artists’ work.
Writers do the same thing. And, that’s okay. It’s perfectly normal to emulate our heroes. I wrote a lot like Stephen King and Piers Anthony when I was younger. But, over time and through experimentation, we begin to figure out who we are on the page. We start to develop our own unique style, our voice.
I can’t tell you what my voice is. I know I tend to write with some humor; I don’t shy away from disturbing content; I use a lot of dialog, because I used to write film and sketch comedy. But, do I have a “voice”? I’m sure I do, and maybe people who’ve read a lot of my stuff can see it. Maybe someone out there can say, “Oh yeah. That’s Ken MacGregor, all right.”
Wouldn’t that be cool? I mean, if some reader out there in ReaderLand actually recognized my style? Be even cooler if they were telling someone else they had to read it. I mean, that’s what we all want, right? And money. We want to get paid. I know.
But, I’m off track. Voice. How do you find it? Fuck if I know. I guess you just keep writing. Whatever bleeds out of your brain and onto the page, well … that’s your voice. Once you’ve stopped writing like the people you read, I mean. That takes a while. But, if you’re new at this writing gig, don’t worry. It’ll come. The nice thing about being a creative human being is that we’re all coming at this from a different perspective. You almost can’t help having a unique voice.
As I said, I can’t tell you what mine is, but I know I have one. I show up in a lot of anthologies (Yay! Anthologies!) so I get exposed to a lot of other writers and their styles. When I get to my own piece in the book (yes, I read my own stuff in books. Seeing my work in print does not get old.) it’s so clearly mine. It’s a kind of comfort, you know? Like sitting in an old chair that conforms to your butt. It even kind of smells like you. Nice.
Anyway, if you’re starting out, go ahead: write like other people. Experiment with how you sound. Write poetry. Write outside your comfort zone. These things are good for you. But, keep writing. Once you figure out what you want to say, and how you want to say it, boom. That, my friend, is your voice.
Once that happens, I believe you’re just kind of stuck with it. Your voice will probably change and grow in subtle ways over time, but it will be yours. People will recognize it.
Someone, somewhere, will read you, and they’ll say, “Hey. This is (Your Name Here). You gotta read this book!” I hope so. Maybe it’ll be me. I read a lot.
Writers are artists, like the painters we talked about at the beginning of this. Each of us has something new and unique and exciting to bring to the table. Each of us has something to say, and their own way to say it.
So, go do that. If you’re lucky, someone will pay you for it. If you’re very lucky, someone will read it and love it. If you’re insanely lucky, someday, you’ll be able to quit your day job and write full time.
Me? I’m waiting for my wife to start making six figures, so I can do just that. Or, you know, maybe my book will get optioned for a movie or something. The former seems a bit more realistic.
Keep writing. Your voice, if you haven’t found it yet, will come. Give it time. Nurture it with practice. Feed it ideas.
And when you do find your voice, use it to shout from the rooftops: I am a WRITER! Because, you should be proud. That shit is cool.
Ken MacGregor 2016
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Ken MacGregor’s work has appeared in a whole mess of anthologies and magazines. His story collection, “An Aberrant Mind” is available online and in select bookstores. He edits an annual horror-themed anthology for the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers. Ken is an Affiliate member of HWA. One time, he even made a zombie movie. Recently, he co-wrote a novel and is working on the sequel. Ken lives in Michigan with his family and two cats, one of whom is dead but still haunts the place.