I’m Not Tolstoy or a Bronte: Finding Your Voice

Welcome to Deep-Fried Friday, where I’ve pulled out the Fry Daddy and am ready to toss in a basket of thoughts to start sizzling. I was thinking recently how I have always told myself stories and loved reading, but it never really occurred to me to write a book when I was young.

By high school, I was mostly reading classic literature with deep themes and rich prose and page counts that made other young people dizzy. When I thought about writing a novel in my teens or 20s, it was in the context of having read Thomas Hardy, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jane Austen, D.H. Lawrence, Leo Tolstoy, all those Bronte sisters, and many more. I couldn’t imagine having that in me.

I don’t have that in me.

When I finally started to write seriously, I realized that my voice is not that of Tolstoy or a Bronte. My life experiences have formed me into a person who appreciates their narrative style but couldn’t pull that off in a million years. It would sound terribly stilted and weighty and blah.

Instead, I am a 44-year-old suburban wife and mother of two who has struggled with relationships, faith, cooking, and my mile-long to-do list. As a result, I’m a straight-talking, sarcastic, Texan-accented gal whose daily goal in life is to make sure that my children still have clean underwear in their drawer and that I prayed for something other than patience or sanity in the last 24 hours.

So my writing voice is, well, like that.

All too often, newbie writers seem to try to force themselves into the voice they have desired and admired. However, there is only one Tolstoy. He got that writing voice, and you can’t have it. Likewise, there is only one YOU. You have your writing voice–and while it might share similiarites with others’–it is not the same as anyone else’s voice. Your writing is exactly what it should be–the culmination of your God-given talents, your personality, your background experiences, your wit and wisdom, your unique perspective, etc.

For myself, I feel like this post should have been titled Writer Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Voice. Because it’s been an interesting  journey of getting to the point where I genuinely appreciate my own voice. I like that I write the way I do. I like that it isn’t earth-shattering in its profundity. I like that it is more humorous than highbrow. I like that my books will appeal more to young adults and those looking for a little escape than a graduate-level discussion.

My favorite blogs give me a snippet of the voice of the author. I would disappointed if after having read a funny blogger’s posts for months on end, I opened their book to read “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Tawna Fenske is perhaps my favorite example. Though I wasn’t a romance fan before, she won me over to reading her romantic comedies because of her strong, funny voice on the blog. While I doubt English Lit classes will be studying her prose in depth, her fiction is fresh and captivating. I like her voice.

So how do you know what your “voice” is? I suggest turning off that internal editor writers talk about and jotting a quick essay on whatever topic you want. You could even write a long email to your sister. The way you communicate in writing to friends and family is likely the way you communicate in writing to potential readers. That’s your voice.

So what do you think? How did you grow into your writing voice? Have you read authors based on their unique voice? Do you ever wish your writing voice was different?

21 thoughts on “I’m Not Tolstoy or a Bronte: Finding Your Voice

  1. I love your advice! Love my voice for what it is not for what I think it should be? That’s crazy enough to work. It really is important to turn off that internal editor. Thanks for shariing this today–just what I needed. 🙂

  2. I have at least two writers I read based on their voice. They are Joe R. Lansdale and Stephen King. (I know you don’t care for Stephen King.)

    Sometimes I have a hard time using my writing voice. If I transcribe what’s in my head directly to the page, you have an East Texas patois that occasionally lacks verbs, has improper pronoun usage, and is generally hard to understand. In trying to make it understandable, I have a tendency to go into “term paper” speak.

    Fun post. I enjoyed.

    1. I am also attracted to author voice. I think that’s one of the appeals of British literature for me, that flowing prose. And you seem to complete perfectly good sentences in my presence, Catie. LOL! I would LOVE to see you write East Texan dialogue into your work.

  3. I grew into my writing voice by writing on a daily basis, focusing more on the content and crisp, clear writing than on using fancy words or turn of phrase. Great topic, Julie!

  4. Your voice shines through your posts, Julie, which is why I keep coming back for more. No, it’s not Tolstoy or Bronte, but I don’t read them any more. I used to when I was younger but I don’t enjoy the highbrow literary and haven’t for years. I enjoy new writers and ones that aren’t on the NY Times Bestseller list. I would never in a million years read 50 Shades and don’t understand why it’s so popular. There are thousands of really good writers out there today who will never receive the recognition they deserve.

    1. Ah, how sweet, Patti! I almost feel like pulling a silly Sally Field and saying, “You like me! You like me!” LOL. 😉

      I find myself attracted to midlist writers for some reason, the ones whose voice captures a niche.

  5. For whatever reason voice still seem vague to me. I Know the concept- and I think I’ve found my own, and I can tell authors have their own, but for whatever reason whenever I hear or read authors voice my brain freezes.

    1. I’m not sure “voice” is even a good word for it because voice sounds tangible, yet the concept can be elusive. It’s like I know writing voice when I read it, but I can’t always describe the voice. So I think I get what you mean, Alica.

  6. Excellent post. I, too, loved the classics and realized early on that wasn’t my voice. And I can’t wish for a voice other than my own, because trying to be something you are not (no matter what it is) is doomed to failure. If I tried to sound like F. Scott Fitzgerald, it would be laughable. Luckily, I pride myself in loving all kinds of books. Good for you for acknowledging and accepting your voice. (One I really like!!)

    1. I also love a wide variety of books. In fact, Tia, it seems that reading a lot of different authors can help a writer as he/she develops their voice.

  7. Great post! In my early years of writing I tried to change my voice and failed every time. Now I accept that it is part of what makes me, me, and it’s actually better to have a unique voice than one that is too similar to other writers.

    1. Thanks, Lydia. I agree that it’s better to be you and be unique than to try to imitate someone else. You won’t do it well anyway, so why try? Now being yourself…THAT you can do!

  8. I like your point of view here, Julie. My voice was one of the reasons I held myself back from writing for so long. But, reason, similar to what you’ve written here, is what got me past it. I do still struggle with wishing my natural voice was in some way different, better, more, but I am what I am, right 🙂

  9. Oh how I love this title-Writer Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Voice. The idea of voice has always been this mysterious thing to me, my own I mean. Whenever someone comments on mine, I think, Can you clue me in please? 🙂 I think your description of your voice is spot on–and why I love stopping by! Thanks Julie!

Comments are closed.