Little Thoughts on Finding Your Writing Voice
I’ve been in career mode recently. I love when my brain lets me go there. I have these occasional waves of motivation, usually timed with the changing of the seasons. Fall is a big one for me. I want to fill my house with pumpkin smells, wrap up in a blanket, and make large claims about writing a novel. I even recently took an awesome rocking chair from someone’s curb on bulk garbage day and arranged this handy-dandy writing nook. For the time being, it’s really helping–yet I have absolutely accepted that it may turn into a cat cuddle space/storage area.
I’ve had several people ask me about how I decided to begin blogging and how I grew this voice over the years. So here is my personal experience, with advice that may be up your alley as well.
The other night, I was sitting in my new rocker and started to pick through a section of our book shelf that just holds our endless collection of diaries and journals from over the years. If there’s one action that proves how much my husband and I trust each other, it’s by openly leaving out approximately ten years of feelings on a bookcase in the middle of the apartment.
Anyway, I found my Camino notebook–the oneI used during my first hike across Spain. The back of it is filled with panicked budgeting and addresses for everyone on my postcard list. Though I’ve been a diary writer for as long as I can remember, this notebook was the most similar to my future blog. But making the leap to online writing primarily developed when I was left alone with my thoughts while walking for approximately eight hours a day in a desert/mountain/middle-of-nowhere Spanish village. You have a lot of time to think, talk, sing, write songs, rhyme silly words with one another, zone out, count flowers, and sometimes even try to translate as much of The Wizard of Oz lyrics into Spanish. You get the idea, you have a lot of time.
Well, amidst all this, my journal writing began to reflect the persistent narrator inside my head. My fellow hikers would occasionally check in to see who my current mental voice sounded like this week (I have tons of respect to everyone for not thinking I was totally losing my mind). Some days, it was Diane Lane from Under the Tuscan Sun. In case you’re unfamiliar with what I’m talking about:
Other days it was Forrest Gump.
I didn’t think anything of this, I’ve had narrator in my head since I was little. Too many movies with a dramatic, James Horner-backed narrative during my childhood I guess. But I learned throughout the hike that this is how I compartmentalize my experiences and how I process important moments of my life.
Slowly but surely, these voices were reflected in my journal writing. Brain to paper was a huge step, and not an immediate one. Now, I have never been a diary writer that reports the day’s activities. I don’t like to report what happened–I already know what happened. I mainly like to get all the angsty thoughts on paper before I spew them at someone else–it’s a moment of mental detox. But as my mind’s observant voice developed, the more it began making its jump to the page. My writing began to balance out between ranting and experience–and hence, the blog voice was born.
Blog Post Structure
The leap between my journal and blog writing came when I began to latch onto really nice ideas that my mental voice chose to say during that given week. If I had a particularly poignant moment–whether big or small–I learned to bookmark the wording that came to mind and write it down for later. If it really strikes me, then I see if there are larger themes going on in my life that could be related. This post is a good example. Often in life, images and feelings tend to repeat themselves within a short period of time. It’s like when you keep spotting the same word over and over and realize it’s a super-weird coincidence. This happens with fluffy feelings and motivational blog posts as well.
The more experience I had with morphing a moment into a story/lesson, the more aware of these moments I became. I could even drag them up from the past. The issue I still struggle with is how to create ideas when you need to write, especially when you haven’t have a light bulb moment in several months and your blog is getting dusty.
Writing for an Audience
In my early days, I wasn’t that concerned with audience. I just wanted to write something and post it without passing out from fear. If one person read it, that was enough for me. In the beginning, I was very lucky to see this new venture as a side-project just for me–not for money or attention. Creatively, this is how I really managed to grow as a writer.
As the years went on, and this became more my jam, audience became way more important. I can break up my current writing voices into several categories:
I do whatever the hell I please. This began as a public way to develop my writing, so whether my post is 400 words or 1500 words, it doesn’t matter. It will be nice for some people, and not great for others.
Get to the point while keeping your voice intact. My biggest jump from online journal writing was keeping everything within a word limit while still telling a story with soul and personality. But this is the skill worth developing. Too long a story and your reader is lost. Too succinct and you’re writing a book report. When a story strikes you as important, how do you put someone in your shoes without banging the story over their heads?
This is my new jam. I picked up Creative Nonfiction’s book about three years ago, and it opened my eyes to this genre. Apparently first-person memoir essays are a thing that you can write for money! And people want to read them! And they’re so much longer and more poetic than blog posts. So when writing these, and I’ve only submitted to a few contests so far, I let all pistons fire at once. I get lofty, I write on and on, I make comparisons to birds and trees and rainstorms. The privacy of it–the chance that it might be published on paper opposed to the internet–for some reason allows me the freedom to tell darker secrets and elaborate where blog platforms often fall short.
Ways to keep growing:
After I while, I recognized I was falling into the same traps. I wrote (and still often write) on the same subjects and tend to come to the same conclusions about art and careers and such. What was missing was a teacher. And so I began to obsessively read. My final bit of advice is to seek out which authors spark your urge to write. Their form of narrative should have such a strong power over you that you put down the book and race off to your notebook or laptop. For me, these ladies are Nora Ephron, Anne Lamott, and one of the first narrative writers who inspired me, Dominique Browning.
Just get started:
For those of you who have approached me in the past several years about starting a blog, I will generally tell you this (but am clearly happy to elaborate): find a platform that’s free and easy to use–I highly recommend WordPress.com–and write as if you have nothing to gain or lose from hitting the publish button. What inspires you will inspire someone else. What bores you will bore others. Start with your own needs and the people who you connect with will find you. Then share, share away on Facebook and Twitter! That’s how I get 90% of my traffic. The other 10% or so is from exploring the wonderful WordPress community and reading other’s blogs on topics I enjoy.
Your voice will only continue to develop with time, as I hope mine does as well. You will never–at any point in your career–be able to predict how an audience will respond to a post you love. So you might as well write it if it makes you happy. When in doubt, go on a hunt for a voice similar to your own and let them lead the way.