decodedjoy asked you:

Hi Auntie MJ, I have a question… How did you develop your writing “voice”? People say that the world needs more story tellers, but the world doesn’t need more people who merely try to copy other story tellers… right? As I aspire to be a writer, I sometimes worry that that’s what I’m doing, that I’m just mimicking my favorite authors. How do I know if I’m truly being me? And if I’m not, what should I do?

Lovely decodedjoy,

Here’s the thing about voice … we all have one, in lots of ways. We learn to talk. We learn to write. We can learn to sing. If we are hearing impaired, we learn to sign. We learn to do MANY things … like cook and play sports and drive a car. And we learn every single thing by imitation first. We have to see it or hear it, and then we copy it. 

So babies first come out with momma and dada and ball or doggie, and then all of a sudden they are saying THE DARNDEST THINGS, stringing together all kinds of weird sentences based on their own, original observations of the world.

It’s the exact same way in writing, it just goes on a bit longer. When we start writing, we copy what we have read. We can’t help it … it’s what we know. The more we read and the more we write, the more this shifts. More and more influences come in, more life experience, more changes in language … things are going on you aren’t even aware of, but the voice evolves the more we practice. It can’t be forced.

Try as you might, you can’t force the voice.

Most people go through phases of sounding very much like one writer or another. Don’t worry about it. The more you keep on going, the more this will shift. You might even go through a few phases. But your voice is already there, incubating, growing stronger all the time. It can’t be stopped. If you write long enough, it just happens.

If you think you’re really leaning heavily into one person or style, one thing you can do is get up and read something VERY DIFFERENT for a few minutes. If you are sounding all STEPHEN KING, get up and read the most opposite thing you can find. A few minutes of this can jangle your brain a little and set you on a new direction.

But in GENERAL, this is all very NATURAL. WRITE ON!

Sotto voce,
Auntie MJ