Ask Becca: Finding Your Voice

by Becca Jordan
published in Writing


Most of my writing now is news articles about video games, but I guess I have a hard time consolidating “professionalism” and “goofiness.” How do you let your voice shine through when it might be more appropriate to tone it down? 

– Cooper S.

There’s more than one way to skin a turkey (and make delicious leftovers the day after). Likewise, there’s more than one way to have an authentic voice.

First, a definition. Lack of voice is a top-ten reason that work is rejected. So how do you get one? Voice isn’t so indefinable. If you strip your work of all you think you know about writing, your voice will show through. Are you a writer with simple sentences? Are there a few magical and bubbly words often peppered throughout your pieces? Does your work read like Lewis Carroll if he’d lived in 2013, or like the personal journal of Charles Dickens’ great-grandfather?

If you need an example of someone with a strong voice, check out Chuck Wendig. Anytime I read a thing and say, “Gee, that sounds like something Wendig would write,” usually it means that Wendig indeed wrote it. That’s what you want readers to say: “Look at this link! That’s an authentic Cooper!”

If humor authentically works its way into your writing, congratulations! You have a voice. Now, for the next step: When to use it, and when to tone it down.

Every soul-sucking corporation is going to have their own style guide. If this is the case with you (especially all you journalists out there), you’re not going to have much wiggle room. You can be as authentic as you like but your boss still might snub his nose at the humor those hooligans are into these days.

That being said, news articles about video games with goofy humor sounds like something I want to read. Right. Now. If that’s where your passion is, I guarantee you’ll find a niche of readers who love reading humorous video game news.

But there’s a time and a place. Exploring other ways of writing doesn’t mean you have to lose your voice. After all, you’re not stuck doing just one thing; you’re in full Technicolor 3D, last time I looked. If you need to stretch your voice muscles (without making your family wonder if you’re going to show up in the blooper reels for American Idol), here are three exercises to try.


1. Force yourself to write something uncomfortable.

If you write children’s stories, try penning down a straight-up news story that could be published in the Sunday paper. If you’re more of an academic type, throw away the rules and try out a free verse poem. Don’t worry, nobody’s going to see this. This is just for you to feel out how your voice would sound in a different format.

2. Be a copycat.

Pick up your favorite book (or any piece of work whose style you want to emulate). Now spend ten minutes and re-type or handwrite the first page or first few paragraphs. Done? Now I want you to pick apart the paragraphs. Re-write it, using the same sentence structure, but putting in your own words as you go to change the meaning. This is a great way to really put yourself in another author’s shoes and see how your voice can fuse with theirs.

3. Be somebody else.

Literally. Try writing down a story as someone you know well. Maybe your engineer mother only writes dry-as-winter technical manuals, so pretend to be her as you write your story. Or if your six-year-old nephew is just learning to write and has a fascination with dinosaurs, try telling the story through his Jurassic perspective. What you’ll end up with is a fusion of another person’s outlook and your own sense of style.
Admittedly, all of these tips test your ability to be somebody else. But when we step into characters’ points of view, isn’t that what we writers do?

As you go through the exercises, you’ll be able to pick out certain things about your writing that don’t change, no matter whose perspective you’re writing from. Maybe you find out that the word “fantabulous” is in every one of your pieces. (Although, if it is, I can’t help you.) Maybe you find that there’s a recurring theme of government-as-big-brother (yeah, that’s been done too).

In any case, you’ll find out what makes your voice come to life. Whether or not you’ll use it is up to you.

Have you found your authentic voice yet? Did you try out these exercises? Share your new creations in the comments!


With a B.A. in B.S. (translation: English Major), Rebecca Ann Jordan is a poet and speculative fiction author in San Diego. She has published poetry and flash pieces in Yemassee MagazineBravura Literary Journal, and Images Magazine, and currently acts as Junior Assistant Editor at Bartleby Snopes. Her fetishes include controversial grammar, mythological happenings and yarn-swapping. Or maybe she made all of that up.

Got a question? Tweet me @beccaquibbles with the hashtag #askbecca, email me at becca [at] rebeccaannjordan [dot] com, or just leave a comment below! You could see your question answered right here!

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