'Voice' describes the ability to say something, using your own distinct style. It's about finding an audience. It's about speaking out. This week on Writers Bloc, we're sharing a short series around the idea of 'voice' in writing.

'Writer’s voice? Never thought about it before. I suppose I just want it to be as close to Neil Gaiman or Stephen Fry’s as possible.'

That’s what I would have said if you’d asked me about writer’s voice when I first started writing.

A few years later I was slightly less naive. I’d read books about writing and now I felt I knew everything: one day I was going to discover my writer’s voice like a majestic rat materialising from behind the sink. And at that moment of joyous discovery, everything would be sparkly and right with the world.

On the 28th of November 2013 I gave myself a challenge. I would write a story every day for a year, using inspiration from strangers online. 46,102 words later I had reached my goal.

I had written anywhere, on anything, and with anyone I could. The experience had been frustrating, exhausting and the best thing I had ever done.

But surely after 365 stories, my writer’s voice would have appeared?

It hadn’t. See, just like the day I get my Hogwarts letter, or the day I magically wake up completely and utterly happy with every quirk of my body, I don’t think it’s ever going to come. And that’s not to say I can’t get there (I went to Hogwarts in Universal Studios Osaka earlier this year). But the process is long; there is no majestic rat and no sparkles. My writer’s voice will be evolving and maturing long after this article is published.    

But, my 365 day writing challenge did teach me some good ways to help the process along. The first thing I learnt was that practice really is as great as everyone says it is. I got better each time I wrote, which was pretty much what I expected (or was hoping for). But more interestingly, when faced with my work en masse it was impossible not to see patterns. Suddenly it was obvious what was authentic, and what was me bullshitting. I also began to easily identify recurring themes in my work. This process was a little like reading back over old diaries; cringe-worthy, but also exciting. In amongst the words was something that was uniquely me.    

The next thing I learnt was that thinking small helped. When faced with a blank screen and unknown audience the pressure felt enormous. But during my challenge I took on specific tasks set by a single person, which meant I usually had just one aim: to entertain that person. Suddenly I felt free to keep my voice. There was no pressure to be as good as my idols, and there was no giant scary imaginary audience. This was a conversation, one on one, and I could just be me. For example, I was challenged to post a story to a stranger’s letter box. I chose my stranger, and wrote a story that I hoped they would enjoy. There was no one else writing a story for that stranger, how could the story be anything but uniquely mine? 

The next thing I learnt was that collaborating with others was incredibly encouraging. Reading my idols is an amazing and inspiring experience, but it does tend to make me feel inadequate. It’s almost like looking at an airbrushed picture – beautiful, but hardly a realistic goal. My challenge made me interact and collaborate with all kinds of people. Whether they were writers I looked up to, friends or strangers. The exchange always felt equal and natural. If they were going to come up with a unique and personal challenge for me, then I wanted to come up with my own unique and personal answer.

I began to notice an underlying theme. If my writer’s voice was ever going to emerge I would have to cut myself some slack, and let it happen. If I was going to write every day, I was going to write some shit, and that was okay. If I wanted people to read my work, some people weren’t going to like it. If I was going to write this much, I would have to experiment, and sometimes it wouldn’t work. This was all good learning.

When I started writing I felt constricted. These were the same worries that made me nervous about making new friends, and the same worries that made me think my chin was ugly. These feelings were not going to go away overnight. I would have to consciously coax myself into trying these scary things. Each time I give it a go, it becomes a little less scary.

I can’t imagine a time where I fully understand anyone, including myself. I am full of frustrating contradictions and confusing surprises, which is why I probably won’t ever pinpoint my writer’s voice. I don’t know exactly what makes me me, or you you. All I can do is stop waiting for that majestic rat, and be authentic at the moment I am writing.

Freya's challenge is over but she's always up for new collaborations or challenges. If you’re curious, you can find her at freyawrightbrough.com/, tweet to @freyawriter or facebook.com/365daychallenge.

samvanz's picture


Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.

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