Recently, I found out that I had lost my voice. I had been ghostwriting so intently for Other People for so long (and all the time undervalued) that I was writing in formulaic ways. From the technical aspect of writing I was still achieving excellence, but stylistically it was like a gourmet cook going on a diet of cardboard boxes (the kind that Marie Callender’s comes in) and boiled shoe leather.
I did not express myself with my authentic voice. I was boring. Mediocre. Flat. And most of the stuff I had to write was an insult to my intelligence.
The ghostwriter’s voice had become a ghost. A hollow-sounding, disembodied entity which was merely a drifting, grey shade of the original author, haunting his own house.
That was my just rewards for writing for very low pay, trying to appease cheapskate, writer-devaluing clients who themselves were not writers at a place of mass production zone, make-wasteful-haste writing. (Do I sound like I’ve got a big rock on my shoulder? I will be writing in another piece about the perils of a writer trying to be an online ghostwriter and why I am now completely turned against it.) Yes I deserve better. Nevertheless, I have to own my circumstances.
If you want personal, financial, and professional success and fulfillment as writer, you have to write with your own Voice. Your writer’s voice, that is. But what if you’ve lost it? What if you’ve never really had it, and it wanders somewhere in an undiscovered country?
My writer’s voice came back because I quit that which was killing me. What do you need to know for yours to re-emerge or to be found?
- The way you talk should not be the way you write. The notion that you’re supposed to write the way you talk is a tragic idea. Writing in such a way that sounds like actual human speech, while still keeping it creative, is an art form. You want to write with more technical expertise and more care than the way you speak, even if you are well-spoken. So stop writing the way you talk, and instead begin writing the way you think (in words).
- Do not write “what you know”. Write “who you are“. Use your imagination. Do diligent research. Write down a few little notes that describe your personality to yourself if that helps. A writer can’t be limited to only what he “knows” or thinks he knows.
- You need to love what you’re writing. Even if you are one of those writers whose internal Editor is rarely happy. Even if you’re one of those writers like Richard Bach who despises the writing process as much as he loves the end result (his book). Are you going to be proud to put your own name, or at least your own pen name, on that final manuscript or guest blog post or article or poetry? If you’re not, you are not writing with your authentic voice.
- Write down a list of your favorite writers, your favorite written works, and those cultural influences which have the greatest power to capture and enchant you. How can you work their magic into what you write, while still being original?
- Imagine your perfect reading audience. While writing “who you are”, write to that audience. Be vulnerable to them. Let yourself be afraid to possibly let them down.
Don’t let your writer’s voice be a ghost haunting the wilderness. Write who you are, and your voice will wander home to you.