On Voice

April 2, 2009 at 5:21 PM | Posted in Publishing, Writing, Writing Advice | 5 Comments
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What’s a voice, anyway, and why do agents value it so much?

Let me begin with a story.

Last last summer. I was young. I read a fabulous series called THE CLIQUE. And I was totally awestruck by just how bitchy the main character was, and just how awesome the collective waste of air called the Pretty Commitee was.


That summer I also discovered writing.  And I set out to create my own series. Called THE ELITE, it chronicled the fabulous existence of a private-school clique in LA.

So after spending a year or so on THE ELITE (a 36K whopper of a book), I wrote the query.  Got a ton of rejections and a few partials and fulls. None of them ended up in a contract. Still, I held out hope.

Fast-forward to last summer. My last response, from the VP of an international agency, read:  “Your voice is well-targeted to your audience, but the plot seems familiar”. It was a rejection.

Not really good news.

However, I kept on writing because my voice showed promise. And if my voice showed promise, all I had to do was to change the plot, right? But I felt like an imposter every time I picked up my pen. It just wasn’t me on that paper.

And then one day, I grew so frustrated that I decided to start a new manuscript. A journal, inflated by figments of my imagination. I didn’t care about writing like Lisi Harrison anymore–I just wanted to get all the pressure out.

So I did. I wrote and wrote and revised it all. And at the end of my 2-hour session, I had fifteen great pages. Fifteen pages that I immediately sent to my beta.

Her response? “Good gracious, girl, it’s really good.”

That was her whole critique. I used to get pages and pages (single-spaced, mind you!) of corrections, of things that didn’t feel quite right. And staring back at me, those six beautiful words, made me realize that I finally had made it. My voice.

I learned that day that you can only discover your voice when you write something you’re really passionate about. Something you’re so passionate about that you don’t care what agents would think, if your parents would take offense at it. You just write. It’s automatic. It happens when you think no one’s watching. It’s the purest form of written self-expression you can find.

Your voice is your own. It can grow, it can mature, just like you. But it’s unique. Just like human voices, it can be music to your ears. It can be shrill. It can be serene or excitable.

What’s most important about all voices, though, is:

They all have something to say.

– linda


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  1. Beautiful post, Tilt!
    Voice is something so very hard to pin down, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot, lately, what with my case of Markus-Zusak-idolization-and-utter-copying-disorder.
    Sometimes I worry that reading will dampen my voice as my head becomes filled with other writers’ voices.
    This has yet to happen, my voice keeps springing right back up!

    • I worry about my voice becoming convoluted with other writers,’ too. Every time I read a book I really like I’m tempted to go back and re-write all my stuff in that author’s style; I have Sophie Kinsella, Jodi Picoult and Melissa Marr-esque versions of everything. My voice just sounds so dull next to theirs.

  2. Excellent post, Tilt, and it’s so true.
    I think of voice in writing as kind of like how people’s houses eventually come to smell like them (please tell me I’m not the only one who’s noticed this). After a while, if you just let your quirky you-ness come through, your manuscripts will start to…well, not SMELL like you, but take on some of your qualities.

  3. Avoid WUIs: Writing Under the Influence. haha. That tends to be a problem with us youngins…

    I’m not sure if I’ve found my true voice yet. When I write it’s definitely me, not the Meg Cabot it was when I was 11 (rofl). And when I go back and read my writing, I think it has feel to it. But it’s not a feel I’m particularly crazy about it – I hope to develop it. We’re all so young, & we have so many years ahead of us to develop a truly distinct voice. It’s an exciting thought.

  4. Wonderful post tilt :) I’m still trying to find my voice. I’m passionate about each and every one of my stories, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing them. I wouldn’t waste my time on something that I didn’t WANT to see written in front of me. But I don’t know what my voice is yet.

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