Back in 2016, when I sent the first completed draft of The Five Wishes of Mr. Murray McBride to my agent at the time, she said the words I’d been waiting more than a decade and a half to hear: “You’ve found your sweet spot.”
She meant a couple things by that. First, she meant I had discovered the kind of story I like to write, and what I would write from then on. Stories of loss and redemption. Stories that illicit an emotional response from the reader. Not crime fiction or science fiction or romance, but what one reviewer called “tissue fiction.”
But more than having found my genre, the agent was saying something far more important. I had found my voice.
Voice is something writers struggle for years to find—or even to define. But in my experience, there is one sure-fire way to find your writing voice.
Write from your heart.
It sounds simple, and in a way it is. But in a way, it’s the hardest thing you can try to do as a writer. We learn so much about craft and structure and rules. Just tonight, may daughter told me her AP English teacher said she can’t use dashes in the middle of a sentence—something I do frequently—because it’s not grammatically correct.
I was about to start this paragraph with, “Putting aside the fact that I don’t even know if it’s grammatically correct…” but then I realized, we shouldn’t put that aside. Because voice has absolutely nothing to do with what’s correct. I’m going to repeat that because it’s the most important sentence in this post—Voice Has Absolutely Nothing To Do With What’s Correct!!!
Voice doesn’t care about the rules. Heck, sometimes voice is created by the way you, as an author, break the rules. It becomes your calling card. Also known as your voice.
So, when it comes to voice, ignore the rules. It’s always a good idea to understand the rules before you break them, and ignoring grammar without intent can lead to unreadable prose. But once you know the rules (or, in my case, at least enough of them) then it’s time to focus on the one thing that will bring out your voice—writing from the heart.
I’m sure there are a million ways an author can write from the heart. The best way I’ve found is to truly imagine yourself in your character’s shoes. It takes a lot of creativity and empathy to pull this off, but I’ve found a secret. I write in first-person, present tense.
Some people hate writing in first-person present tense, but I love it. If I write a chapter in third-person past, and then write the same chapter in first-person present, I’ll have two completely different chapters. And almost every single time, the first-person present is much, much better.
Because, for me, first-person present allows me access to my character’s mind and heart. And when I say “write from your heart,” what I really mean is, “write from your character’s heart.”
I know it’s not for everyone, but if you’re a writer struggling to find your voice, give it a try. Whether it’s something you decide to stick with or not, I think it will at least change your writing. And if you haven’t yet found your “sweet spot,” a change might be just what you need.