A long time ago I realized I was never going to get rich as a writer. Then again, if you’re writing to make a lot of money or become famous, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.
Most writers never make any serious money at it. If I can make enough to buy a tank of gas and have enough left over to take my wife out to dinner at Friday’s, I’m a happy guy.
One of the questions non-writers and new writers ask is “How did you find your voice as a writer?” I answered it on a board for writers and thought I’d put the response here as well.
2. When did you make the discovery?
3. Did finding your voice ease the writing process for you? If so, how?
4. Lastly, any tips for finding one’s voice?
1. It took me about four or five years as a freelancer to find my “voice.” I had to get past the point where I was going beyond being my own harshest critic to actually blocking myself from being the writer I knew I could be.
I knew I had found my authentic voice as a writer when I no longer merely was a poor imitation of better writers I admired and naturally emulated. There’s nothing wrong with allowing ingredients of another’s writer as part of your own, but when you know you’re not speaking in your own voice, all you can be is second-rate copy of someone else.
2. I made the discovery after I had won a “Best Critical Writing/Analysis” award from a chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. When the award was handed out, it was in a hotel banquet hall and I was stunned by the fact that with the exception of my wife and myself, there wasn’t another person of color in the room. Even all the waiters were White.
That was when I knew whatever inferiority complex I might have when comparing my writing to others was all in my head. It was a moment of total clarity. From that point on I knew I didn’t have to take a backseat to anyone. The only thing that was stopping me from achieving my success was me.
3. Finding my voice as a writer liberated me from the self-imposed shackles I had placed upon myself. There are subjects I am not as skillful at as others and I don’t have the right stuff to make it writing fiction, but while I am still awed by how well some writers write, I know they don’t have any more talent than me. They may have just seized upon a opportunity that I missed or never had.
I’m not jealous or envious of any other writer. I don’t begrudge them their success. I’ve had my own and while they may be more modest and less lucrative, I’m just as happy and satisfied as they are.
4. Everyone has to find their way to their voice in their own way. There isn’t a “one size fits all” solution. Not at least any that I’ve found in the 17 years I’ve been at this.
Read the works of writers you enjoy and admire and figure out what they do that speaks to you. Don’t imitate them trying to become you. But don’t be afraid to find inspiration and guidance in what they have done.
Join a writer’s group. I’ve been part of one for five or six years now and it’s been an immense help. I need the immediate feedback from others whether I’ve written something brilliant or utter bullcrap. If you’re sensitive to criticism it will help you develop a thicker hide. The input of others helps shape you as a writer.
If you’re immune or indifferent to criticism you’re probably only writing for yourself anyway.
Oh, and write. Write a lot. Don’t worry about whether it’s good or bad. Writing a lot of stuff will eventually overwhelm the bad by the good. The alternative is being someone who talks about being a writer and does little more than talk.
I will pass on a quote that resonates with me:
You can take for granted that people know more or less what a street, a shop, a beach, a sky, an oak tree look like. Tell them what makes this one different. Write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.
~ Neil Gaiman