During my first few months of writing, I tried to think of how my words would sound if Julie Andrews were reading them aloud. I just figured, if I could imagine someone with a British accent saying it, it must be good. I think I even touted that as the key to writing among my family. What can I say? I was eighteen!
It didn’t take me long to realize the whole Julie Andrews test—though she seems like a lovely woman—didn’t constitute a great technique. Let’s face it: even an insurance policy can sound interesting in a British accent. While it may have given me confidence to launch my pursuits, it didn’t contribute anything to my development as an author. More importantly, it didn’t allow me to develop my own voice.
When I refer to my voice, I’m not talking about my literal voice, which I despise. Rather, we all have an inner voice that reveals who we are as individuals, and especially when we create something, we want it to shine through. Others may inspire us and might give us a guiding hand when we start out, but we never want to let their voice become ours.
In music, a number of different songs carry the same general message, but we continue jamming to the new ones that emerge. Why? Because we like hearing it come from different perspectives and voices. Similarly, many plots have already been done by someone else before us, but that shouldn’t make us despair. Rather, it should motivate us to give our readers what they’re looking for when they pick up our book: our individual voice.
Throughout my whole career, many people have spit-balled ideas at me about what I “should” write next. I hear them out, sometimes with a noncommittal chuckle, but I typically pack them away in File 13. On occasion, I’ll throw in a component of a suggestion I received just to tickle a friend, but I don’t use them to form a major aspect of the plotline. This isn’t because I feel like I’m too good for anybody’s input; it’s simply because it’s somebody else’s voice.
A lot of new authors worry editors will have this effect on their work. Some who probably found it hard to cooperate with an editor share horror stories about how they felt their voice was stripped of the book after it was edited. But this doesn’t have to be the case. From my experience, I’ll admit there are areas where a word or phrase isn’t my individual style…and I can pinpoint every one. For the most part, though, you can compromise by implementing your editor’s advice while still maintaining your voice.
Make no mistake, however: An outsider isn’t the only person who can taint your voice. Your own head can. Years after I learned the Julie Andrews trick wouldn’t cut it, I unknowingly altered my voice in the months following my first book deal. I didn’t even discover this until the past couple of months, when I began revising my manuscript from that period. As I review it, I see that my satisfaction and pride over my accomplishment comes through in it. Instead of writing with my usual candor, I took the role Authoor, having more of a narrator’s air with hints of Julie Andrews in it. I allowed my confidence to crowd out my voice, and the story suffered.
Regardless of where you are on your writing journey, work hard to develop your unique voice and keep hold of it. People want to hear it, and you never know the impact it might have on them. It may grow and evolve, but it should always remain authentically you.
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