The swashbuckling red-headed author, Jason Fox, springs to mind when thinking about writers who have a distinctive voice. He writes like a modern-day gentleman pirate-on-a-mission, captaining a fine ship on a mysterious quest, laughing heartily as the faint-hearted jump overboard.

Lois P Frankel, author of Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office, is another shining example of a Clarion writer’s voice. Hers is a no-nonsense, hard-hitting tone that is ever so slightly scathing. She pulls apart the myths that hold women back from triumphing in the workforce with all the delight of a kid de-winging a fly. I nearly replaced that horrible image, but I had to leave it there. It seems to fit.

Such consummate authors scare us. They turn us from rabbits to turtles. Instead of tearing along, enjoying the wind in our hair and the exhilaration of taking great leaps forward, we toddle along heavily, sniffing the air for signs of danger and twitching back into our shell at every instant.

How then can we unleash our inner rabbit, pirate or hard-boiled investigator? And does it even matter if we have a voice?

Voice is a choice

Do you speak with a client the same way you would talk to a two-year-old? Of course not. We instinctively choose the voice we use to communicate. With kids, we use simpler words, shorter sentences and more straightforward ideas. We even speak at a higher pitch. 

The secret to choosing your writer’s voice lies in understanding your audience. You may be surprised to find that Fox is not a pirate. But he does have pirate tendencies and loves imagining that he is a pirate. His writer’s voice is both authentic and a choice. He works with innovative leaders, so he doesn’t write in a stuffy way.  

Amy Alkon, author of I See Rude People, writes with a voice of righteous indignation. She’s writing for those of us who are churning with fury over with the decline of manners in the modern world. It makes for a hilarious read and a new take on many etiquette books the world has seen.

The camera is in close-up

The advent of movies (yes, way back then, I’m talking about) meant actors had to rethink their approach. On stage, actors use sweeping gestures and exaggerated expressions to convey their emotions. On film, the camera catches the twitch of an eyebrow. Actors learned to tone it right down, especially with the advent of the close-up (an Australian innovation by the way).

Don’t be lavish with the flourishes that convey your personality as a writer. Start with a big dash, and then pull back. We understand what is unique about Fox, Alton and Frankel from their first words. But then they turn to more important matters: the ideas they are trying to convey. Just a dab here and there, a highlight, a turn of phrase is enough. Twitch the eyebrow; don’t get melodramatic.

It’s what you say that matters

Your writing must come from a deep passion for your ideas and your audience. This is, in the end, more important than finding your writer’s voice. The first step towards publishing is to shift the focus from ourselves and our writing towards our audience and the ideas we want to share with them. While a distinctive way of writing makes us memorable, it can also be a distraction from the real aim. Each writer I have named is driven by a need to share their ideas with passion and conviction. This leads on to my next point.

Start shedding and sharing

The Buddhists say that we get what we want when we stop searching for it. As infuriating as that idea is, it’s germane to this post. Strip away ideas of what is right and wrong, good and bad and focus on what you want to say. Say it with as much simplicity as you can with a clear audience in mind. As much as we want to discover a personal, authentic expression of ourselves as writers, we are not going to find it by looking but by letting go of our fears.

Without fear, you will share more about yourselves and build trust with your readers. Share your weaknesses and struggles. We don’t want instructions; we want stories. Your writers voice will come, trust me.

PS: Want more? You might like: Who am I to write a book?