Hi. I'm Jenna McGuiggan.
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Writing Masquerade: Finding Your Voice (In The Word Cellar)

my shadow (with crazy pigtail buns in my hair)

(Scroll down to the end of this post for a finding-your-voice prompt called Writing Masquerade.)

I have to be honest with you: I've started to dread writing these "In The Word Cellar" columns. This is only the sixth post in the series, and already I feel overwhelmed and worn out. Today I finally figured out why. I'd lost my voice. So today, I'm going to write about voice. (Ever hear the adage that we teach what we need to learn?)

Sometimes, when I really-really care about something, I freeze up. I get twitchy and over-analytical. I worry myself into a state of paralysis. Or worse, I start acting like someone who isn't really me. That's what happened with these posts about writing, because I really-really care about them. I'd seized up with too much caring.

I wanted you to trust me as a writer and a guide on this writing journey. But I was worried that you wouldn't. My go-to move when I feel frightened or insecure is to use logic. So I allowed my analytical left-brain to take over. And that darling leftie told me that I should sound smart for you. And then you'd trust me, right? Ugh. Is there anything worse than someone trying to sound smart? Oh, wait, there is: Someone trying to sound smart while simultaneously pretending they're NOT trying to sound smart. Ugh-ugh.

I love language. I thrill at the thought of telling a good story, of connecting with people through words, of creating something beautiful. Writing is my art and my passion. I wanted to share it with you so much that I lost my voice while trying to do it.

So enough. I'm not going to try to sound smart anymore. I'm going to share what I've learned about writing from my mentors and through practice. I invite you to share, too. You are an important part of this equation. This community can learn from its members. So share what you've got: questions, answers, observations. All of those things help us learn and grow as writers.

This is what I know about voice: We write best when we write in a voice that's true to ourselves.

But how do you find your writing voice? How do you develop a style?

You write. And write. And write. You practice the art and craft of spinning stories, of stringing together words to create meaning. You can also read writers that you love -- not so you can copy them, but so you can see what styles and topics interest you, what makes your heart sing. Follow the energy of what enlivens you. Be inspired to write with that energy.

Over time, your voice will emerge. It will be like that saying about pornography: You'll know it when you see it. You'll probably also find that you have more than one possible writing style. I have one basic voice here on my blog, but I have a different voice when I'm writing lyric essays. We're multifaceted people; it makes sense that we'd have different writing moves. Style, like language itself, is a living, changing entity that can evolve and morph over time.

Writing Masquerade
Here's a prompt to help you try on and tap into a few voices. Pretend the blank page or computer screen is a masquerade ball and you get to dress up your writing any way you like. You can play around with your words and your style, see what fits and what excites you.

(It might seem counterintuitive to talk about masks and pretending when the goal is to find our true voice. But trying something new or out of character can give us access to parts of our voice that we didn't realize we had.)

  1. Pick a topic or event to write about. It can be anything. (A few suggestions: your favorite part of the day; an encounter with a stranger; a childhood memory; your high school prom or graduation; the moment you realized that you were a grown-up.)
  2. For this experiment, you can write as much or as little as you like, but a few paragraphs is probably a good starting point.
  3. Now write about your topic in whatever style comes to mind at first. Don't think about this. Just write.
  4. Next, try on a few different writing voices. Write about the same topic again, but put on a different mask:
  • Be a Jester: Could you be funny in the piece? Play and have fun. Even sad topics can sometimes handle humor.
  • Be a Poet: What if you tried writing about your topic lyrically, with beautiful sensory details, imagery, and metaphors? Take a flight of fancy and see what gorgeous ideas you can string together. 
  • Be a Vixen: What's the dark, shadowy side that you're not telling us? Pull on this mask and let your inner bad-girl come out and play on the page. Let her be as sexy, as mysterious, or as mean as she wants to be. (Remember, no one else has to see it.)
  • Be a Queen: Own it, sister. Write like you mean it, every blessed word of it. Be strong. Write with authority. Write what you'd write if you ruled the land and could say whatever you wanted without consequence.

I hope you'll share your thoughts on voice and style and maybe a few of your masquerade experiments in the comments. And if you post something on your blog, please link to it!

**Post your writing questions in the comments or send them to jennifer{at}thewordcellar{dot}com.

In The Word Cellar runs on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month. Check out other posts in the series here.

Reader Comments (7)

Fantastic post and so timely. I have been struggling with "re-finding my voice" lately. Thank you so much for your very helpful and timely post.

Rebecca W.
May 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca W.
i totally dig this prompt (and these columns)
and your pigtails too...love that!
May 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commentervivienne
I loved this! It is perfect timing for me to read this too. I have been doing a lot of writing lately and I finally feel like I am discovering my voice and had that affirmed yesterday when several people read a small excerpt of my writing.

So happy I met you last year :)
May 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGeorgia
This is a great post! Thank you Jennifer. :)
May 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSteph
This post is amazing!

And so are you!

I'm sooooo glad you're my friend :)

I am blessed by your words ~ in person, in writing, and over the phone.

Thank you, dear Jenna!
May 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLisa
This is so great. Something I've never thought of trying in just this way. I will do it! Thanks for the great lesson and for knowing your own voice, even when you think you've lost it!
May 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmy
Hello Jenna.. nice post again. i lost my inner voice writing for stuff completely un-me. but well, liking it somehow now. can vagueness be a voice? i seem to have adopted it!
May 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRima Giri

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