Whose Voice?

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As a novice writer I keep reading about the importance of having an authentic voice and I have been really grappling with this concept. I understand that it is about; writing from the heart, writing as one speaks, writing from experience, being true to self etc, but how the heck does that translate for me?

One thing I am discovering on this writing pilgrimage is that parallel to the characters I am creating, I seem to be on a journey of self-discovery. It seems with each new manuscript, I am learning or uncovering something about myself, which I think is part of this search for an authentic voice. My characters all seem pretty strong but I want to make sure I expose a little of their vulnerability too.

One interesting part of this search is the whole revision/editing process. I received my first professional editorial evaluation a month or so ago and It blew me away. Firstly I realized how attached I was to my creation and so the critique felt, just for a few seconds, personal, and then I became so excited about the prospect of growth and improvement for my story and protagonist, I felt truly grateful for my editor’s insights. Just as I embrace honest, constructive input from friends, who are not trying to change me, but do want to help validate the true me, so I really appreciate good critique partners and editors who are supporting me to find that authentic voice. I have talked about following one’s passion in the past and because I feel like I can’t help but write, I have this sense that my life is going through some wonderful and challenging revision. So I am assuming the more I write, the more my authentic, inner voice will find words, because it cannot be silenced.

Another discovery is the fine line between writing for your audience and writing what you think people will want to read, rather than what you know is more appropriate for your story/characters.  I see I have a tendency to want to add in humor where it isn’t necessary because I have a marketing voice telling me that humor sells!  Now I love funny, don’t get me wrong, but an authentic voice knows when it is appropriate.

A recent revelation is helping me understand how an authentic voice doesn’t mean you write exactly the same way for each story, as your voice will manifest differently through different protagonists.  Recently I was chatting about the holocaust in France to a French friend in French, and added something in English. She, not being used to hear me in English but understanding me completely, said how different I sounded. So I said “you should hear me in German!” and proceeding in this language, she was again amazed at a “third Joanna”. Tone, pitch, rhythm, intonation, word length, sentence structure etc all change how we sound in each language. I then started to talk about how I felt I came across as a little more serious in French because my Anglo-Saxon humor, while translatable, just wasn’t as funny for the French, so inevitably after years of trying to explain my obvious wit *sigh*, I attempt less jokes these days. So am I a different person in each language? No, I believe I am just as authentic, but you will discover different sides of me in different languages.

I also think asking myself the question each time I start a manuscript, “What do I want children to go away with when they have finished my book?” is also helping me discover my voice. This could be beginner’s naivety, but I I hope that my reader will tuck away a little bit of truth that will help them discover what their own voice is.

I think if we are writing with our authentic voice we will inevitably include bits of ourselves in our writing, even if the setting is far removed from our personal experience. I believe a sensitive reader will recognize and respond to this.

I am sure it takes time to develop this authenticity in one’s writing, but it is an essential goal for each of us. I feel if I keep writing what’s within and don’t try to force a style or voice, it will happen naturally. How do you perceive having an authentic voice?


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8 Responses to Whose Voice?

  1. Such a lovely reflection, Joanna. I just wanted to share that this is also an issue among us academics whenever we write narrative research reports/studies. I am more of a qualitative researcher so it is extremely important for me to be true to my respondents’ voices, and to fully represent their authentic experiences that would be meaningful to them and not just my target audience in an international academic journal.

    I honestly can not wait for your book to be published. It would be an honor to review it and we’d love to feature you in our BehindtheBooks where we interview authors/illustrators. As early as now, I’d like to make sure that you include us in your blogtour. =)

    • Joanna says:


      Thank you so much for your comment. It was fascinating to read how this topic translates to academic narratives and how you are sensitive to both the reader’s perception and to the respondent’s voice, not an easy balancing act.

      I was very touched by your encouragements about my not-yet to-be-published books. I will most certainly be honoured to include BehindtheBooks in my blogtour.

  2. Patricia Tilton says:

    A very thoughtful and beautiful post. I recognized some time ago, that when you are truly passionate about your subject, that I was hearing your authentic voice. The articles you have written like this one, and those about your beautiful country, what Home means to you and your passion about endangered species, allows us to hear your authenticity. You have beautiful gift, waiting to take wings.

    I so enjoyed your discussion about how your voice, intonation, tone and pitch change when you speak French, English and German. Americans don’t have that opportunity that so many do in Europe. Speaking so many languages fluently, would add another dimension to that inner voice. You write in English, I wonder how your voice would sound if your wrote stories in in French?

    Enjoyed this post very much!


    • Joanna says:

      Thank you for the insights and encouragements, Pat. You are correct, I am indeed discovering that authenticity is linked to passion!

      I am very thankful for the language learning opportunities I have had in my life and they do influence my thought life. I also love playing with words; I love the sound of words in different languages, I even love grammar, always have! I am not sure how my languages will play directly into my writing, but I am sure they will.

  3. Diane says:

    Another interesting post Joanna.

    I sat here thinking for awhile after reading and remembered one of my staff commenting on the fact that I sound almost deep South American when speaking to a Perusian couple on holiday here and when I was helping an asian couple one of the staff thought I actually understood the language because my tone and the way I spoke sounded almost Asian, I love languages, (although I only speak english and a very tiny bit of “tourist” german), I find this challenging in the writing world. I know that when I first received my novel back from the freelance editor she asked if I had difficulty discovering my voice… I never knew what she really meant till after I took Emma’s course.
    Its true what Pat says that if you have a passion about something the writing flows more freely and there is a part of you in it. It knows its voice, and yes it will take flight. My problem is I have trouble letting go.

    This is a topic that would do well for discussion on the “Hub” Joanna. I know I would benefit from it. Thankyou for this thought provoking post.

    • Joanna says:

      Diane, it sounds like you have a real capacity to empathize with people from other cultures.

      I think this is a challenging issue for many writers, Diane, which is why I was trying to unpack it a little for myself. I think you are very right about the need to surrender as part of the process of finding one’s voice. Yes, I think we could make it a hub discussion at some point.

      “Bitte schön”

  4. This post is spot on, Joanna! I think one’s voice and being able to write in one’s own voice comes with practice, and with — as Dianne so perceptively said — with letting go. Like many of the intangibles in life, the more one pursues and tries to grasp at it, the more it eludes. That is perhaps why one’s voice comes across so much more clearly with a topic one is passionate about — because then one is lost in the task of sharing one’s message, and, being caught up in that, is less aware of trying to sound in any certain way, and just lets the words spill out onto the page.

    The words are the boat which will carry our ideas to the world, but we’ll never get anywhere until we set off from shore and let the words and the thoughts carry us.

    • Joanna says:

      I like the metaphor, Beth, and I can tell you have thought a lot about this. Those best writing moments are when I am almost racing to keep up with the thought flow and have no time to “try” and project a certain voice.

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