Biters and Writers: Finding Your Own Voice

Crest of HMS Biter

NOM NOM TRIDENT. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I first started writing a lot, I found that my voice…wandered. I tended to sound most like whatever I was reading at the time. Which was particularly entertaining when I was reading Victorian gothics. My grammar will never be so good again.

Everyone does it, I think. We don’t really know what good writing sounds like coming from us, so we borrow. We try things out. And, for a while, it works, though it makes us a biter, a swagger jacker, a bloody copycat. It happens. That’s how we learn. Monkey see, monkey write.

But this should be a stage. Eventually you should outgrow it. It’s like a cast: it helps for a while, but leave it on too long and you’ll cripple yourself. And smell, because, dude, those things get ripe.

When you first start, you’ll probably sound like a lot of people. Authors you like. Occasionally authors you don’t like, which is irritating, especially when you can’t put your finger on why. Family, friends, other novelists/screenwriters/bloggers…they’ll all be potential targets. You’ll be trying on new styles and structures like a teenage girl trying a new distinctive style every week, looking desperately for an identity: jock to princess to goth to punk to hippie.

And there’s nothing wrong with using that as a stepping stone. But you should always be moving on, pushing past, figuring out what your voice is. And part of that is jettisoning the pieces you’ve borrowed from others. Otherwise, how are you ever going to know what you sound like?

Sooner or later, you cut away the excess and figure out what your style is. You keep the black eyeliner from the punk days, but add a hockey t-shirt* and some yoga pants and a superhero hoodie. And big leather riding boots, because fuck it.** You’re perfectly happy with your hybrid punk-jock-nerd-whatever. Likewise, you’ll learn to be happy with your mutant writing style. It won’t be anyone else’s. And you wouldn’t want it to be.

I have grown accustomed to my rapid-fire, fragmentary, snarling, profanity-and-ridiculous-metaphor laden style. Apparently, this blog has gotten to the point where people who have met me in real life now read every entry in my voice.*** I assume the rest of you read it in what you think my voice sounds like. But the point is, it’s mine.

Everyone’s got their own thing, their own distinctive style. Find yours. And don’t be satisfied with anyone else’s. It’s not fair to them or you.

*In other news: OHMYGODHOCKEYISBACK. Or will be soon. Whatever. Now you don’t need to witness the grim spectre that would be me going through the cold months without seeing burly Russian men beat each other with sticks.
**This image is brought to you by my mirror.
***I have a deeper voice than a lot of women. Aaaaaand now you’re all picturing Barry White reading this.

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4 thoughts on “Biters and Writers: Finding Your Own Voice

  1. No doubt–you have a distinct style and voice, Bare Knuckle.

    I don’t give much thought to mine, though people tell me my style is straight forward and non-flowery. One guy described it as masculine. I love George R. R. Martin’s style, but couldn’t get close to being like it. Overall, I believe my style is close to Louis Lamour’s. I didn’t realize this until a few months back when I reread one of his books.

    Thanks for the post!

    • Man, I loved the Louis L’amour books when I was a kid. Westerns, sci-fi, and comics were my staples.

      There’s lots of writers that I enjoy that I know I would never write like. Stephen King, for example. Neil Gaiman. Tamora Pierce. I learned things from them, but I’m not them.

  2. Actually, I kinda hear a feminine Bruce Campbell when I read some of your posts…..

    This message brought to you by the letters “O” and “Y.”

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