Voice. That word keeps coming up when you start submitting to agents or publications. They're looking for a great voice, a voice that keeps them reading, a unique voice that tells a story the way only it can. I remember throwing up my hands in frustration whenever I saw that word. "Well what is voice? And how the hell am I supposed to get it?" There are no "voice courses" because voice isn't something that can be taught.
I'm not even sure it's something that's completely understood. It's this thing we just kind of feel. It's the difference between reading a Stephen King novel and a Creepypasta. You know when you're reading a Stephen King novel, even if the cover was ripped off and you only had a bunch of loose pages in your hand. Voice is the reason we can say things like "Stephen King is the Bruce Springsteen of speculative fiction." Well, not we. I guess I said that, once, and no one else is tripping over themselves to repeat it.
Voice is as abstract as it gets. It's not craft, composition or grammar. It's not something you can study and practice. It's the artiest part of writing. So obviously there's no hope. Right? Either you have it or you don't. And if you don't, good luck getting published, and say goodbye to making a living as a writer.
Well, not exactly.
I've always been worried about voice. It's one of the million things I worry about on the low days, when I'm convinced that none of what I ever wrote was good, and everyone's about to call me out for the fraud I am. All because I don't have voice. Craft? I mean, give me enough time and I'll polish that into a diamond. Grammar? Yeah, sure, it's basically witchcraft to me right now, but the more I do it, the better I'll get.
But voice? What's the road map for that? How do you know you're getting closer?
I don't know yet.
"Plus, your voice as a writer is so strong."
That comment came from an editor at one of the publications I've written for. So...I'm already there? I've got voice? I can now make millions and retire, rich and happy?
No. Not at all. But, I think I have figured out the first stumbling steps on this path to having a distinctive voice.
I've been writing, hardcore, seriously, for 2+ years now. That's (nearly) every day, for 600+ days. I've tried to read as much in that amount of time, though I haven't always done a great job of it. I'm the writer equivalent of a toddler. I've just started to walk, so while I'm not qualified to give lectures on the topic, I'll babble about it to all my toddler friends.
Here's where I think voice starts. When you're about to write a sentence, and you think to yourself "No, I can't write that, what will people think?" that's you killing your voice. If those moments happen, it's because your voice is trying to emerge. It's just started poking out of the dirt. It's trying to say something that's true, that comes from the deepest part of you (either your soul, or your spleen, I'm not sure yet).
While writing the article that got that comment from that editor, I had those moments. I'd write something and immediately think "oh no, they're going to hate this." But they did not, in fact, hate those bits. More than that, those bits contributed to an article with strong voice.
That thing I didn't even think I had.
So what's the takeaway? I don't know yet. I haven't figured out this voice thing yet. I'm only starting to grasp what I need to do to get it. If you were expecting an actual answer in this post, I'm almost sorry.
Oh, and by the way, that comment came when I was least worried about voice. So I know worrying is not the answer.
Quit worrying. Write a lot. Write as true as you possible can. Someone's always going to hate what you write anyway, so you might as well give them a damn good reason.