Your writing voice reflects the unique way in which you view the world. You don’t want to sound like anyone else but you. A writer’s voice is like an artist’s signature. It is unique to the work and cannot be copied.
Having your own unique voice is ideal for college and scholarship application essays! You don’t want to sound like a cookie-cutter copy. In order to stand out, you should sound like you!
But how do you find your voice?
If you want to be good at writing you must read. Read a lot. Don’t just read what you love, read it all. Pick up fiction and non-fiction. Read business magazines and trashy novels. The words you read expand your writing. The more you read the more tools you have to work with.
If you’ve been given an assignment read everything you can get your hands on about that topic. Your vocabulary will expand, you’ll naturally discover a specific style of writing to the subject matter and/or industry, and it will reflect in your own voice.
A writer’s voice is learned, and it reflects what he or she knows. Fill your head with knowledge and it will naturally flow through your pen.
Free write, stream of consciousness write, just get your essay onto the page. Don’t edit as you go, save that for later. Get the it down as it is in your head. The moment you stop writing is the moment you lose the momentum. Don’t stop. Keep writing.
To capture the rhythm of your voice, write as if you are telling a story or essay out loud to a friend. Ignore grammar, ignore the rules, the cadence of your spoken voice will flow into your work.
Don’t wait until you have an assignment to search for your voice. Write daily. Practice the craft. Use your writing for a time of self-reflection and discovery. Journal, blog, write short stories, or write letters. Set a daily word count goal. Find a way to creatively express yourself without the overhanging pressure of a grade. The more you practice the better you will get.
You have to turn off the self-edit when writing. I cannot emphasize this enough. Do not write what you think is required. Do not add words that are not authentic to who you are to impress your teacher. Engage with the instructor with your own voice. Experiment some.
Your teacher wants to hear from you, not from the person you assume she thinks you want to be. She wants to hear your biases, your strengths and weaknesses, and see your truths displayed on the page in the context of the assignment. She wants to see you engage with the topic and how it bounces around in your brain. She isn’t interested in what all the greats before you have to say. She wants to know if you understand the material and are learning.
Sound like you.
Don’t second guess yourself. Wait for the edit. Wait until you have all of your first drafts down on the page. Then you can go back and correct spelling and grammar where necessary. Be careful when you are editing though to not remove your unique voice.
In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes “There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go—but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.”
Sometimes, in order to find yourself you just have to write.
Here are a few more resources to guide you on discovering your writer’s voice:
The secret to great writing is practice. Here you will find questions to use as writing prompts to help you discover your unique voice.
If you feel stuck these will help you get started.
Towards the end of the article, there are some great exercises to help you become comfortable writing in your voice.
Write what comes naturally to you. Use your experiences, your hopes and fears, your vocabulary to convey the truth behind what you are writing. Who you are shapes your words. Finding your voice and keeping it is a discipline. Make sure you are heard by keeping yours uniquely you.
Again, it’s especially important to have an individual voice for your college application essays as well as any scholarship essays. Your own voice can also help you out in school papers and other assignments. Any time you need to be memorable, having a unique voice will be beneficial.
Overtime your voice will develop naturally. The more you read and write the better you will get.