On Finding Your Voice In Writing

I’ve lost and found my voice multiple times when it comes to my writing. This August will mark my sixth year of blogging, so there’s certainly been enough time to evolve and falter and muddle through with a mixture of fashion, beauty, and the much more personal. Like any refining process, the longer I write, the easier I find it is to articulate my ideas in a way which not only feels authentic to the version of me endlessly babbling in my head, but which also leaves me feeling proud of my work (or at least nearly proud, because some pieces of writing inevitably end up as duds).

My first ever post discussed the merits of two £3.99 Nivea moisturisers. According to my opening blurb I was lusting after skin like Millie Mackintosh, which is still very much the case, although I’m not sure I’d be able to achieve that with a quick trip to my local Boots. Despite the difference in subject matter, and my weakened proclivity towards the overuse of exclamation marks (!!!!), I still recognise my own self in the writing. It’s my burgeoning, baby voice, finding its feet like a wobbly giraffe in a landscape of bigger, better, more established writers. But it’s budding, and it’s trying.

Six years later, I’m no longer floundering on my stilted legs. I’ve found my essence as it were, and with that has come more confidence, and with that confidence, more questions from people who love to write, asking how they can build on their own skill set. At this point internet decorum dictates that I should feign modesty, and say that I can’t believe anyone would ask me because omg I don’t even think I’m like, any good at writing LOL…? But that’s not true. I do think I’m a good writer - not the best of course, but certainly better than I used to be. And that’s through time, practise, making mistakes and taking risks: the natural process of any writer. This is my ‘thing’, as it were - the only thing I really feel I could be any good at in the long run. Some have sports, some have business acumen, some art or music or a flair for engineering. I have words and a tendency to exploit my own emotional vulnerability for the benefit of others' enjoyment. That’s my thing.

 

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Establishing your voice is certainly a process, however. Especially over the past few years, I’ve been hesitant of coming across as pretentious, and as such, at times I’ve almost dulled myself down so the tone is a little bit more palatable - a little bit more easy BuzzFeed reading as opposed to flamboyant literary description. That’s not to say either warrants more merit than the other, just that, naturally, I find myself falling into the latter camp (i.e. I’m a show-off). Often I would (and still do) get lost in the all-consuming fervour of writing and end up using words like all-consuming and fervour, when the subject matter probably didn't need such an illustrious use of nouns and adjectives. I would then catch myself, and simplify these passages of prose so that they didn’t seem excessive or too theatrical. Practically speaking, it also seemed the wiser commercial decision; brands often want a certain number of key campaign messages to be included in a caption or post, and anything beyond that, they’ll request to be trimmed down for fear of viewer’s dwindling attention span. That means less space to communicate your personality, humour, and individual tone, and more room for repetitive imitation: everybody eventually sounding the same.

I did this for a while, writing and then rewriting my posts with fewer indulgences in the satisfaction of frilly words, and more matter-of-fact, to-the-point conversation. And it works - it probably appeals to some people more, in fact - but it was like squeezing a toothpaste tube from the middle and not the end: there’s always something left, something unresolved, something ready to be released. I ended up with a Notes app full of half-chewed sentences and four-line stanzas of poetry which would never see the light of day. I teased myself with the temptation of writing decorative, ornate pieces on the minutiae of life, and then reeeeeled myself back in with more practical, grounded posts. As a result, I stopped wanting to write. It had become a formality for me, instead of a passion to be explored and enjoyed. I was going through the motions of pulling together a certain number of articles a month, but the joy had been dredged out of it. Instead I was walking around with a head full of ennuis and convivials and fortuitious’s: words I’d rediscovered and loved, but had no place for in my day-to-day duties.

Through a combination of self-doubt and reception anxiety, I was suffocating my own voice. I was taking something I had grown and was proud of, and I made it smaller and smaller still, until it was no longer my ‘thing’, it was just any old thing. I was reading books and posts and articles which set a fire beneath me with their beautiful artistry of words, and then I was doing the opposite of that for myself. It was creative self-destruction; a whittling down of something (seemingly) unique to something indistinguishable.

Eventually I realised that policing my own creativity was only going to lead to dead-end boredom. If you have a flair for fluffy and elaborate descriptions, you have to let it out. It’s like being constipated with adjectives - you have to find some Fybogel-eqsue relief or you’re going to burst. So I started dropping in a “fancy” word here and there, allowing myself the freedom to experiment and explore my natural style. The more I withdrew the boundaries, the more I started to enjoy the process again. The nuggets I had burrowed away in my Notes were no longer relegated to that which only I saw; they matured and they flourished, eventually blooming into some of the posts I’m most proud to have written. The more I practised - and allowed myself to practise without fear of judgement, either from myself or others - the better my writing became.

Retrospectively it seems so simple, but when you’re caught in a vortex of your own doubt, it isn’t so easy to distinguish your arse from your elbow. My advice then to writers honing their craft and searching for their voice is this: don’t place limitations on yourself. Worry less about how you’re perceived, and afford yourself the opportunity to write with natural freedom. You already know what’s in there - what’s in your core - so reveal it. Let your freak flag fly. Read often, and not just the things you like to read, but the things you wouldn’t naturally reach for, too. Try different formats and find the courage to share your words. Writing is such an intensely personal process, but there is a strength in revealing that vulnerability and you’ll find that in time, constructive criticism of your work is not felt as a criticism of your self (although I’m still working on that one, admittedly). And hey, not everything is going to be your best, but that doesn't mean it's completely devoid of value - I like to think of every piece of writing as a part of something bigger, whether I read it three weeks later and cringe, or whether I decide to work on it and develop it into something more. Let it be cathartic, let it be challenging, let it break your heart and build it up again - whatever it needs to be to finesse that individual story that only you can release.

In short: worry less, and write more.


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