On Finding Your Voice As A Writer
How the different phases of my writing life helped me find my voice
Voice is a murky thing when it comes to writing, but if you listen to any creative writing podcast, agent, or editor, they’ll usually say, “It just jumps out at you when it’s good.”
So what immediately comes to mind when you think of voice? Is it Stephen King’s penchant for trapped characters? Could voice be something as distinctively… controversial as the quiet and meek Bella Swan in Twilight attracting the vampire of her dreams? Or do you think of Toni Morrison, Octavia Butler, James Baldwin?
In the most mainstream terms, voice is defined (in this Writing Cooperative piece) as:
It’s you, as a person, that gives life to the writing: you offer emotions and feelings to the characters.
Voice can be comprised of the tone, personality, and rhythm of what you’re writing. A writer more versed in thriller and action may have a voice that relies on witty dialogue and fast-paced scenes. A romance writer may have a voice that is more flowery and observational while a YA writer may throw in more humor and dark moments. In my opinion, voice is something that has a core to it and also has the capacity to change, which is why I’m breaking down the different phases of my writing life and what “voice” my work occupied during that time.
Breaking down “voice” throughout the different phases of my writing life
#1 The Short Story and Fan-Fiction Years (2006-2011)
I first fell in love with writing when I was 12 years and assigned to write a short story by a teacher. The rest is history. I remember rushing home on numerous afternoons to start my next short story. All of them revolved around suburban kids throw into fatal situations and usually involved some kind of mystery.
These were also the years that I dove heavily into online writing communities for young adults and teenagers, like Wattpad, Mibba, and FanFiction. By diving FAST into my creative practice with quick short stories and sappy fanfiction, I learned the importance of concise narratives, doing your research on the world of your story, and having fun in the process!
My Creative Inspirations: reading a lot of R.L. Stine (whether it be Goosebumps or his horror geared towards teenagers), lots of Nancy Drew, the GONE series by Michael Grant, and I hate to say, the Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer.
What I wrote: a dozen or so short stories about kids being kidnapped, escaping slasher, etc. A middle-grade novel. Four YA novels ranging from vampire fiction, murder mystery, and zombie fiction. Even a short film script. A lot of fanfiction (my favorite of which was probably, the Harry Potter fan fiction following the Dark Lord’s son during the year he transfers to Hogwarts during the Tri-Wizard Tournament).
A peek into something I wrote ⬇ : A short story excerpt from 2010. Can you tell that I had just read a bunch of Junot Diaz that semester?
#2 The Beatnik Years (2011-2015) + Writing a student newspaper column.
I read a lot of Jack Kerouac. I went to a lot of poetry nights, then would drink PBR at the biker bar afterward. During my senior year, I penned a weekly column in The Post newspaper titled “Straight for the Jugular”. I tackled systemic racism, lackluster administration responses to student protests, and the general psyche of an energetic student activist. I had some writing highs and some lows that involved being rightfully called out for problematic language. You live and you learn.
My creative inspirations: Did I mention that one night in college I cried after making out with a boy I didn’t really like that much, had my friend walk me home, buy me gummy worms, and read “On the Road” to me until I fell asleep? Well, yes that happened. And I also took a summer job in Yellowstone in 2014 to find the Great West.
What I wrote: Lots of heartbreak poetry. Joined a slam poetry group my junior year. Wrote two short play scripts as a part of a student theatre company. Plenty of speeches for political rallies. Lots of short stories for classes.
Notes on my writing voice: I appreciate this phase of my writing life so much and the fact that I didn’t become bogged down by academia’s idea of what a literary citizen or writer is. Instead, I dove into creative activities outside of class, met other poets/writers, etc, and learned about the different ways that I could express myself.
A peek into something I wrote ⬇ : An excerpt from a YA novel I wrote during my junior year in college.
#3 You’re a blogger, right? (2015-2016)
My creative inspirations: At the time, I was watching a lot of Youtube and reading a lot of travel vlogs, and mourning the end of my “young adulthood” since I’d just graduated college. Working two summers a row in Montana gave me a lot of time to reminisce on the new experiences I was having living in Montana, then Seattle, then Montana, then Ohio again, all in the span of about 18 months.
What I wrote: I kept a blog called “Decolonize The Mind” to write about my travels and emotions after graduating college.
Notes on my writing voice: It was fun delving into more episodic writing and trying to find ways to convey and ground my very few readers into the moments that I experienced, especially while traveling.
A peek into something I wrote ⬇ : In retrospect, it was both a way to process my life at the time and also an entryway into being comfortable with writing creative non-fiction. It showed me that writing even one new thing a month can drastically change our craft and pave new paths.
#4 A baby freelance writer (2017- Present)
My creative inspirations: Allison Maloney helped me understand the freelancing game and allowed me to pitch her while she worked as an editor at Teen Vogue. From there. Also, I was in South Korea, had no money, and was desperate to DO ANYTHING to make some bucks.
What I wrote: I started writing for Teen Vogue, then Daily Dot, and AfroPunk to start.
Notes on my writing voice: This was one of the first journalistic interviews I did. I interviewed the mother of Darius Smith. To start my freelance journalism career with this story was very moving and reminded me that marginalized people deserve to be treated with the utmost respect by the media.
A peek into something I wrote ⬇
#5 “Oh, you writing books again?” (Present)
My creative inspirations: Some of the books that have inspired me most over the past few years and have influenced my writing style:
HEAVY by Kiese Laymon | A really good talk between Kiese Laymon and his writing peers for Stand Bookstore’s Youtube.
What I wrote: In 2016, the idea of writing a memoir started rolling around in my head. In 2018, I decided to spend the spring in France, where I found out many personal things that compelled me to get started on the project. Circa March 2020, I finished the first full manuscript of my debut memoir, which is now on submissions. And to date, I’ve written 53,000 words on a new project, a YA novel about a black boy in the 1980’s South.
Notes on my writing voice: I am grateful that I’m getting back into fiction now after intensively writing journalism and creative non-fiction the past few years. More than anything, in these excerpts I share in my RESIDENCY READING, I am trying to get at desire and the persistence of memory.
A peek into something I wrote ⬇ :