Developing Your Voice as a Writer


I remember a time in my life when I was afraid of the truth, when the words gripping my soul refused to dislodge from their comfortable silence. The bondage of fear that made me feel like there was an invisible muzzle strapped to my face. The mask I wore, used to cover the pain in my heart, and I struggled to share the truth, because I was afraid of what it would cost me.

Words are powerful. They are transformative in nature. Words create and dismantle worlds, build and destroy live. Words change atmospheres and hearts. Wherever your find yourself right now, words led you there. A conversation, a set of beliefs, something you read or heard, has set the trajectory for who you have become.

What a responsibility we have in this world, with our words.

As we lead across our various contexts, written and verbal communication is necessary. I treasure a piece of paper (any kind) and a pen (fine point sharpie or fine uniball vision pen, thank you very much) and I love to develop my own written voice and help others do the same. You have something to say friend and I hope to help you say it.

Twenty years ago, a creative writing teacher encouraged me, “Write the truth Ashley! You have to write what you know.” I smiled. I nodded… But, I thought: What I know? The truth? What will they think about my truth? Does my truth, my story, really even matter?

For most of us, fear of what others think has hindered or even silenced our voice. Instead of truth-telling, we mask, hide, pretend, and sometimes fear clogs our pipes. Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

That's why I am committed to truth-telling. It’s honest, loving, generous and kind. When we share our stories, without shaming or blaming others, people find freedom. Isn’t it the best when you sit with your jaw on the floor as you read something that agrees with you and exhale loudly, “Me too.”

The truth in love is like salve for the soul.

Fellow truth-teller, here are some tips to help you develop your voice as a writer:

Ruthlessly tell the truth. The truth is clear, loving, personal, honest. The truth just feels good. Even when it wounds, it feels so right somehow. Ernest Hemingway said, “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” We don’t have to tear people down to share our story. Keep it about you.

Write first, edit later. Just write. Your first draft will be awful, but after procrastinating by cleaning your house, eating a bag of tortilla chips and crying over your keyboard, you might just strike gold.

Remember basic grammar and syntax. Before I get into this, a disclaimer: Just because you struggle with spelling, or structuring sentences does not mean you should not be writing. We each come from different educational backgrounds. We are not all given equal opportunities to learn and create. Please friend, if God created you to write, write. Grammar can be learned. Syntax, which is arranging phrases and words to craft well-formed sentences, can be practiced. Your brain is beautiful and God made it to grow and develop. You’re not stuck where you are; you can master this craft. Write, re-write, and re-write again. Move paragraphs around, ponder your word choice, revise sentences, and delete useless or repetitive words and phrases that weaken your voice.

Your audience is smart. Allow people the honor of entering your story, the privilege of learning with you. We all like to think for ourselves. Try not to explain what is already implied. Jesus himself asked questions and told confusing stories that pressed people to think, to ponder, to consider the realities of their life. Do more relating and sharing, than teaching and preaching. Care for your readers, who are real people with real pain. Show, don't tell.

Read your writing out loud. This is one of the best practices I have learned in recent years. As you read, if you stumble over a sentence, a phrase, or a thought, hone in and re-work it until it’s smooth like butter, baby. If you stumble, chances are, your readers will too.

Read. Please do not call yourself a writer if you are not a reader.

Set a time to write. Consistency is key. Five minutes in your journal is not too little. I heard someone once say, “A little a lot is better than a lot a little.” Join a writer’s group, start a small group for writers, take a class — do whatever helps you write consistently.

Be you. Write because you were created to write. There is no one like you in all the Earth. Your voice is unique and it matters to God and to the rest of us. Don’t worry if you aren’t like so and so. Grow in your gift, not someone else’s.

You're brilliant, and we need what you bring. Happy writing, friends.

“Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, how alive am I willing to be?” Ann Lamott, Author of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life