A Question of Voice

KanakoKunoillustration by Kanako Kuno, courtesy of My Little Paris

Like the painter has a certain, recognizable brushstroke, the writer has a certain, recognizable voice. But how does one obtain such a voice? Are you born with a writer’s voice? Or do you breed it? How can you train it? And does it differ which language you express yourself in?

I can only speak for myself. If you want to write, you can and need to train your voice. I know that my voice differs whether I write in English or in Danish. And why shouldn’t it? I can recall my English teacher from high school; she changed completely when she spoke in Danish. Her tonation changed. Her voice became a little lighter. I also see this change when I read blogs – often Danish bloggers have a little recap of their post in English. You can tell that English is not their first language. That their vocabulary isn’t as vivid as it is in Danish. I’m pretty sure the same is true for me, but as I blog in English none of you can really tell 😉

What concerns me, though, is that since I blog in English I neglect my Danish writing skills. And as I would like to work in the Danish magazine business, this may not be a smart move. I console myself with Christopher Hitchens’ writing advice: I talk in Danish and I try to avoid stock expressions. Of course, I also write some journalistic pieces in Danish. And since I have lots of international friends and readers I wouldn’t like much to start blogging in Danish.

So what can you do to build up your very own voice?

I once read about a voice exercise (on a now closed blog). It goes like this: Pick a topic, and record yourself talking about it for 3-5 minutes. Then transcribe what you said. Now go through the transcript and find some words you use frequently (or more than once). These words are part of your speaking voice and very much a part of how you express yourself. Try to use these words and phrases when you write. And if there are any stock expressions in your transcript, try to weed them out of your vocabulary, spoken or written.

Another thing I do is keeping a document called ‘Words I Like’ on my desktop. Whenever I come across a new word or expression (Danish or English) I open it and add the word/expression. For example I stumbled upon the word ‘youthquake’ (explained here) and the expression ‘global sisterhood’ (regarding female bloggers). I can get inspired from articles, blog posts, songs, movies, TV-series, … everything! Urban Dictionary is also a great place to browse when you’re word-hungry.

That’s all, folks. Do you have any voice tips? Please do share.


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