I'm a relatively new writer and sometimes I feel like my writing is too bland and that I'm struggling to develop my writer's voice. Does anyone have any good tips? Thanks
Just keep writing. Writing is something you have to (and can) learn. So allow yourself the time (and many failures) to do so. Think of writing as being similar to learning a language or learning a craft. Practise makes perfect.
Write what you care about. If you are not emotionally involved in what you write about, it will not touch your readers either.
Since I do not know you, and people care about different things, I cannot recommend what that might be for you. But generally it helps if you put something of yourself into your characters, and something of your own experiences into your story. The despair you have felt when your first boy-friend dumped you can inform your portraial of a mother losing her first child; you love of Japanese manga can serve as a basis for the dedication of a scientist for his research. While the individual experiences differ, the basic emotions are the same across all people and allow us to feel compassion and understand each other. So use this to transfer what you know to what you haven't yet experienced yourself.
Have fun. If writing is torture, reading will be torture. Be honest with yourself and write only if you actually enjoy writing. Some people enjoy the idea of being a writer, but don't actually enjoy writing itself. You won't be successful if you do not enjoy the process, and would have both more joy in life and more success with whatever you do if you found out what you really want to do and did that. If you experience a lack of joy in writing, have the courage to explore your interests and do something else.
Maybe you already have a voice. It is difficult for writers to judge their own voices. You live with your voice all day long, in your head, so it seems normal to you, and boring. Other people (most of whom exist outside your head to some extent) don't live with your voice all day long.
What do other people say about your voice?
That said, I think there are things you can do to explore and refine your own voice. I like playing with writing exercises. Two kinds:
Goldilocks exercises. Pick something that you can vary about your writing. Sentence length, say. Take something you've written and rewrite it using sentences no longer than 10 words (or 7 if 10 is too easy). Notice the effects. Then rewrite it again using sentences no shorter than 25 words (or 35). Notice the effects. Given everything you learned from those two rewrites, rewrite one more time, focusing on how you can use sentence length to get the effects you want.
You can use goldilocks exercises for anything that you can use more of or less of. Like description. Describe a setting using no more than seven words. Describe the same setting using no more than 100 words. Notice the effects.
Tie one habit behind your back exercises. Pick any feature of writing. Rewrite a scene with no uses of that feature. None. Zero. No form of the verb "to be." No adjectives. No dialogue. No exposition. Notice what challenges that poses for you. Notice what you have to do to overcome those challenges. Now you know more ways to do whatever you normally do with "to be" or adjectives or exposition. Given what you've learned, rewrite your scene focusing on the effects of thing you just experimented with.
One more that doesn't fit into either of those categories: The Horrible Awful Brutal Word Count Massacre. Take a scene you've written. Remove ten percent of the paragraphs. Then remove ten percent of the remaining sentences. Then remove ten percent of the remaining words. Try to cut the least important paragraphs, sentences, and words, but you will have to cut things that matter. Count the words. That's your word count limit. Rewrite the scene to say everything the original scene said, but without exceeding your word count limit.
Choices. None of these exercises is about what it seems to be about on the surface. Eliminating "to be" is not (really) about eliminating "to be." It's about discovering the effects of "to be," and alternative ways to achieve those effects. That gives you choices. Same for sentence length. Same for word count. When you play with one variable, you learn unexpected things about other variables.
Each is about noticing the choices at your disposal, and the effects of those choices. Once you are aware of the possibilities, you can make the choices consciously for a while. Then they will fade into the background and become incorporated into the voice you are developing.
Your choices are your voice.
I always considered "finding your voice" something vague and meaningless, like "finding your inner you" or "finding your true self".
What happens in reality is this: you copy your favorite writers, and then, gradually, their style starts merging with yours (that is to say, your own feelings, your own thoughts).
Personal example: I started by writing like Haruki Murakami, but I don't like jazz so I don't include it in my writing. Neither cats, wells, or Japan (since I don't live in that country). I did keep his lyrical prose, surrealism, and use of metaphors, though--then mixed all that with my love for science, rationality, and philosophy. Also, I don't agree with writing a story that doesn't have a clear theme/meaning, so I decided not to pick that from him (he's still my favorite writer, though).
So, don't think too much about it. Just write.
And be careful, many writers use this finding-my-voice thing to procrastinate, to have an excuse to not to write.
I'm not the best at writing, but I do know a couple of things for you to remember if you still can't find your "voice".
Here is a quote:
This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.
Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length.
And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important. - Gary Provost
and remember, don't count words, count moments, and the detail that you put in to them needs to reflect the pace of what's happening.
I have two tips.
This probably sounds strange at first. But I find some similarities between writing and speaking. You learned your speaking habits from those around you--your parents and caretakers when you were younger, your teachers (hopefully, at least as far as grammar and vocabulary goes), and nowadays more likely your friends and acquaintances. You have the option to form your writing voice more consciously.
You find your own voice bland? Well, try to find some writers whose voices you think have qualities you admire. Maybe it's a sort of tongue-in-cheek humor, or understatements. Maybe it's a lot of detail, or maybe you admire how they simply hint at things and simultaneously make things very clear. Read them a lot. Expose yourself to it as much as possible. Analyze if you feel like it, though I wouldn't say analysis is absolutely necessary.
It's your voice, and you can only develop it by exercising it. If you find a few authors you like, according to tip #1, try imitating their style. Heck, if there's a radio talk show host you like, or you think your English professor is witty, try imitating their way of expressing themselves in writing. Developing a voice takes time, and practice, but I'm a firm believer in effort and practice, not talent, being the key to success.
EDIT: You may also find How do you find your unique style? helpful, and my advice is essentially the same as the first answer there. Heh. Only saw that afterwards.
A few scraps of advice I heard along the way:
- All great writers are great readers.
- Write every day.
- Burn the midnight oil.
Please read this interview with the writer Joan Didion: [Paris Review, Fall/Winter 1978]1 She is one of the greatest prose stylists in the 20th and 21st centuries, and here's one thing she said when asked about her greatest influence:
"I always say Hemingway, because he taught me how sentences worked. When I was fifteen or sixteen I would type out his stories to learn how the sentences worked. I taught myself to type at the same time. A few years ago when I was teaching a course at Berkeley I reread A Farewell to Arms and fell right back into those sentences. I mean they're perfect sentences. Very direct sentences, smooth rivers, clear water over granite, no sinkholes."
She literally wrote out Hemingway's sentences. In the end, her voice and Hemingway's could not be more different, but she studied what she loved and it contributed greatly to her own development as a writer.
Read a lot. Study the writers you love. Write from the heart. Your writing will grow into its voice over time.
your voice is to some extent a composite of the voices you read. Read lots of different authors of all different heritages, occupations, styles, and subjects. It's like eating a variety of healthy foods, or solving a bunch of different types of problems: you pick up a lot of handy tricks for your repurposing/improvement.