Yesterday, I talked about finding a character's "voice." I mentioned that getting to know your characters inside and out is the KEY to finding their voice. Well, I believe the same principle applies to finding your own individual "writing voice." You have to know yourself well, be comfortable in your own skin, as a person, but even more so, as a writer.
It's even harder to define a writer's voice than it is a character's voice. Because "character" is limited to one particular book (or books, if it's a series). But a writer's voice is much broader. It's seen/felt in every single line, every word, every sentence of EVERY book, every character. For me, a writer's "voice" has almost everything to do with style. The way something is written, the word choices and descriptive choices the writer makes, the overall manner in which the writing is handled. The rhythm and length of sentences, the flow and pacing, the way exposition and dialogue are treated. Basically, "voice" answers the question - Who Are You, as a Writer?
One book I read said to think of "voice" like "tone of voice." Well, sort of...but I think it's more complex than that. I actually think "voice" has to do more with "personality." Is your tone often sarcastic? Or is it serious-minded? Witty? Or deep? Often, by the end of a semester, I can identify an individual student's paper just by reading the first paragraph. By that point, after 3 months, I know their individual writings styles quite well. Some are VERY distinctive, and others are a bit more generic. But I can usually tell by the way sentences are crafted, by the overall tone, and by the word choice, which student is which, without even looking at the name.
What's weird about voice is that you already have one, even if you're not aware of it. Like a fingerprint or a snowflake, your "voice" is uniquely yours. There's nobody like you in the world, with your exact background, thought patterns, sensibilities, personality. Thus, your writing voice is already just that unique. The trick is at least identifying it, relaxing inside it, then staying faithful to it. You'll know you've found your "voice" when you become comfortable in your writing style. If you think too much about it, you'll lose it again.
I think writers get into trouble when they consciously try to change their writing voice - when they go against the grain of who they are and try to become something they're not as writers. It doesn't mean we can't push or challenge ourselves as writers. Certainly, we must. But if we're fighting our own writing voice, our own natural style, it won't work. For instance, a writer can't "try" to sound like Stephen King or Anne Tyler or John Updike. It won't work. These authors have their own unique voice, and it's already taken. Nobody else can have it.
My best advice is to write from your gut. Listen to that inner editor that all of us has, and RELAX. If you're trying too hard to HAVE a voice, then your unique "voice" will be squelched. And if you're trying to mimic a certain writing style, it will come across as fake. Be who you are, and you'll find your "voice."