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Finding Your Voice

by Sheila Hollinghead

Writer’s voice is the literary term used to describe the individual writing style of an author. Voice was generally considered to be a combination of a writer’s use of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works). Definition of voice

Voice, it seems, is everything thrown in, including the kitchen sink. Some writers are “good” writers in that they use correct grammar and have clear, concise writing, yet, their voices are interchangeable with thousands of other voices.

It’s similar to American Idol. Often, the judges pick contestants with generic voices. With the number of people who try out, twelve unique voices should seemingly be easy to find. Many chosen by the judges may be “good” singers, yet are not unique.

Just as it’s difficult to find a singer with a unique voice,  it is difficult to find a writer with a unique voice, even among thousands.

Why is it so difficult?

Let’s look at an analogy. Caterpillars are quite ugly creatures when they hatch out. Tiny at first, they munch leaves and grow bloated. They eat whatever they find in front of them. And, here, they are relatively safe, blending in with other caterpillars and remaining close to the ground.

However, when they’ve grown to a sufficient size, caterpillars enter the pupa stage. Inside the cocoon, something fascinating (and disgusting) happens.

The caterpillar excretes enzymes that eat away much of the bloated body. The few remaining cells regenerate into a butterfly.

So, too, we writers munch on all the advice given to us. We grow bloated with information and misinformation. And, we could remain in that state, blending in with those around us and remaining close to the ground.

However, when we have studied and learned our craft and grown as much as possible, we can choose to enter into a pupa stage, a stage during which we examine ourselves, our writing, and destroy the bloat, destroy that which is not essentially ours.

And that takes courage. Courage to try new things. Courage to tread a different path. Courage to soar above the path.

Soaring is scary. When writers fly high, flaunting their colors, it’s easy for people to target them.

Caterpillars are camouflaged with their “feet” on the ground, surrounded by many more caterpillars exactly like them. With their feet close to earth, they don’t have far to fall.

Nevertheless, which would you rather be?

If we are brave enough, and spend enough time examining our writing, we will excrete those juices that will destroy the bloat (and yes, destroying our “body” will be painful). However, if we do it correctly, we will also leave a kernel of cells able to generate a much greater beauty.

Great bravery is needed when we emerge from cocoons, unfurl colorful wings, and fly.

  1. Have you munched enough leaves? Have you studied the craft? Have you learned from mentors and critiquers?

  2. Have you destroyed the bad? Have you learned to cut unncessary words? Have you learned focus? Is every sentence, every word, meaningful? Have you destroyed the “bloat”?

  3. Have you taken time to examine yourself and your writing? Have you practiced the “basics,” so that now you can add your own special touches? Have you taken the time to really think about your writing style and to let the cells grow into beauty?

If so, unfurl your wings and allow Readers’ Realm to aid your flight.


Sheila Hollinghead lives in south Alabama with her husband of thirty-one years. She is the author of Thundersnow (In the Shadow of the Cedar) and is hard at work on the sequel. Visit her blog, Rise, Write, Shine!

7 comments on “Finding Your Voice

  1. Carl
    March 1, 2012

    This is so true that writers need to rid their work of “bloat”. Caterpillars actually destroy their bodies to turn into butterflies? That’s interesting.

    Good luck on this new site!

  2. Tommie Lyn
    March 10, 2012

    Good post, Sheila!

  3. realmofreaders
    March 11, 2012


  4. Sara
    March 11, 2012

    Great advice. I think it holds true for many areas in life, too. Thaks so much!

  5. Ginny Morgan
    May 11, 2012

    I was excited to learn that we are kind of, sort of related, and we both love to write! My husband’s mother was Sally Emily Hammett Morgan. She passed away in March of this year and I truly miss her. Did you know she wrote poetry through out the 40 plus years I knew her. The writing talent must run in the family. So nice to meet you, Sheila.

  6. Nice meeting you, Ginny! What sort of things do you write? It would be nice to gather up the poems Sally wrote and publish them for the family!

    • Ginny Morgan
      May 12, 2012

      Hi, Sheila, my sisters-in-law, Susie and Gail, and I have talked about doing that. Maybe you could give us some pointers on how to get started. I write fiction based in the South, of course, and journal. Several years ago I had a few articles published in local newspapers regarding the work I was doing at the time with a Drug and Alcohol education program I taught. When my 50th birthday came and went without getting a manuscript accepted for publication, I put my fiction writing on the back burner. I currently have a book I work on, sporadically, based in Gulf Shores, Al. My 22 year old grandson, Justin, has been working on his very first book, and I’ve been giving him suggestions on several points and it has made me want to pick up my writing on a more regular basis on “A Female Rain”, the name of this book. I don’t know how kind the publishing world is to first time, older, writers. (Not that I’m THAT old!) What’s your take on that subject?

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This entry was posted on February 29, 2012 by in Writing Tips and tagged , , , .


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