In writing, there is something known as ‘voice’. No, I am not referring to active or passive voice. And, I am not referring to the voice as in first person singular, first person plural, third person subjective, third person objective etc. A good understanding of these voices is essential for those who aspire to become good writers, no doubt. However, the voice that I want to discuss here is the writer’s voice.

As budding writers, most of us are capable of writing an article, a story, or a book. Writing is the easy part. Convincing publishers that our works of fiction or non-fiction are worth publishing is the tough part. As we all know, publishers will not publish anything that they can’t sell. Their business is to publish material that will sell and generate profits. They want not just first-time readers for their newly published authors; they want repeat readers. That means they require authors who have something unique to offer as writers. That unique something is the writer’s voice.

A large proportion of new writers are not aware that there is something called writer’s voice, and among those who have heard about it, many have no clear idea as to what it means and do not know its significance. They are not aware that it is the writer’s voice that makes each writer unique. Invariably, successful writers of fiction as well as non-fiction, have interesting and captivating voices. Editors and publishers are not interested in new writers who do not have appealing and attractive voices. That is the main reason why publishers reject manuscripts.

But, what exactly is this writer’s voice? It is not easy to define the term ‘writer’s voice’. Most of the books on writing hardly mention anything about writer’s voice. Only a handful of books dealing with the art of writing discuss this important subject in detail. Some books discuss this topic briefly and give the impression that writer’s voice refers to tone and style. But, it is much more than that. Style can be copied but writer’s voice has to come from within—from his or her personal experiences, observations, beliefs, likes, dislikes, fears, fantasies, and passion. Voice is pouring one’s heart and soul onto the page. Let us look at the following example to understand what is writer’s voice and why each writer’s voice is unique.

In the Booker Prize winning book, “The God of Small Things”, this is how Arundhati Roy, the author, introduces one of the characters by the name of Kuttappen, who is paralysed from his chest down:

Day after day, month after month, while his brother was away and his father went to work, Kuttappen lay flat on his back and watched his youth saunter past without stopping to say hello. All day he lay there listening to the silence of huddled trees with only a domineering black hen for company. He missed his mother, Chella, who had died in the same corner of the room that he lay in now. She had died a coughing, spitting, aching, phlegmy death. Kuttappen remembered noticing how her feet died long before she had. How the skin on them grew grey and lifeless. How fearfully he watched death creep over her from the bottom up. Kuttappen kept vigil on his own numb feet with mounting terror. Occasionally he poked at them hopefully with a stick that he had kept propped up in the corner to defend himself against visiting snakes. He had no sensation in his feet at all, and only visual evidence assured him that they were still connected to his body, and were indeed his own.

After Chella died, he was moved into her corner, the corner that Kuttappen imagined was the corner of his home that Death had reserved to administer her deathly affairs. One corner for cooking, one for clothes, one for bedding rolls, one for dying in.

This is not the only passage in this book where Arundisti Roy’s distinct and unique voice is evident. Almost on every page of the book we can hear it. Here is another example to show how a writer can bring out his unique voice when writing non-fiction. In this example, the writer wants to tell us that our diet can affect our behaviour, temperament, and moods. In other words, we are what we eat. According to him, if we want to attain a cheerful disposition we should include tomatoes in our diet. This is how he tries to convince us:

“Tomatoes? Yes, tomatoes! They make you cheerful. And the Italians eat lots of them. Have you ever seen a miserable Italian? Irritating, and sometimes annoying, perhaps, but never miserable.”

After seeing these examples, the question that any budding writer might like to ask is, ‘how can I find and develop my voice?’ Well, it can’t be achieved overnight. We must read as much as we can and whatever we can. Many of us restrict ourselves to reading our favourite genre only. In order to find and cultivate our own distinct voices we must read books of various genres. The more we read, the more we will understand what writer’s voice is all about and by instinct we will find our voice.

Just reading isn’t enough. We must try our hand at all types of writing—fiction, non-fiction, articles, essays, poetry, short stories, short-short stories, vignettes or slice-of life pieces, and so on. And we must make it a practice to read aloud what we have written. Then only we will know how genuine or phoney our writing sounds. A genuine voice will have consistency. Genuine voice comes out of honest writing and it will not be inhibited or restrained by fear of what the readers might think of the writer. Good editors can easily pick amateur writers trying to imitate the voices of other established writers.

This is what a famous writing guru has to say about writer’s voice: Once you find it, you will know which is the right genre for you and which style will suit you best.