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Refining Your Voice with Journaling

October 1, 2013 by Kiersi


Photo by woodleywonderworks (flickr)

A big part of every author’s quest–to agent, to publisher, to first and second and third book–is finding his or her own voice.

In the writing world we talk about “voice” a lot, both when discussing individual books, and also about careers and an author’s career trajectory.

Wikipedia calls voice an author’s “style.” When I think about authors whose voices I know, and know well–Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling–there’s more to it than just the style of writing. There’s a way in which the story is told that I notice, that stands out. The way in which the plot twists, the secrets unfold, the characters develop. Sure, I could easily recognize a paragraph from Harry Potter, even if all the character names were changed; but it’s also the cadence of Rowling’s writing. It’s the underlying creepiness of Stephen King’s (even in a decidedly non-creepy book like 11/22/63). It’s the total suspension of disbelief in Neil Gaiman’s.

A huge part of my personal writing journey has been finding my voice, and writing in enough quantity and genres and categories that I can settle into my own style and cadence. I’m still not there yet. I often find myself at a loss for words when I try to tell certain stories.

And so I started journaling.

I did it right after a major life event as a way to sort through myself and, well–prepare for the fluffy part–my feelings. But it wasn’t a morbid soliloquy or a teenager’s LiveJournal. I started telling my life in stories, putting sense and reflection and humor in day-to-day experiences. When I write in it, there’s no filter–I pour down on the page (or, in this case, the Scrivener file) whatever passes through my brain.

And I’ve noticed something extraordinary: I have a very distinct voice. The words that come naturally out of me, that weave the story of my life together, have their own style; their own cadence; their own way of revealing details and spinning the narrative together.

It’s kind of exciting, seeing my own unrefined voice on the page. And on a day when I don’t find myself doing writing writing, journaling has proven a great way to stay in shape, and an exercise to get the writing muscle stretching and flexing for later, real story work. 

Best of all–it’s the perfect opportunity to be honest with myself. To write down exactly what happened as it happened; exactly what I’m thinking as I think it; and to call myself out on my bad behaviors and dishonest reasoning. At the same time, I can celebrate the fun and the funny. It’s all a learning experience.

The last two months, I’ve used journaling as a warm-up exercise at least a few times a week, putting down anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 words. Some entries have even spawned short stories that I’ll be submitting in the next month.

I would recommend starting a journal to anyone trying to find his or her voice, or even just as a warm-up exercise. It gets the fingers moving and the brain flexing those story muscles without engaging the filter. For me, the filter is one of my biggest barriers to writing. You know the one–that voice in your head that says, that word isn’t perfect, or that sentence needs some work, before you go on to the next one.

When I journal, there’s no backpedaling or editing or thinking; I just write. It sounds hard, I know! But the more I did it, the easier it came. Now it’s no problem to pound out a 2,000-word entry in an hour or so.

The best part? That ability to write, unhindered by filter, with a distinct style and cadence, has carried over to my fiction writing. I see it improve every day.

Have you ever tried journaling? Has it been helpful to you? Tell me in the comments!


  1. This is excellent advice, and interestingly enough, it’s quite meta of you. You’re writing about writing about your writing. I love it, Kiersi. Glad you’re finding your voice.

  2. Hey Kiersi,

    On and off, I’ve been writing in a journal of some kind since I was about eight. I’m not sure whether I’ve found my voice — maybe I have more than one — but I’m hoping it will help stave off the Alzheimer’s.

    Have you read much Ursula LeGuin? I would posit that she is an author with a chameleon voice. Her Earthsea novels have a very different sound and feel than her SF works, and her books for children have yet another altogether different voice. And all of them are amazing.


    • Kiersi says:

      I’m sure it will, Ruth! That’s true. LeGuin does morph her tone. I feel like I can still pick out her writing when I see it, though.

  3. I used to journal a lot, but I haven’t in a while. I should really get back to it. It is so freeing in a way, and you are so right about it really showing your voice. It’s unfiltered “you”.

  4. I’ve been journaling (or freewriting/writing the morning pages, as Julia Cameron calls it) for several years now. It is like unloading a bag-pack off my strained shoulders. And I sometimes read past entries just to enjoy my voice (yep, vain).

  5. Writerlious says:

    I did while reading the Artist’s Way and it was really great for brainstorming and getting me inspired.

  6. maryrajotte says:

    I’ve been trying to uncover “my voice” for a long time! I’ve been journalling off and on since high school, and usually whenever I feel stuck with my writing, i revisit The Artist’s Way. I haven’t done Morning Pages for a long time. Maybe it’s time to pick up an actual pen again!

    • Kiersi says:

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Mary! I haven’t read The Artist’s Way. I should! Journaling is definitely worthwhile 🙂 I encourage you to try it again!

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