March 27, 2015

Your Unique Voice

By Cecil Murphey

"Use strong verbs!" 

"Don't use is."

"Never use the passive voice."

Most of us have had those commands thrown at us countless times (and there was a time when they thundered from my mouth). For the past decade, however, I've disavowed them.

I prefer not to use the passive voice, but there are legitimate times to use it.  Too many writers don't know the difference between the passive voice (I was hit by the ball) and a state-of-being verb (The sun is shining). Some writers feel they have committed a literary sin if they use any form of the verb be.

All words are good words; they're the tools we use to express ourselves.

The major reason I want to bury those three sentences is that they tend to block writers' true voices. 

For instance, I'm working with a talented writer, and she's trying to learn to write with her true voice. Recently, she wrote about a man being shot and his wife situated her head on his chest. She felt that situated was a stronger verb than lay or placed. It probably is stronger, but it doesn't fit.

Later I spotted his body folded together. Originally, she had written, he bent forward, but one of her friends said she needed a stronger verb than bent.

"Do you talk that way?" I asked. When she said no, I said, "Then you're not writing from who you are. Each of us has a unique voice."

Our voices are how we see our world. They make us different from others.  It's the sound of ourselves on paper or the screen. To be true to ourselves, we need to write the way we talk—that is, to be as natural as possible. Writing with our own voices—authentically—doesn’t mean writing subjectively (although there are times we may do so.)

Each of us has that personal one-of-a-kind tone. We have valuable things to say, and no one expresses them the way we do. They become significant when they come from our authentic selves.
Readers identify with honesty. They may not realize what bothers them about certain writers, but they sense that the writing doesn't have what one person calls "the ring of truth." Too many want-to-be-published authors try to sound brilliant, erudite, or like a real writer.

Discovering and then nurturing our matchless voice is an ongoing process, and to accomplish that, we have to be relentlessly honest.

We can learn techniques, but if we don't write from within, our prose sounds forced and inauthentic, and we stifle the heart of good writing. Not only do we need to discover our voices, but also we have to accept them as valid. They express our distinctive life view. Appreciating our voices comes from facing our fears, accepting ourselves, and valuing who we are.

Finding and honoring our voices is about self-acceptance. When we respect our uniqueness, we become more fully who we are.

We also become better writers.
Veteran author Cecil Murphey has written or co-written more than 135 books, including the NY Times bestseller 90 Minutes in Heaven (with Don Piper) and Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story (with Dr. Ben Carson). His books have sold in the millions and have encouraged and inspired countless people around the world. In addition to writing, he enjoys preaching and speaking for events nationwide. Website: Blog for writers:
Blog for male survivors of sexual abuse:

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