Finding Your Voice - Steph Cook

Finding Your Voice

Recently I was watching the Sophia Coppola movie Lost in Translation, and I thought it was a great metaphor for how many of us feel when we write. What we want to see on the page, and what actually appears at first draft, are very often distant cousins from one other. We want to project a certain voice or style in our writing, but this doesn’t always translate well our first try. And we can feel lost in the process – trying to create images or string words together that may feel foreign once we see them on the page.

In the movie, the protagonist, played by Scarlett Johansson, finds herself in Tokyo, married to a man she does not fully understand and unsure of what she wants to do with her own life. She spends her time in the city mostly alone at first, listening to self-help tapes and trying to find herself in a place that is completely foreign.  

And I think this can be somewhat like trying to find your voice when writing. It can feel like a foreign exercise at first. Many writers are haunted by the myth that writing is something you can either do or cannot do well. But the truth is, it’s a skill that you build just like any other. It takes practice and dedication to the craft to hone your skills, and it takes a while to find yourself and what your voice and particular style are.  

But finding your way in a new land can be intimidating, and the same is true when finding your voice as a writer. It’s a territory that is not well marked, and when you sit down to write – create words out of the nothingness on the screen in front of you – it can be difficult.  

But the key here is consistency. Find a place, a time where you can show up to your craft on a daily basis. Just like strengthening any other skills, you need to practice regularly and with intention. Don’t be intimidated by the style of others. You have a unique perspective – something that is worth sharing. And what is most authentic – what will resonate best with your readers – are the words and phrases that you say on a daily basis. It can be tempting to fill pages with words taken out of a thesaurus, but ultimately this make the writing feel stilted or forced, which is rarely enjoyable for anyone to read. The words that come naturally are often the best choices.  

And is it intimidating to find your own voice? Of course! But creating a regular writing practice will make you comfortable with the process and make it feel more like home – a familiar place that you can return to again and again to find your muse. They key is that you can’t let yourself be intimidated by your own fears. It’s only by practice – stringing words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and pages together – that you will find what your voice is and how best to express it.  

And that is how you find yourself – your voice, your perspective, your style. In so doing, you find a way to translate your thoughts onto the page so that you are no longer lost in translation but can effectively express yourself on the page.  

I have been teaching writing for almost a decade, and the pieces that I enjoy most are always the ones where I hear the writer’s authentic voice coming through the pages. The writer is not trying to hide behind clichés or academic sounding phrases. Instead, he or she is listening to the inner voice --- that voice which is authentic and has something unique and real to express to the world. When you can translate that onto the page, that is when the true writing begins. 

At the end of the movie, Johansson’s protagonist has not completely found herself, but she has better tools and a better understanding of herself. In the final scene, she walks away into the crowded Tokyo scene, and though we don’t know what happens to her, we can surmise that she will find her way in the world. And if you show up and put in the time in your own writing, you will find your way as well.

  • Steph Cook