Writing Exercise: 100 little ways to discover your authentic writing voice

Quick question: Have you spent a lot of time trying to discover your writing voice?

Another quick question: Does your writing voice reflect what you love?

On another blog post, I included a link to author Barbara Samuel’s voice worksheet. I was fortunate enough to attend her voice workshop at a conference a few years ago, and her approach to writing and discovering your voice stuck with me. One of the exercises included on the worksheet and in the workshop was to make a list of the things you love. Making this list, she reasoned, would help us to better understand our unique voice.

Exercise: 100 favorite things

A simple version of this exercise is to write a list of 10 things that you love. But I think 10 is too easy. Let’s make it 100. Sound overwhelming? I promise, once you get going, it’s much easier than you would think.

What are a few of your favorite things? (Image from Dreamstime.com)
What are a few of your favorite things?
(Image from Dreamstime.com)

Writers are, by definition, observers of the world and the human experience. We observe birth, death, relationships, love, loss, pain, joy, elation, laughter and sorrow, trial and triumph. Justice is done; hearts are broken. Winter freezes the landscape, and with spring comes the thaw. The things we love in this world are often those that we are most attuned to. And they often show up in our stories, whether we intend them to or not. They just seep out of us onto the page.

After you’ve made your list, examine it. How many of these things appear in your work? If the things on your list often appear in your stories, chances are, you’re writing what you love. And therein lies the secret to your writing voice.

The exercise in action

Here are a few things that made my list: robins’ eggs, the vibrant green of spring and summer, starlit nights, Earl Grey tea, fireplaces, fairy tales, cottages, trees, the scent of lavender, magic.

From this partial list, it’s easy to tell that nature is a strong influence in my life.

After I made my list, I turned to a manuscript I’d recently finished a draft of, and I wasn’t surprised to find that many of these things made a cameo appearance in my story—not all, but a fair number of them.

What makes your list? Maybe you’re in love with New York City. If so, have you written an urban fantasy or a gritty suspense set in the Big Apple? I’m not saying every story needs to be set in New York, New York, but why not allow your love for that city to shine through in your work? If your story needs to be set, say, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, maybe one of your characters is a transplant and notices how different this locale is from where they grew up in Brooklyn.

Once you have your list—tell me, was it as difficult to come up with 100 things you love as you though it would be?—compare it to one of your manuscripts. What are ways you could make the story sing with this newfound knowledge of your heart’s delight? In what ways does that voice shine through already?

Take, for example, this sentence from my manuscript: Relief bobbed inside her like a harvest apple.

I should note that the main character is a witch, so this sentence, in her point of view, suits her as a character, just as it suits me as a writer. The image is unique, to the character and to the story. It’s not just relief bobbing inside of her, but like an apple—and not just any apple, but a harvest apple.

Now, voice is made up of many things, but one of the key aspects is what we choose to observe in the world. The sentence above could’ve been written in any number of ways, but I wrote it using my unique voice.

Can you identify 10 specific examples in your story where the things you love help create the voice?

Now, can you identify 10 more?

Having a unique, authentic voice is part of what helps a reader connect to a story. Some writers with voices that I love include Sarah Addison Allen (Garden Spells, The Sugar Queen), Alice Hoffman (Practical Magic, The Ice Queen), Yasmine Galenorn (Witchling, Changeling),and Jane Austen—among others. Given that magic, nature, and fairy tales made my list of things I love, the fact that these writers’ voices speak to me isn’t surprising.

I challenge you to look back through one of your manuscripts and compare the imagery, the details and descriptions, the characters, the setting, and the overall word choice to your list of 100 things. Hopefully, you’re pleasantly surprised.

Midweek ROW80 check-in

1.) Writing:

  • Work on revising Made of Shadows, a paranormal romance novel. No progress, since I was focused on other WIP.
  • Finish the second draft of the novella I finished in Round 1, Good, Old-Fashioned Magic. Revised chapters 4 and 5. Going to send those off to CPs today or tomorrow.

2.) Read 4 books on the craft/business of writing. Currently reading “Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital Age” by Kristen Lamb.

3.) Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter daily. On track.
  • Comment on 3-5 blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. So far, so good.
  • Blog 3 times a week with new blog schedule—Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. ROW80 check-ins will be included. So far, so good.


Now, tell me: What sorts of things made your list? Did you find some of these things in your story? What surprised you about this exercise? Which authors have voices that you just can’t get enough of?

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Fantasy & paranormal romance author. Witch. Tarot reader. Possibly a woodland sprite. Debut release TANGLED ROOTS now available. Magic awaits at www.denisedyoungbooks.com.

14 thoughts on “Writing Exercise: 100 little ways to discover your authentic writing voice

  1. This sounds like a really intriguing exercise. I know I could easily come up with 100 things; whether or not I could weave them all into something, there would be the challenge. And I like a good challenge, so I might keep this one in mind.

    1. I’ve found that these things tend to show up in our stories organically–they’re important to us, whether it’s the glint of moonlight or a steaming cup of tea, so they show up in our stories in some fashion.

      Good luck and thanks for stopping by!

  2. Interesting idea. I kind of thought of writers voice as being how the words themselves are put together, not how the story is. I tend toward the cluttered end of the spectrum with adding stuff that I love to stories. And pirates and airships and cool villains and diesel engines and .. and..

    Congrats on your progress with the writing/revising. What does CP stand for?

  3. I really love the idea of this exercise. I know a lot of what I love makes it into my writing, but it’s something I’ve lost the notion of consciously. Will definitely keep it in mind. Thank you so much for sharing it!

  4. I’ve done something similar in Kristen Lamb’s wonderful Blogging for Brand class. And, once I had done the exercise, I started to see how I use these things – obsidian, starlight, nature, animals, Vulcans…organically.

    I’ve been more consciously weaving them into my stories, ever since.

    Writers that speak to me: Shakespeare, Poe, Lawrence, Dickens, Robert Jordan, Colleen McCulloch, Taylor Caldwell…and Paul Simon. =)

    And yes, the reasons why definitely have to do with things I love. =)

    This was an awesome post, and you are off to a good start, ROW-wise! =D

    1. Yes, I remember that exercise! I just read her book “Rise of the Machines,” and there she referred to it as a word cloud. It’s a similar idea, applied to our blogging instead of our fiction, but it still works.

      That’s a great list of writers, Shan Jeniah. I like that you included both Shakespeare and Paul Simon. Nice!

      Thank you! 🙂

  5. Great post! I’m always interested in spotting the patterns that emerge in my work. I’ll have to try this on some of my short stories. Thanks for visiting my blog!

  6. I have observed before how things that are important to me snuck into my manuscript without me even realising… and even became much larger plot points that I would ever have expected. I love the sound of this exercise, though. I’m definitely going to sit down on the weekend and do it!

    1. I hope you find it helpful. I’m always amazed how these things sneak into our stories in sometimes unexpected ways. I’ve noticed how at some point in every story I’ve written, my characters drink tea–usually while discussing a serious issue/plot point. Obviously, tea is important to me–Earl Grey, Irish breakfast, or otherwise!

      Thanks for stopping by, Emily. Have a great day!

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