Sunday, September 9, 2012

How Do You Find Your Writing Voice? with Author Maggie Lyons

I’m lucky to work with so many authors at Stories for Children Publishing and the World of Ink Network. I learn so much from them and I find it helps my personal writing. Not many authors get to sit on both sides of the writing desk like me, and so when I get the chance to share some great advice I learn from an author I’m working with like Maggie Lyons, I’m happy to post it here.

Maggie Lyons is one of the few authors I have had the chance to see grow as a writer. She was born in Wales and brought up in England before gravitating west to Virginia’s coast. She zigzagged her way through a motley variety of careers from orchestral management to law-firm media relations to academic editing. Writing and editing nonfiction for adults brought plenty of satisfaction but nothing like the magic she discovered in writing fiction and nonfiction for children. Several of her articles, poetry, and a chapter book have been published in the children’s magazines Stories for Children Magazine and knowonder!

Maggie is very talented but is always looking to grow as a writer and when we started chatting about the different types of voices authors have when it comes to writing, her comments inspired me. I asked her to share some of those thoughts with you today.

How Do You Find Your Writing Voice?
with Author Maggie Lyons

I’m still in the process of finding my writing voice. Finding is the key word here. I can’t force my writing voice to shoot up like a hothouse plant. I can’t learn it like a foreign language. It’s not merely about writing techniques—asyndetons, paraprosdokians, zeugmas, and that fun bunch of language tricks. It’s not about narrating in first person, third person, or even second person. I have to let it appear in its own good time. That’s because a writer’s voice grows from experience. It represents everything the writer has absorbed and synthesized over time. It’s about what the writer chooses to write about and how the writer expresses the results of that choice. It’s about how fictional characters express themselves and the approach a writer takes to reach the target readership. In the words of literary agent Rachelle Gardner: “Your writer’s voice is the expression of you on the page. It’s that simple—and that complicated. Your voice is all about honesty. It’s the unfettered, nonderivative, unique conglomeration of your thoughts, feelings, passions, dreams, beliefs, fears and attitudes, coming through in every word you write. Voice is all about your originality and having the courage to express it.” (

The online researcher is presented with a plethora of advice for writers intent on finding their writing voice. Some say that finding your voice is about finding out who you really are—which may be an unnerving experience, so the idea of courage pops up frequently. “Don’t be nervous,” Henry Miller advised. Jeff Goins claims that being afraid means “you’re on the right track … Fear is good” ( Writer Holly Lisle insists that “Voice is bleeding onto the page, and it can be a powerful, frightening, naked experience” (

Is all this suffering really necessary?

I have not bled all over the pages of my manuscript. I have not consciously sought out the inner, “real” me, and therefore have not challenged myself to a battle with fear. I have written “joyously” as Henry Miller once advised. Does that mean my book does not have voice?

Others say it is not and never could be about your authentic self because, as Steven Pressfield puts it, voice is “artificial” ( It’s something the writer has crafted to convey a particular impression. Put another way, writers must follow the dictates of their material, a classic example being J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye with its angst-driven teen narrator, Holden Caulfield.

But isn’t this a chicken and egg situation? My writing voice was driven by the characters and the situations they found themselves in. Yet the plot, settings, characters, dialogue, actions, and thoughts are still products of my imagination, even when my characters take control. Isn’t that also what people mean when they say the writer’s voice represents what the writer is all about, or am I believing too many impossible things before breakfast, to misquote Lewis Carroll?

Conscious of my readership, as we writers should be, I crafted story, characters, dialogue, and narrative style in a way I hoped my middle-grade readers could relate to. That has to affect the writer’s voice too and, along with the dictates of the material, can change the writer’s voice from book to book. This is totally obvious when the narrative is written in the first person, but voice can be customized in a third-person narrative just as readily. Jerry Spinelli voice riproars its way through his middle-grade landmark Maniac Magee but treads softly and fearfully in his heart-aching Wringer. Yet, both books are recognizably Spinelli’s. His voice doesn’t lose its flesh and blood. It simply changes its outfit. That has to be the mark of a real writer’s voice that even a bad editor can’t obliterate.
Maggie Lyons hopes her stories encourage reluctant young readers to turn a page or two.

Her middle-grade adventure story Vin and the Dorky Duet is available as an e-book at MuseItUp Publishing’s bookstore (MuseItYoung section:, on Amazon at, and as a paperback at Halo Publishing International at, and on Amazon at

Her middle-grade adventure story Dewi and the Seeds of Doom will be released by as an e-book by MuseItUp Publishing in October and Halo Publishing International will release the paperback.

More information at:, and

You can find out more about Maggie Lyons and her book through her World of Ink Author/Book Tour at

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