Writers not only hear them, they're supposed to have one.
"What's voice?" the new writer asks. "How do I develop one?"
"I know it when I see it," answers the agent/editor/other publishing professional. Or they may try to help by recommending books they think have a great voice.
So the new writer absorbs the voice, tries to write something similar, is told the piece has no voice, and comes away feeling increasingly frustrated.
Artists, with their tracing paper, learn by copying. Why can't we? After all, isn't imitation the sincerest form of flattery?
Ah, but there's the problem: imitation.
Just like the high schools that are full of young people trying to find themselves by behaving exactly like all the other young people trying to find themselves, you won't find what's authentically you in someone else.
Writing is about self-expression. Voice is about the self that is expressed.
The reason we have trouble with voice is that we've absorbed so many influences and have built up so many assumptions about the nature of writing that we've lost touch with our own unique modes of expression.
Erin Reel, in a guest post on agent Rachelle Gardner's Rants & Ramblings blog, titled "Finding Your Authentic Voice," says:
"Don't write in a language that's not your own. Forget about following a genre trend just to get published. Tell a good story—one that a large audience will want to read and can identify with."Her tips for finding your voice include read, practice, get clear about the story you want to tell, and make it your own. ("Make your story authentically yours by writing many rough drafts through which your voice will eventually surface.")
Writing every day will help you get past all the influences and assumptions you've internalized. I credit the journal I kept for several years for much of my own development.
Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. Learn more at dunlithhill.com.