Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Finding Your Unique Author Voice… Like Everyone Else?

Guest Post by J.J. Hensley
Just Google it.  Seriously.  Just type “Unique Author Voice” into a search engine and see what pops up.  Everyone seems to know how you need to go about finding your unique author voice.  There are steps, exercises, and even templates available.  We are told publishers want to find authors who have a unique voice, but do we really know what that means?  I found mine – but, it’s not mine.
My voice is the sum of 38 years of reading, working, talking, listening, watching television, and observing.  Is that what people mean by finding that voice?  I have no idea.  But when I decided to write a novel, I knew that if I researched how to go about it – how to outline, structure, work on plot pacing, etc., then whatever I ended up with would not truly be mine.  So, I carefully and methodically winged it.  The result was the publication of the very first written work I had attempted.  Would this work for everyone?  How the hell would I know?  I’m just a guy who got a book published.  John Grisham is not concerned that I’m going to knock him down any best-seller lists.  I’m still blindly feeling my way through the world of being an author and it’s not uncommon for me to slam my head into a wall.  I can only pass along what I learned during my writing anti-process.

#1.      I admitted my unique voice would not be mine.
My author voice is the sum of nearly four decades  of living, reading, working, watching television, laughing, crying, fighting, and loving.  The voice is that of Vince Flynn, Mark Twain, my elementary school teachers, my family, my friends, my coworkers, and my dogs (not in a Son of Sam way).  The collection of all of these influences is specific to me and only me.  How could it not be unique?
#2.      Outlining and note-taking are overrated.
Prior to writing my first novel, I refused to research anything about how other authors construct their books.  After it was picked up by a publisher, curiosity got the better of me and I looked at how some famous authors construct stories.  One article I read stated that Stephen King outlines 50 pages before every writing a single word of the actual book.  Yuk.  That sounds awful.  And who is this Stephen King guy anyway?  What does that guy know?  Right? 
Obviously, Stephen King knows more about writing than I ever will.  But, I do know that if I tried to sit down and outline 50 pages before writing a book, I’d never write a book.  For me, writing is fun and needs to stay that way.  Besides, when I’m writing a book I honestly have very little idea where the story is going until I write the very next paragraph.  I know that drives some people crazy, but that’s my anti-process.  If people ask me what my current project is about, I have a lot of difficulty telling them because sometimes I have no freak’n idea until I start typing the next chapter.  I’m not being coy.  I’m not keeping things close to the vest.  I really don’t know.  That’s the fun part!  That’s part of my author voice.
#3.    I didn’t start with a story, as much as I did with my own voice.
What do I mean by that?  Well, I only had a general idea what the plot for my novel RESOLVE would entail.  I knew the backdrop would be a marathon and that I would have 26.2 “Miles” in the form of chapters.  That’s pretty much it.  Then, I thought of a strong word that would be a good title.  Next, I came up with a name for the protagonist.  I thought up some strong words or phrases that I liked and wanted to integrate into the book.  The result was that my author voice was the nucleus of the novel and the plot developed around it.  I didn’t think much about it at the time, and I probably would not have proceeded this way if I had bought some “How to Write a Novel for Dummies” book prior to starting.  Anyway, from what I understand, this method is backward compared to the way many others write.  So be it.  Maybe my unique voice is also the result of a jacked-up, backwards process that would not work for most others.  Cool.

So, the best advice I can give anyone who is looking to find their unique author voice is to stop looking.  You probably already have it in you.  You got it that time you got your heart broken, won that trophy, got beat up on the playground, or celebrated your wedding.  The voice may sound a lot like a combination of David Baldacci, John Verdon, your mother, and the loud guy working at the coffee shop.  Perhaps you can go with your gut and not your notes or some generic template.  Or… simply ignore everything I just wrote and do what you feel is natural.  That would be a pretty cool too.
J.J. Hensley is the author of the critically-acclaimed novel Resolve.  Resolve is available on,, and many independent bookstores.  Visit the author at: