The Blog of John Hewitt

Developing your writing voice

Your writing voice will be influenced by others

Over the years, I have found many poets and writers I wanted to incorporate into my writing. Early on, I was a big fan of Lawrence Ferlinghetti.In college, I grew to admire Ai. I have been a big fan of Charles Bukowski for years and more recently I have been reading Tony Hoagland.

On the fiction side, I have moved through the influences of John Irving, Bret Easton Ellis, Anne Tyler, Walker Percy, Jim Thompson and W. Somerset Maugham to name a few.

As much as these people influence my writing, however, I don’t write like any of them. I can see some elements of each in my writing, a Ferlinghetti-like flight of fancy or a Percy-influenced malaise for example. Still, as my voice has developed (and it is still developing) I have learned to incorporate rather than emulate. While pieces of my writing may echo that of other writers, I have my own system of expression and my own style.

Developing a writing voice takes time and effort

There is no quick route to developing your own writing voice. The key is to keep writing. Write your way through the bad moments and the cheap emulations. Don’t make a conscious effort to write like someone else, no matter how much you admire their writing. Be honest with yourself. Whatever else you do, keep writing, and then write some more.

As you keep writing, you will grow more confident in your style. This isn’t a process that takes a day or a week. This is the process of a lifetime of writing. Your voice will evolve long after you have stopped worrying about developing your voice — if you keep writing.

Influences will become more subtle over time

Once you become comfortable with your writing voice, you won’t be as susceptible to outside influences. You can learn from a poet without copying that poet. You can add the best of other people’s influences to your style. There is value in reading and learning from great poets and great writers. Just as musicians incorporate new sounds and styles, so can poets and writers. Just remember that your voice is the influence that matters most.