Voice. That ever illusive, I-know-it-when-I-read-it voice. We talk a lot about voice, about what it means, how to develop it, release it, expose it like a da Vinci sculpture (I can't find the exact quote, but he's supposed to have said when asked how he carved such remarkable figures into stone, "I simply reveal what was already there.")
Sometimes I have it. In some of my works it sings out, surprising me and everyone else like Susan Boyle's "I Dreamed a Dream". The package is less than ideal, being a rough draft and all, but when the pages are pulled back, a big reveal happens. I sit back and wonder at it, thinking "That was in there the whole time?"
But when us newbies ask other, more established writers how to find that ephemeral thing, or even ask agents and editors what they mean by voice, we get a bunch of blah, blah, blah answers. By this I mean we can't understand them because it's like trying to describe the color blue to someone who's never seen it. You know it and mark it in your memory when you see it, but you can't turn around and describe it to someone else.
Through my tiny bit of study, these are the things I've come up with for find a writing voice:
1. Read everything you can, from picture books to how to retile the bathroom floor. As you do, you'll discover there are words and phrases and sentences that appeal to you, that call out, that SING. Study those things. Dissect them, shake their little froggy legs until you've figured out what it is about those sentences that you like.
2. Write lots of different things. Write poems (that you will burn so your children will never be embarrassed reading them later). Write picture books. Write whole chapters to novels you will never finish. Write a how-to pamphlet to show the best way to bathe a pig. Write until you find that little gem glowing somewhere in your work, then...
3. Reveal your voice to yourself by dissecting and identifying what aspects of your writing shines, sings, PERFORMS for you. As you take those bits and pieces and analyze them, you will see the patterns of your own "voice", so you can duplicate it again and again.
This sounds like a lot of hard work. And it is. But isn't our work, aren't our novels, aren't WE important enough to take the time to really know what our voice is?