a recent blog post, Books & Such agent, Wendy Lawton, commented, "And reading good books, fresh books, starts to infiltrate your own writing. You develop your voice by osmosis, not by technique."
That statement resonates with me.
Many years ago I showed a story I'd written to the members of a writing critique group I was part of in my early twenties. The story had been an art class project I did in high school (at the time I was more concerned with the illustrations and the book binding process/design we were exploring in class, than in the story itself). Anyway, years later I showed the story to my critique group, who by then were familiar with my (ahem) serious adult writing. One writer after reading the first page said, "I can already recognize your voice in this."
That was the first time I'd encountered the term voice applied to writing, yet I instinctively knew what he meant. So, I thought, I have a voice. That sounds like a good thing to have as a writer.
Fast forward a few years and through discoveries of many favorite fiction writers (Diana Gabaldon, Ellis Peters, Stephen Lawhead, Francine Rivers, Laura Frantz, Linda Nichols, Susanna Kearsely, James Alexander Thom, Charles Martin, too many others to name), and I began to see how each of these writers had influenced that thing called my voice. Over time my writing has taken on a slight nuance of one writer, a certain sense of humor shaded by another, a rhythm of sentence structure faintly reminiscent of yet another.
There were times I worried that I was letting other writers influence me too much, but I don't worry about that anymore. Here's why: if I'm reading Ellis Peters or Charles Martin, for a few days my writing might reflect their voice in a more noticeable way, but given time that influence is going to sink down deeper and have a far more subtle affect than if I were trying to write like Peters or Martin or whomever.
I liken the process of developing a writing voice to taking vitamins. The pill is there for a moment on the tongue, then it's swallowed and becomes a part of the body, strengthening and enriching where it's needed. You can't see the vitamin, but you can see, and feel, its influence.
Just like our bodies are either strengthened or weakened by the foods we give them for fuel, our writing voices are affected by what we feed them, in the form of recreational reading.
If you are a writer then I encourage you to feed your voice with intention, with writing that's fresh, that has substance, that energizes you. Think of the books you read as nourishment, and (as mom would say) make good choices!
photo: cover for Books are for Reading, by Suzy Becker