Voice: What is it exactly?

By Brendan O’Meara


Some writers get confused about voice. What is it? How do they attain it?

I had voice. Then I lost it. Then I found it again.

In high school and college, I had what I like to think of as a voice distinct to me. I was a raw writer, but at least I had that intangible sound.

Then I went to grad school. Grad school sorta ironed out all my wrinkles, the wrinkles are what made me me.

We had a visit from a prominent literary agent who stood before us and lamented the MFA voice. That made just about every person in the lecture hall shift in their seats. Bwat, bwat, bwat!? How, like, how could he SAY something like that!? The nerve! Well, I’m not submitting my book of boring-ass essays to HIM!

That stuck in my ear like the incessant ringing I deal with every day (Thank you, Metallica. You complete me.).

Basically in the MFA program, not intentionally, there’s this sense that in order to be a Writer, you need to write with florid prose and basically Joan Didion-ize yourself. Don’t do that.

To quote Brin-Jonathan Butler, who was on the podcast with me, he says, “I want your shit.”

Voice is your shit.

Here’s how I think of it:

You know when you speak with a Brit or an Aussie and you want them to keep talking. Say anything! I don’t care! Tell me what the weather forecast is tomorrow! I just need to hear your voice! That accent!

That’s it…That’s voice…

On the page, your voice, your accent, is what makes you sound like you.

That helps me think through voice and distills it into something far less abstract and highfalutin.

Voice is your accent, what people beg to hear just so they can hear you talk.