Developing Your Voice as a Writer

I remember a time in my life when I was afraid of the truth, when the words gripping my soul refused to dislodge from their comfortable silence. The bondage of fear that made me feel like there was an invisible muzzle strapped to my face. The mask I wore, used to cover the pain in my heart, and I struggled to share the truth, because I was afraid of what it would cost me.

Words are powerful. They are transformative in nature. Words create and dismantle worlds, build and destroy live. Words change atmospheres and hearts. Wherever your find yourself right now, words led you there. A conversation, a set of beliefs, something you read or heard, has set the trajectory for who you have become.

What a responsibility we have in this world, with our words.

As we lead across our various contexts, written and verbal communication is necessary. I treasure a piece of paper (any kind) and a pen (fine point sharpie or fine uniball vision pen, thank you very much) and I love to develop my own written voice and help others do the same. You have something to say friend and I hope to help you say it.

Twenty years ago, a creative writing teacher encouraged me, “Write the truth Ashley! You have to write what you know.” I smiled. I nodded… But, I thought: What I know? The truth? What will they think about my truth? Does my truth, my story, really even matter?

For most of us, fear of what others think has hindered or even silenced our voice. Instead of truth-telling, we mask, hide, pretend, and sometimes fear clogs our pipes. Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

That’s why I am committed to truth-telling. It’s honest, loving, generous and kind. When we share our stories, without shaming or blaming others, people find freedom. Isn’t it the best when you sit with your jaw on the floor as you read something that agrees with you and exhale loudly, “Me too.”

The truth in love is like salve for the soul.

Fellow truth-teller, here are some tips to help you develop your voice as a writer:

Ruthlessly tell the truth. The truth is clear, loving, personal, honest. The truth just feels good. Even when it wounds, it feels so right somehow. Ernest Hemingway said, “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” We don’t have to tear people down to share our story. Keep it about you.

Write first, edit later. Just write. Your first draft will be awful, but after procrastinating by cleaning your house, eating a bag of tortilla chips and crying over your keyboard, you might just strike gold.

Remember basic grammar and syntax. Before I get into this, a disclaimer: Just because you struggle with spelling, or structuring sentences does not mean you should not be writing. We each come from different educational backgrounds. We are not all given equal opportunities to learn and create. Please friend, if God created you to write, write. Grammar can be learned. Syntax, which is arranging phrases and words to craft well-formed sentences, can be practiced. Your brain is beautiful and God made it to grow and develop. You’re not stuck where you are; you can master this craft. Write, re-write, and re-write again. Move paragraphs around, ponder your word choice, revise sentences, and delete useless or repetitive words and phrases that weaken your voice.

Your audience is smart. Allow people the honor of entering your story, the privilege of learning with you. We all like to think for ourselves. Try not to explain what is already implied. Jesus himself asked questions and told confusing stories that pressed people to think, to ponder, to consider the realities of their life. Do more relating and sharing, than teaching and preaching. Care for your readers, who are real people with real pain. Show, don’t tell.

Read your writing out loud. This is one of the best practices I have learned in recent years. As you read, if you stumble over a sentence, a phrase, or a thought, hone in and re-work it until it’s smooth like butter, baby. If you stumble, chances are, your readers will too.

Read. Please do not call yourself a writer if you are not a reader.

Set a time to write. Consistency is key. Five minutes in your journal is not too little. I heard someone once say, “A little a lot is better than a lot a little.” Join a writer’s group, start a small group for writers, take a class — do whatever helps you write consistently.

Be you. Write because you were created to write. There is no one like you in all the Earth. Your voice is unique and it matters to God and to the rest of us. Don’t worry if you aren’t like so and so. Grow in your gift, not someone else’s.

You’re brilliant, and we need what you bring. Happy writing, friends.

“Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, how alive am I willing to be?” Ann Lamott, Author of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

@AshAbercrombie

Hey there fellow truth-teller, welcome to our community. I'm so glad you're here. I love to help people take their mask off and tell the truth, and I believe the world needs what you have to give. I write books and blogs, live in Harlem, New York, with my hubby, and two rambunctious boys.

10 comments

  • Bookmarking this!!! I love writing but usually don’t like “putting it out there” but I want to have a blog in the near future so this was so timely. Great list !!!

    • Love that! I can’t wait to read what you share! You’re incredible!

    • My pleasure! I hope it helps as you continue to write! Thankful for your voice!

  • Oh my are you speaking my language, sis! Thanks for this – such good reminder of not only the ins-and-outs of writing, but the encouragement that our particular voices matter. Love you and your truth-telling self!

  • “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”🔥🔥🔥 Thank you for this encouragement, Ash! You are helping people walk in their purpose!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you😘

  • Oh how I needed this Ashley I have felt so defeated lately with writing. Dreams in my heart feeling so paralyzed by not sharing bc I feel the truth will offend. Caring what others think about my past and God’s healing. At the end of it all I keep telling myself this is God’s story and he didn’t heal me from all I’ve been through to stay silent. I know my stories will set many free. Your blog came at such a perfect time especially after breaking free from fear about writing this weekend at church. I was doing so great at blogging and having my writers group then I just got stuck and stopped. I am so happy to hear about your book. Can’t wait to read the words God has given you to share! That is inspiring to hear and I hope I can get there some day too! I have surrendered my dreams to him! Thank you for motivating me again to just keep going to press on! Love you!

    • Thank you for sharing Reyna!! I am so thankful you are writing again, and breaking through the barriers to keep at it – you have so much wisdom to share. I love you very much, and am so proud of you!

Leave a Reply