Writing

Finding Your Voice

Neil Gaiman

Lesson time 14:57 min

Your writer’s voice is what makes it possible for someone to pick up a page of text and recognize that you wrote it. Learn how to develop your voice and how to overcome the fear of making mistakes.

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Neil Gaiman
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When you're a writer, starting out, the idea of your voice, of your style is huge. You want to know what your voice is. You don't really know. I once, years ago, ran into a quote from Jerry Garcia where he said, "style is the stuff that you get wrong. If you were actually playing the guitar perfectly-- if you were making music perfectly, there would be no style." And I thought this was such a great quote and remembered it, and years later, went to find it on the internet. And the only place I could ever find it was me saying it in interviews. So maybe he never said it at all. But I do think that a writer's voice, which is huge, which is important, which is actually the thing that the reader responds to more than anything else-- the end of the day, is a result of getting to the point where you discover this is what you sound like. And the problem, I think, that a lot of young writers have is they don't sound like anybody yet. I know when I was a young writer, I didn't really sound like anybody. What I did was sounded like everybody else. And it's what you do when you're starting out. You imitate. You find voices that you like. You go, "this person is doing something great." I would look at writers like Ari Lafferty or Harlan Ellison, Roger Zelazny, Ursula Le Guin. I go, "I love this thing that they do. I'll try and do that." It was very strange. I wrote a children's book when I was, what, 22? It was the first thing I ever wrote. It exists only in my attic and in manuscript. And it's not very good. But after "Coraline" came out, I thought, "hang on. I have that children's book in my attic. I wonder if it's any good?" And I went off. I found it. I read it to my daughter, Maddie, who at that point was six or seven. And at the end of the day, I sent it back up to the attic where it resides and will reside until the crack of doom. What really fascinated me about it was there was about a page and a half somewhere toward the end that read like me. It read like-- the rest of it, it read like Noel Langley and Roald Dahl. It read like every children's author I'd ever read. And it's all coming back out again. There's nothing really original. I haven't figured out how to do anything. And that's great. And that's absolutely fine, because you don't have to get it right at the beginning. You start out by making mistakes. You start out by getting it wrong. The most important thing you do is just write. But there was just a page. And I looked at it. I thought, "that's me. That actually reads like me." And seeing that felt wonderful, because it was the idea that, yeah, 22-year-old Neil-- actually, the voice was there. I just had to do a whole lot more writing. [MUSIC PLAYING] I think mistakes may be the most important thing for a writer. The question of how do you find your mistakes is very easy. You do stuff. The process of living, the process of trying to create, the process of getting out there and doing something is always a ...


Unleash your imagination

Award-winning author Neil Gaiman has spent more than a quarter of a century crafting vivid, absorbing fiction. Now, the author of Stardust, Coraline, and The Sandman teaches his approach to imaginative storytelling in his online writing class. Learn how to find your unique voice, develop original ideas, and breathe life into your characters. Discover Neil’s philosophy on what drives a story—and open new windows to the stories inside you.



Reviews

4.7
Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

This class makes me motivated to write. Since I've started I've improved my output tremendously and I'm finishing things.

I learned too much to share in this little box.

Neil's insights, encouragements, and practical advice got me back to writing what I put away 3 years ago. Thank you ~!

Inspiring, motivational, honest and incredibly informative! For an unpublished young writer, Mr. Gaiman has been truly advantageous for me to watch!


Comments

Marjohn L.

Gems; That's me! Your voice is the stuff you can't help doing. Finish things. Each story has its' own voice. What are the most important things? The author is invisible. Voice of the narrator... from a kid's height, a kid's point of view. ...You let go of their hand and run away.

Storyteller

Honestly, I'm still learning what I write like. Thank you for the encouragement.

Teya

I love these lessons. Neil is precise in his speaking of what he wants to get across which seems to reach your inner soul and he doesn't even know me. I love this particular lesson. I love my voice and this lesson helped me to know I need to trust my voice in my writing, because It's mine. I've mentally looked through my books and the ones that spoke to people the most were a bunch of little pieces of the whole of me put together. I will be watching this over and over just to give my voice confidence.

Maryn R.

I discovered stories I wrote about Alberta when I was a child were written in my mothers voice. Of course.

Susan

My "I write like..." came back as Agatha Christie, as multiple samples have in the past. I also got one that came back as James Joyce. The tool, unfortunately, doesn't discuss their voice or tell you what it is in your writing sample that is similar to those well known writers. I'm struggling with this chapter's writing exercise now (to read a few pages from an author you admire and then write a passage imitating that voice). I cannot seem to do it. I can't identify really what makes their voice what it is nor write without inserting my own voice into it. I think probably the closest I've come to imitating voice was when I wrote fan fiction several years ago, because I was so hardcore about getting cannon right and watched the episodes again and again, taking note and memorizing things. But this...this I struggle with. *L*

K. M. D.

An interesting lesson. I've heard over and over at writing workshops, the importance of voice. But I ask the presenters, and the class, what exactly is 'voice.' No one can answer. The instructor often 'clears his or her throat' and promptly changes the subject. Neil's explanation was by far the best. He dove deep into the subject. Jerry Garcia/Neil's quote of "Mistakes build's your style/voice" and "writing enough words/experience will eventually expose/hone your voice." OK. That's better--still a bit vague as to what 'voice' really is and then for me, but I think, perhaps my voice is the lines I write that I absolutely love, but I always delete because I've been told to 'kill your darlings' along with the fact that in most of those cases, I'm breaking the fourth wall and joking with the reader. But then Neil dashes that though by saying that the author's job is to write so the reader doesn't know the author's there (which I've heard before and seems contradictory to an author having a 'voice'. Obviously, I don't know what 'voice' is.) It gets even more nebulous when Neil says that each of his books have a different voice, yet beneath them all is the essence of Neil--his true voice. I'm intrigued, but still have no clue as to what 'voice' really is.

Maura

I have in the past imitated Edna O’Brian particularly from her trilogy The Country Girls. It is an intriguing sparse voice but I was so familiar with the ambiance. To write from your perspective as a young woman but use—what would it be grammatically.... Second ? So ‘you walked down the path, your father met you at the door...’ etc I find fascinating as it is subjective yet objective all at once—similar to a young girls dilemma in society.

Samantha M.

This lesson was intriguing but it was mostly things i already knew. Neil has this thing that when he talks its like he is saying things you've never heard before and its just amazing.

Jane

Great lesson. Like Lorraine Agnew, I wish he'd stop referring to 'young writers' though - it makes it sound as if you can't begin to write if you're past the first flush of youth.

Lorraine A.

Loved it. Just wished he'd refer to his students as "new" writers, not "young" writers. I'm almost 70 and still learning.