[Making the Leap] Singing Like Amy
Written by
Julie Luek
April 2014
Written by
Julie Luek
April 2014

When I was younger, like in high school younger, I used to sing a lot. I wasn't all that bad, back in th’ day. Of course, when I sang with the school choir, I sang with my choir voice. When I sang alone in my bedroom using the hair brush as a microphone (oh come on, you did it too, admit it), I tried to sound like Barbara Streisand or whoever was on the radio at the time.

Back in high school a group of my friends formed a band. Someone played guitar, another friend played the drums, and like all high school bands, we thought they rocked the joint. To my delight, they invited me to sing with them for a performance (just once, now that I think about it). After our show a friend’s mom who had been in the audience said to me, “I think your voice is even better than Amy Grant’s!”  Now before you start snickering (or depending on your age, run to Google to figure out who the heck Amy Grant is), back in 1980-something this was quite a compliment for me. I was incredibly flattered. Needless to say, every time I sang after that, I imagined I was Amy.

That was a long time ago, of course. I’ve long since given up the dream of becoming a rock star. How unrealistic was that? Now I dream of writing a book and having it turned into a movie—much more plausible.  

Still Searching For Voice

The venue may have changed, but the quest for my voice really didn't go away. When I first started writing, I found myself searching for my voice too. What was my sound? I gave it way too much thought in the beginning and still sometimes find myself writing self-consciously holding the hairbrush microphone up to my words. Then, recently, I came upon this quote in the book by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd, Good Prose:The Art of Nonfiction, and it resonated with my own thoughts:

The term 'voice' appears constantly in criticism today. Sometimes people use it interchangeably with 'style', but usually it is supposed to mean more, often nothing less than the writer's presence on the page. The term indeed may soon buckle under the weight it is asked to bear. Certainly it has become discomforting to hear writers speak about their own voices. You cannot, must not, try to design and create a voice. The creation of voice is the providential result of the writer's constant self-defining and self-refining inner dialogue. When it happens, let someone else tell you, and be grateful.

Their point is well-taken. Struggling to find a voice and giving a "voice" such monumental importance is too much weight for the concept to bear. As Kidder later says:

It can’t be forced or created. Maybe [sound] is the more modest word to keep in mind. If you can’t imagine saying something aloud then you probably shouldn’t write it. Write the way you talk on your best day. Write the way you would like to talk. 

I love to write and communicate and try very hard not to imitate the Barbaras or Amys of the literary world, but rather let my words sing the way I would speak--on my best days.

What about you? Do you think about your voice when you write? Are you conscious of how you sound to other people? Do you agree with Kidder and Todd, or do you believe a voice should be cultivated intentionally?

Rock on with your writing,


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  • Julie Luek

    Hi Jenny, Pat Conroy has always scoffed at the "don't use too many adverbs" and the clean, sparse writing style that is in vogue. He is an example of a lush writer who has done well-- it is, in fact, part of his voice. I think the rules are good to listen to, especially for a newbie like me, but I think finding one's style (or voice) means making your own rules sometimes too. Hmm-- now you've given me something to think on as well. 

  • Julie Luek

    Hi Mark, sorry for the delayed response. I was out-of-town for a week. I think you're spot-on that voice can make all the difference. However, I do believe if we start giving it too much merit, it becomes a self-conscious thing. Tricky balance. Let it be natural is probably good advice.

  • Mark Hughes

    Hi Julie -

    I've been "away" for a while as I'm in my next novel's development phase, which is one of the difficult parts. Come to think of it, they're all difficult parts. Well, anyway, I like the voice topic and the thought of how different voices can be from one another. As, for example, the wee bit of distance between Dr. Seuss and Shakespeare. Hamlet I am, anyone?

    Shifting into a bit more serious tone, I think voice can be subtly and yet effectively shifted by the addition or subtraction of a very few words. Those words need to be choice (in the gem sense) and as such, I often do go to the thesaurus. Not to find the perfumed word but to find the precise one. Woolf wrote of working to "square up" the ideas that lay in the depths and I find it to be much the same; words themselves can clarify our understanding of what wants to be said.

    Lastly, I often think how it is "voice" that makes all the difference. As we've often heard, all has been said before, so it comes down to saying it in a new way that sheds fresh light. True with jokes, true with story. Thanks for the nice prompt.

  • Julie Luek

    Meg, I think you make a good point, but I also like the quote from Kidder above-- write like you talk on your best day. Don't worry about honing or finding a voice, and if someone remarks on it, be grateful. 

  • Meg E Dobson

    Forgive phone post and clumsy fingers. Sheryl, your comments resonate with me. They say you can't teach voice, but that doesn't mean an author's voice is automatic. After many years of conscious serious writing, the voice becomes consistant and satisfying. It becomes a joy and, yes, I hope all writers do recognize and cherish that unique voice.

    When you fight your natural voice to seek marketablity, you defy and betray your writer's soul. On the other hand, too often writers mistake their rambling or untutored words for voice. Only hard work and time will hone it.

    If you naturally bubble with glorious voice, bless the writing gods!

  • Julie Luek

    Sheryl, that was so well said, I hope everyone reads your response. Thank you. 

  • Sheryl J. Dunn

    I can't hear or see my own voice, although readers see it.

    I think voice comes from honesty, i.e., write what you're passionate about, and forget the thesaurus because although voice includes the words you use and definitely the rhythm of your sentences, it's much more about who you are, your values, your background, your biases, etc.

    The more you study the craft to eliminate newbie mistakes and weaknesses, the more likely your voice will be able to shine.

    Not everyone will like your voice, but you can't please all the people all the time. Best to be true to yourself, learn the craft, and hope like heck enough people like your voice to buy your books.

  • Julie Luek

    Hi Olga, You know Pat Conroy, author of Prince of Tides and The Great Santini supports the use of adjectives and decries the stark writing that is in fashion. And he's made a lot of money from his writing. ;)

  • Julie Luek

    Hi Lisa. Oh so glad you know who she is. I feel less...er... old now. And I do know precisely what you are talking about, actually. 

  • Olga Godim

    I definitely have a voice or a style, but I don't think everyone likes it. Mine is a bit flowery; I like to have a visual when I read, so I describe when I write. Maybe too much. One agent said that I use too many adjectives. I'm trying to cut down on those. Would it change my voice? I'm not sure.

  • Lisa Hamer

    I know who Amy Grant is!  haha.  I think I know my voice, but sometimes I think it isn't good enough or interesting enough.  So, I second guess...Ya know?