Find your voice

My monthly goals for February include eat more veggies, spread love, and read. Today, I’m three for three. I ate some green beans at lunch, brought my mom flowers, and read a chapter in Tara Westover’s latest, Educated. Most days, however, I count the clovers in my Lucky Charms as my “something green,” try not to tailgate, and skip the book to watch an episode of Schitt’s Creek, so I’m doing really well today. Why am I telling you this? By sharing all of this information in my blog, I’m developing my voice as a writer, something we ask our students to do when they write the college essay. It isn’t easy. And it usually requires students to think more deeply about themselves than they want to.  Perhaps at some point colleges will simply ask for an Instagram profile as a way to get to know their applicants, but for now, students need to reveal their personality in writing.

Tips for developing your voice in writing


  1. Along with the required essays in school, practice writing in a journal or use a google.doc to keep track of thoughts and ideas.

  2. Avoid criticizing yourself. Just write.

Start to vary your word choices

  1. One of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Berg, is a master and her writing always seems special to me because of her word choice. Her words are simple and create a voice that is conversational. For example, here is an excerpt from the book, The Pull Of The Moon (I highlighted the words that I felt made the sentence have a “voice”):

    1. I would put the coffeepot back on the warmer and sit opposite you and talk about what was in the newspaper, and inside me would be a howling so fierce I couldn’t believe the sounds weren’t coming out of my eyes, out of my ears, from beneath my fingernails.

  2. Don’t use a thesaurus; stick with familiar words and use your own vocabulary.

Think beyond the formula for a school paper

  1. A paragraph doesn’t have to include four sentences; it doesn’t have to start with a topic sentence. In fact, a college essay doesn’t even need to have paragraphs (gasp!).

  2. It is easier to develop voice when you aren’t restricted to a formula. Play around with what works best for you.

  3. My favorite assignment in my 11th grade English class (and I can’t believe I still remember this) involved writing an essay by starting each sentence with the next letter in the alphabet. The first sentence had to begin with a word that started with the letter A and the second sentence with the letter B and so on. I failed miserably, but my teacher read aloud an essay from a really gifted writer in the class and that example of excellent work made me want to try again.

Write about what you know

  1. Pick a topic that you care about and just write for five minutes on that topic.

  2. Write about an event that happened in your life. Practice writing your own stories.

Talk it out

  1. The blank white screen is intimidating, so instead, speak and record your thoughts and then transcribe what you said.

  2. Tell a story to a friend and ask your friend to type what you say aloud.