Chip MacGregor

April 24, 2015

How do I clean up my writing voice?


Someone sent in this question: “How do I clean up my writing voice? My critique partner just sent her feedback and said, ‘There are times when the writing is very formal and sophisticated, and then suddenly a slang word or colloquialism is thrown in, and it can be a bit jarring… there needs to be more uniformity in the voice of your writing.’ The fact is, I never studied literature and could only put this vocal difference down to writing on different days, in different moods, and often in between family members pestering me (er… seeking my attention). How do I find these differences and tidy up?”


The fact that you sound different at different times or under different circumstances isn’t unusual – most writers experience that. It’s possibly you just need to spend more time writing in order to determine what your voice is, or how it sounds the most true. But there are a few suggestions for cleaning up your writing voice.

–First, go back a day or two after you created something, and read it out loud. Your ear will tell you if it sounds correct or not.

–Second, read a long passage of your work, not just a few pages (or even just one chapter). A longer body of work will help you see how your voice changes from one passage to another.

–Third, see if you can make a list of the way your voice changes. Is it attitude? Word choice? Sentence length? Emotional content? Seeing how it shifts over time will help you know what to watch for.

–Fourth, ask your proofie friend to read your work specifically for consistency – what is it that changes? What is it doesn’t seem right to him or her?

–Fifth, consider hiring an experienced outside editor to read your work and comment on the voice sometime. Sometimes an outsider who doesn’t know your voice or personality can best help you see where the problems are coming in.


Does that help?

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  • A good question and one that affects more writers than you might suspect.

    One thing I would suggest is to find ways to incorporate your changing voice into the different voices of characters. You probably won’t be able to fit all those voices into a single novel, but if you follow Chip’s advice and begin to see how your voice differs, you’ll be better able to deliberately change voice from one character to the next.

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