Every writer has a beautiful, authentic, wild voice. This is where we start early on, using our imagination and our natural wildness to express the stories our creative minds conjure. Then something happens: we’re taught the correct way to make a sentence, we learn the rules of grammar, which, of course, we do need to know, and slowly all that correctness begins to outweigh imagination. We learn what others (teachers, parents, authorities) want to hear and, over time, allow our wild voice to be tamed. We become cautious and self-conscious, and writing doesn’t hold the magic it had once upon a time.
But we can get it back. We haven’t lost our wild voice; we’ve just allowed it to be domesticated.
What is wild voice?
As its name implies, wild voice is untamed and unbounded and holds the possibility of great natural beauty. It goes deep, like roots; it sings because it can. Wild voice can be dangerous; it can be outrageous. It is passionate, exuberant, and eager for life. It is turbulent and stormy, often arriving as unexpectedly as a summer squall. Wild voice can be a lazy river or a soft summer breeze. But even a lazy river is not tame, and just try to capture a summer breeze and hold it in your hand.
Language erupts spontaneously with wild voice. It’s what gives a writer the sentence or phrase that seems to come out of nowhere. It is what wants to be expressed. It tells you what you intuitively know and what matters most. Wild voice speaks its own truth.
What happens when we lose touch with our wild voice?
We play by the rules and write only what feels safe. We censor ourselves and edit before we really begin. We second-guess ourselves. We make “nice” stories, poems, and essays and write only the “good” memories. We leave things out and look for happy endings. Our language is tame, our images predictable.
If we’re writing fiction, our characters never do anything dangerous, or if they do, it’s dangerous only in a physical way — no soul-risk, no emotional risk. We shy away from the psychological. And while we may not out-and-out lie, we tiptoe around the truth, especially if we think it would be harmful to someone else, or make waves or be sensational.
Some other ways we know we’ve lost touch with wild voice: we’re bored by our own writing. We don’t believe we’re creative; we don’t trust our voice or our experiences. We don’t believe we have anything important or valuable to say and we apologize for our work.
Please don’t do that.
How do you know when you’re writing with your wild voice?
When your writing surprises you. When you say, “I don’t know where that came from.” When what you read back to yourself resonates deep inside. You know when you’re writing with wild voice when you realize you’re telling the truth, maybe a truth you didn’t know before or hadn’t given language to.
You’re in wild voice when you’re excited by what you’re writing, when you’re having fun, when you’re not “trying.” When your ego has stepped aside and you’re writing freely and easily, intuitively. When the language you’re using is of your own making and the rhythm of your sentences is the beat of your own drummer. When your writing still feels honest and true when you read it weeks, months, even years later.
How do you access wild voice?
First, you must get yourself out of the way. That is, don’t think. Often when we try to think of what to write, nothing appears. Or rather, too much appears and our thinking mind gets busy doing what it’s supposed to do: judging, evaluating, comparing. Consequently, ideas jam together and get bottlenecked, and none is the “right” one. And there we are, paralyzed by infinite choice.
Instead of trying to think of the “right” word, idea, or beginning, breathe and allow an image to come to mind; let a detail be the starting place — a color, a sound, a texture — and follow where it leads. Let the pen or your fingers on the keyboard be the guide. Listen to your intuition and write from there. Trust yourself. Trust your pen. Trust your ideas. It’s okay to not know where you’re going, or if you do know where you’re going, to not know how to get there.
Listen to your body when you write and when you read back what you’ve written. Pay attention to your voice, breath, heartbeat, gut. Listen for the thrill of “yes!”
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and be as messy as you need to be. Risk embarrassment, banish shame, and write from your passion. Explore with an open mind and an open heart. Give your beautiful, original, authentic wild voice free rein.
Let’s do it.
Right now. Take just fifteen minutes and see what happens.
Here’s the prompt. Use it to write from your own perspective or from a character’s.
It’s raining. You’re not at home.
After you’ve written, read your work aloud and let me know if you find traces of wild voice in your piece (firstname.lastname@example.org).
is a writer, teacher, and writing practice provocateur who has written four books on writing, including the award-winning A Writer’s Book of Days
. In addition to leading private writing groups, Judy teaches at UC San Diego Extension and at San Diego Writers, Ink, a nonprofit literary organization she cofounded. More information at JudyReevesWriter.com.