A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

Finding your voice as an author by Robin Stevens

When I was a teenager, I went on a creative writing course. One of the exercises we were given was to write a short story, and when we came to read them out it emerged that while the rest of the group had written thoughtful, emotionally connected meditations on life, I had written a story about a man who turned into a mouse. I locked myself into the bathroom and sobbed. I realised that I could never become a real, serious writer because I was simply not interested in the right sorts of things. I made stupid jokes. I put murders in everything, usually quite inappropriately. Most of my main characters were children. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just grow up?

Wells & Wong books

It turned out OK in the end.

Ten years later, I’m so glad I didn’t. The important lesson I’ve learned since that writing course fiasco is it’s fine to be interested in children and murder. I’m always going to want to write that kind of book, and that’s totally valid.

Just like everything, voice is partly learned. You can listen, and read, and experiment, and by putting in the work you will become a better and better writer. But (just like everything) voice is also partly innate. It’s you, on a page, and so a huge part of finding your voice is learning to trust yourself. There are certain things that just interest you, and certain things that just don’t.

For all an author can write about lots of different subjects, everyone has an underlying style that’s as subtly unique as their fingerprints. To an extent, I don’t think that there’s really even a ‘decision’ to make about whether you write dark, or funny, or YA or MG. It’s just what comes out when you begin putting words on the page. Whatever I try to do, there are certain themes and ideas that seem to turn up into my writing again and again. There will be a murder and a mystery surrounding it. There will be a large, nutty family (or large family substitute, like the boarding school culture in Murder Most Unladylike). There will be an attractive young uncle. There will probably be a dog. I’ve learned that there’s not really any point fighting it.

If I try to write a book without jokes, everything takes on the air of bad melodrama. If I try to write a gentle romance (I did this once) a dead body will pop up in the middle of it like a jack-in-the-box. Whenever I try to write YA, I end up just writing middle-grade fiction. I’ve spoken to YA writers who tell me that they have the opposite problem – every MG they write ends up YA. But that’s fine. We need MG and YA and picture books and books that make you laugh and books that make you cry and books about dragons and books about cancer and books about sheep and Italy and 1066. I can’t write them all – no author can. So be grateful that you’re not the only author in the world and get on with doing what you want to do.

It’s important to remember that there isn’t one type of literature that’s better than the others. Certain books are better than certain other books, but that’s where it ends. You can always get better at doing what you do, so it’s important never to stop listening to your readers, but it’s also important to write what interests you, instead of what you think you should write. If you want to write it, then it deserves to be written, and if you enjoy writing it then someone will most likely enjoy reading it. So don’t worry about looking for your voice. You’ve already got it. You just need to sit down and put it on a page.

About Robin Stevens

Robin Stevens was born in California and grew up in an Oxford college, across the road from the house where Alice in Wonderland lived. She has been making up stories all her life. When she was twelve, her father handed her a copy of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and she realised that what she wanted to be was a crime writer. She spent her teenage years at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, reading a lot of murder mysteries and hoping that she’d get the chance to do some detecting herself (she didn’t). She then went to university, where she studied crime fiction. Robin now lives in London.

4 comments on “Finding your voice as an author by Robin Stevens

  1. This is so great, Robin. It really helps! It is v tempting to look at all the wonderful writers out there and try to be like them instead of being yourself. We do have to trust to our own voice – and I really needed to read your post today so thanks! AND I love your voice and am really looking forward to ‘Arsenic for Tea’!!!

  2. barbarahenderson
    July 7, 2014

    Excellent advice! I have so many groups of students where one is intimidated by the writing of the others and it’s hard to get them to realise that their voice is just as valid as anyone else’s.I may refer them to this post in future! Hope the book is going well. Bea D

  3. King Kirkland
    July 7, 2014

    It happens naturally, doesn’t it? You eventually find your style, but it can take a while. My real tip – and will be obvious to everyone – is to read as much as possible, and not to limit yourself to one genre. It really does help. It helped me. PS Murder Most Unladylike is fab.

  4. Emma Haughton
    July 7, 2014

    Fab post, Robin!

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