I accidentally agreed to read some first chapter submissions for an upcoming conference (or the conference organizer figured out I’m a Pisces and just pretended I agreed to it so I’d have to do it, which actually would work like a charm. Hmm… and that would be just like him, too.)
This is not something I ordinarily do because I’m so much more comfortable teaching plotting and structure – and rewriting! – than I am teaching more basic writing writing, which I tend to believe can only be self-taught. I know how to write because I spent however many dozens of years journaling, starting at age four (my mother was a teacher and insisted that my siblings and I write every day. First a sentence, then a paragraph, then a page. Let me tell you – it worked.). That’s not something you can recreate in a workshop, any more than you can teach someone to play the piano in a workshop or teach someone to dance or paint in a workshop. The authors I know ARE writers; they may just have gotten around to writing a first book, but inevitably, in whatever way, they have been writers for dozens of years.
So I am reading these first chapters, and realizing that I am absolutely right – I cannot teach these people to write. Some of them can write already, and some of them can’t. I can make suggestions to all of them to improve what they have handed in to me. And actually the suggestions would pretty much be along the same lines to all of them. But the ones who can write will take my suggestions and end up with better first chapters – or they’ll ignore me completely and their chapters will still be good, possibly better than they would be if they tried to rewrite them.
And the ones who can’t write can take those suggestions and incorporate them until the cows come home and – I’m afraid – they are still never going to have chapters that would be of any interest to any editor.
These are not terrible writers I’m talking about, either. The writing is not uneducated, or laughable. That’s sort of what makes this kind of thing so painful to see.
And it occurs to me that this is mainly what editors are talking about when they talk about VOICE. I think there’s some confusion on this issue because a lot of times when people talk about voice they’re talking about how a character narrates a story – especially those first-person narrations. If they’re clever and witty and self-deprecating or use a lot of hip words, then a lot of people call that “voice”. I also hear “voice” used to describe an author’s unique storytelling –I mean the author’s character, or persona, as it comes through the story.
But there’s a more important voice that makes a book – and I mean literally MAKES a book. And that is the way an author puts a bunch of images, actions, thoughts, emotions and sensations into an order, in words, that puts a reader into the action and makes a reader have the exact experience that the characters are having – just like being inside a dream or a movie.
That is the real and completely elusive magic of storytelling – that an author can make all those disparate elements play as an engaging, unbroken whole – that literally becomes more important to the reader than their own consciousness. Because it’s true, isn’t it? When we read, we give up our own consciousness, our ego awareness, to the book, to the story.
I don’t know if this makes any sense at all, but voice is like the unspoken narrative that makes a dream seem to make sense at the time that you dream it. It gives the action cohesion.
Okay, here’s another analogy. I was a theater director, mostly musical theater, and I’ve sat through many an audition. This is always an excruciatingly tense thing in the first couple of seconds of a song, because you do not know if the person in front of you is actually going to be able to sing or not. You are bracing yourself – physically bracing yourself, for the very real possibility that this person will not be able to pull off a song at all, which is actually very sad and painful.
Most of us now get to have this special experience with televised American Idol tryouts, right?
And when that person starts the song, and they really can sing, there is first a relief, and then a relaxation, a giving over into that person’s hands, because you know they’re not going to drop you. You can commit to that song, that performance, because of the singer’s confidence. They’re going to do the work and make it not seem like work, and carry you along.
Same with writing. The first page, the first chapter, has to convey that confidence in storytelling that will make the reader relax and give themself over to you. They are putting themselves in your hands. But the thing that makes them have that trust is VOICE.
I would not exactly say that ALL published authors have this skill, or gift… not as far as I’m concerned. But they obviously have that gift enough to make other people (agents, editors, readers) give their consciousness up to their stories. And most of the time, annoying as I find these authors, I would have to reluctantly concede that they have at least that much skill – compared to unpublished authors.
I’ve taught enough now to know that some things about writing CAN be taught successfully, so I find this question of voice very interesting, and, like most unknowns – scary.
Is there a way to teach it, I wonder? Or is it like perfect pitch – you can fine-tune it, but if you don’t have it, you don’t?
Now, there are obvious, easily definable problems with some of these first chapters I’m reading. I think a first chapter carries the whole weight of the book with it. It has to convey mood, tone, genre, foreshadowing, stakes, urgency main character need and desire, setting, theme (especially, especially, ESPECIALLY theme) – and a dozen other things I’m not awake enough to list – and the absolute sense that this is a journey that we want to take. (Note I didn’t mention “a great first line”. I am not one of the cult of the first line).
And a first chapter doesn’t have to be explosive or perfect to convey those things, either. If an author has written a book worth reading, the first chapter will communicate that (partly because if it hasn’t, the author will have rewritten the chapter or started over with a new chapter that introduces the book convincingly.)
So I can tell these writers that they need to be conveying mood, tone, genre, foreshadowing, stakes, urgency, main character need and desire, setting, THEME, etc., in their first chapters. And I can make very concrete suggestions about how to bring those things out. And I think I’ll make that my next blog post, as a matter of fact.
The problem is, I don’t think that’s going to do a thing to improve the voice of a book.
And – I’m not sure if I’ve ranted about this before, here, but I think contests put far, far, far too much emphasis on endlessly rewriting the first three chapters when there’s no book there to begin with.
Maybe the only advice to give people who haven’t discovered voice is – keep writing. Write whole books. And find a critique group that will let you read your work aloud, where it becomes immediately evident if voice is there or not.
Except that even in that situation, if a writer doesn’t have voice, it doesn’t seem evident to them at all.
So here’s the question and discussion for the day. Authors, can you actually tell us how you learned voice? Have you ever encountered a teacher who was able to teach voice (or even adequately explain it)? How do you define voice? Readers, do you read for voice, and how would you define or explain it?
And Rati, if you have posts on voice that I can link to here, I think it would be great to have a compilation on the subject. I was able to find Allison’s here:
(Oh, and remember we have Captcha enabled now because of recent deluges of spam… sorry about that, but you have to enter the letters to post comments.)
So what your really saying is that the book has a voice of its own, of which the individual character voices are only a part. The combination of elements including a strong sense of "place" creates the greater voice?
I can't say how I learned my voice, but I think the workshops where everyone is given a scenario, setup, or a picture, and then has to write a paragraph or two demonstrates that even with the same premise, no two results are alike.
Before I started thinking about writing, I was reading fan fiction and glommed on to one author's work. My thoughts were, "If I could write, I'd write like that." What I liked about her writing, I discovered, was her voice.
When I'm writing, when the words flow without much thought, I think that's when I'm writing with MY voice. When I have to struggle, I'm likely to be writing "writerly" stuff instead of my stuff.
Romance with a Twist of Mystery: http://www.terryodell.com
Terry's Place: http://terryodell.blogspot.com
Dani, that is a beautiful way to define voice, YES. And you've suggested something even beyond my post, because besides an author needing to have a strong voice in EVERY book, each book by an individual author has to have a voice of its own, as well.
Terry, I can see how a bunch of people writing a paragraph on the same setup can give a good idea of voice. I've never liked that kind of class for myself, but there's no getting around how useful that exercise would be, thanks!
I agree – it's the writing I do in the flow, too, that seems to have the strongest and most natural voice.
Well I read Alexandra all the time, but this is the first time I'm jumping in.
I have a Master's in screenwriting and have been writing forever, but it wasn't until I started writing tons of emails that I found my voice and my sense of humor. Makes me grateful for my job (lots of emailing).
Every author has a voice, Alex. It's just that some of those voices are imitative or off key.
I think the way to get a stronger sense of what voice is (and so figure out what/how to study) is to do more reading, and especially reading across genres–some genres are defined in part by a voice (I'm thinking particularly of noir and chick lit). If one reads entirely within a genre, there is less contrast to see.
In seeing it, can one therefore reproduce it? As far as teaching it, or editing it, it's not really a line-by-line job, which makes it hard–my own description of voices sounds more like an anthropologist's or a linguist's report–as Dani says in the comment above, not just just place but social class, mood, attitude, goal. . . . Another teaching problem: it's hard to assess without a lot of writing to look at.
Christine, that is really interesting and inspiring, actually! Exactly what journallng did for me. You're so right – e mailing can be so intimate and communicative, just as much as letter writing was a fine art in its day. And I think you identified another key, here: the VOLUMES of writing that you do. In the beginning quantity seems to be even more important than quality. Maybe much more important.
Louise, you're right, of course, that every person who writes has a voice. But that doesn't actually make them an author. "A voice" is not the same as "voice."
Eek, little earthquake just now. The kind that feels like a wave going under a ship: rocking, with some glass tinkling.
Thanks for this post. It's going into my reference collection. I took me "losing" my voice to uncover it and I'm still discovering it. The best thing for me has been revisiting writing projects that I wrote in high school/college and reviewing how I currently write. Techniques improved but the intrinsic elements of style found in each piece is what I consider to be my voice.
I don't think voice can be taught. That's the indefinable quality in a book that makes it unique. Like me with drawing – you can give me the tools. I understand the process. But the execution is beyond my abilities. I can try, and sometimes, it will come close. But the only way I can really draw is tracing. My sister in law, though, can take pen to paper and create the most beautiful tree you've ever seen,w ith shading and bark and all the details that I'd never think to add.
But writing for me is as natural as breathing. I've never thought about voice. I wrote two books before I even knew what that was. But I'm pretty sure I have one.
Some authors just don't know how to draw, if you'll allow me to mix metaphors.
Wow, Alex, another great post.
Just to add to what I think you're saying here, part of what gives an author a unique "voice," IMO, is the decisions he or she makes throughout the story: When to reveal something, how much of something else to withhold, where a scene should take place. In other words, an author's "voice" comes out of his "vision" of the story he's attempting to tell. Non-writers don't really have "vision"; they know who, what and why, and very little beyond, so they can't put anything but a generic spin on it all. Writers know precisely HOW they want their stories to unfold, and they tell them that way.
Kristal, yeah, "style" seems to be a word that comes up maybe most frequently when people try to describe voice, and it is – a huge part of it.
And then there's what JT is saying – basically, bluntly, that voice is writing talent. Period. You can draw or you can't. You can sing or you can't. You can write or you can't.
And it's hard not to think that this is fundamentally true – when we're talking about those activities as professions.
Gar, I'm with you. For me it's being able to create the movie, or the dream, in someone else's head. I know you as an author SEE it, and you have the talent to make other people see it and experience it just as vividly. Not all authors are quite so visual about it – at least that's how it seems.
Alex, my daughter is learning to play Fur Elise on the piano and is at that stage where she just wants to know and play it, not learn it.
In an attempt to show her it's beauty, we listened to three versions on You Tube. It just so happened that the first three conveyed exactly what she needed to learn. The first was mechanical, technically perfect. The second while perfect, was also emotional. And then there was the third: passionate. Although there was a mistake, a half note with the sustain (ouch) when we went back to mechanical, which on first hearing she liked, she understood. For me it is passion that I look for when I read…the author for the story and the story itself as it says, "This is incredible. Come experience it with me."
In terms of my own writing, I just wish I knew somebody who understood voice and could, like I did with my daughter, analyse it and say where in that camp I land, or if it's just not there for me at all. (Not that that would stop me from writing!)
So here is an article to further the information. It deals more with the author's voice in terms of what we bleed onto the page from who we are as people, but is informative, I think.
Damn, girl, you're right on the money with this blog. I too believe that "voice" is this elusive thing that cannot be taught. But it does grow and improve with practice.
I have that same cringing feeling when I go to a movie and that first scene opens. I wonder if the director has the chops to take me on a journey, to let me suspend my consciousness. I'm a willing participant – I WANT to go. And if the film stumbles, it pisses me off. With all the millions of dollars funneled into these films and with all the talent — actors, director, production designer, cinematographer, editor — if the movie still ends up failing it just makes me throw up my arms. But we know how movies get made and sometimes politics and ego destroy the potential for great story-telling.
Right now I'm reading "The Girl Who Played with Fire" and I'm so into its world that I cannot function properly in the "real" world until I've finished it. My entire mindset has changed and I can't look at things around me without referencing images from the book. It's driving me mad, and yet, I admire what the author has done. The fucker has voice.
Debbie, great example. It is really so much easier, I think, to demonstrate what is musicality and what is not. You can have three pianists play the same piece, as you say, or three dancers dance the same piece, or three singers sing the same song, and you instantly see what is musical, what is talent, what is passion.
Terry's example of the exercise where authors write a paragraph on the same elements would give some idea of this, but it's not exactly the same, or as clear.
Yeah, Steve, I have that same feeling with every film I see, too. And it's even worse in live theater because it's easy to walk out on a film, but impossible to walk out of a play without doing more damage to what's not happening on stage.
But I love that moment watching a film, or play, or anything, when you realize – Holy shit, this is going to be great.
I think voice is something discovered over time and after a lot of effort. Myself, before I wrote my first novel, I had spent years writing reams of poetry, song lyrics and short stories. This was all done alone pretty much alone with no-one else involved in the process. Almost everything I wrote before that first novel ended up in the bin and the novel has been through about three rewrites since. The professional feedback that I had before those rewrites though was that what I had written did not read like a first novel and yet it was. This is why I am convinced that a talent for writing is something inherent to the individual and I don't think that can be taught. It is there or it is not there.
I do think though that the craft can be taught and learned. How you use the natural tools you have can be refined by studying the authors who inspire you, listening to good technical advice and by being an unflinching critic of your own work.
On the point of classes and critic groups, I think this is subjective and depends on the writer and what works best for them. Personally speaking, I'm loner in this regard as a number of people have let me down and I have since found that I have achieved my best results over the years working by myself. I'm not saying this to denigrate those who do find classes and groups work for them though. Like I say, we're all different and if works for you and you get what you need to know out of it then I think that's great. I just wanted to offer the other point of view on this 🙂
Greg, you have the advantage, like many authors actually, of being a musician – I think musicality is so key to voice.
I know what you mean about writing groups and classes. Unfortunately a bad one can do a lot of harm.
Voice is magic. Voice has to click inside the brain of someone else when you write it now and they read it then. How is it that we are friends with some people but not all people? There is a resonance that occurs. Does voice in one book work for you but not with someone else?
Voice is attitude. I came across a book for my newsletter a while back. The situation/character/plot would be a complete turn off for me but when I read the excerpt it simply caught my attention and I'm going to read it. It's not necessarily style. Nor is it stylized. Ken Bruen has voice but I don't like his style. That's just me. So it's not even a liking that makes voice.
Masters of voice: Stephen King, Nora Roberts, Louise Penny… Not having voice,:the story is flat, mechanical, no life, words on paper, rote, the teller not telling a story they are issuing a sequence of events…
Bah, I can't define it.
Great post. It takes guts to state publicly that some writing is a natural talent. It can be squandered by the lazy but it cannot be obtained through effort alone. Your idea of trying that truth to the elusive concept of voice strikes me as right on the money.
Alex, I had an interesting experience a few years ago when I unearthed some silly notes one of my sisters and I wrote back and forth to each other when we were (I'm guessing) in middle school. I didn't recognize them and don't remember writing the ones that were from me. But we had signed them (using made-up names) and I do remember using those names. The thing I found interesting was that my "voice" was very apparent in those notes. Reading them, I knew immediately which ones I'd written. They just… sounded like me. In a way, that was comforting. But it was also disturbing to realize that I still write like a 12 year old girl. *sigh*
I think I managed to stifle my voice (and my writing) for a good number of years. Not on purpose, but there was a time when life wasn't particularly happy and I simply wasn't writing. I know I lost my sense of humour and the ability to be playful. It pretty much came roaring back one day, years ago, when I stumbled on a strange new thing called a "blog" and started making comments and people thought I was funny (this was shocking, I never would have described myself as funny) and then I started writing my own blog posts. So I agree, to refine and hone and strengthen your voice you have to exercise it. You have to write. But I have no idea whether it can be taught. I suspect not.
Hope the earth has stopped moving out there. How disturbing. That doesn't happen here. Must be all these menacing trees, holding things in place. 🙂
PK, that's really true about voice – you don't have to LIKE it to recognize it's there. The book's voice may not be for you, but when you see it, you have to acknowledge it, and you can fully understand why it IS for other people.
The only way I can start off writing a story is by first hearing "the voice". In my case, it sounds like a real, spoken voice that I hear in my head. It comes from the character and who she is, what her mood is, and what she's facing at that moment. If I can't hear the character speaking to me, I can't write the first chapter.
I know everyone has a different definition of "voice," but this is the one that gets me going.
Hey Alafair (I snuck a look at your Valentine post – can't wait!)
Is it guts? What I mean is, I knew long ago that I wasn't a singer. I can sing just fine, in a chorus and as a backup singer and as a character singer. I'm better than a whole lot of other people, I've got a good ear for harmony. But do I have that THING? That a real singer has? No way.
I think part of being a professional is being able to say – I am not worthy. And then find the thing that you are worthy of, because we all have our gifts.
KD, you are never going to let me off the hook about those trees, are you? 😉 It's true, I like being able to SEE distances, okay?
I love the story about your sister-notes. I totally believe talent and voice is there that early, even earlier. And I am heartened to hear another story about how blog posts and e mails have helped people here find – or recognize their voices. THAT is useful for aspiring writers.
Tess, that makes total sense to me. In your books the book's voice is always completely aligned with your character's voice, which is I think why I feel so intimately involved with Jane and Maura.
Alex, my doctoral advisor was Carol Gilligan. Her Voice was too big for me. My Voice tried to spit hers out IN A DIFFERENT VOICE. http://courseweb.stthomas.edu/sjlaumakis/Reading%204-GILLIGAN.pdf But it could only cough, "Fuck you."
Reine, I am so envious that you worked with Gilligan, and thank you for the article, which I'll have to read (along with the one Debbie posted) when I'm not scrambling on my own work. I hugely admire her for trying to quantify everything that is fucked up and one-sided and crippled about Freud. I have my own opinions on that.
Chiming in late in the day, darn it!
Love this post and this subject. I think of voice the way you're describing it as being almost a "sensibility" that lets people reading know they can take a journey with you, the writer. I am not sure how anyone could teach it, and although I certainly think it can be learned to a degree, I concur with you that it is a self-study more than anything else.
A writer I adore told me once that if she had it to do over again she would be a therapist. That in her mind therapy is very much like writing. And at the time she told me that, as I was just heading off to graduate school, I didn't see the connection as much as I feel it now.
A therapist who can do deep, meaningful work with clients has that same sensibility that immediately says: I can accompany you on your journey. It's so very close to what the writer's voice says to readers.
Breaking it down, there has to be some level of trust implied, and competence. Beyond that I'm not sure exactly what else… but I think it's clear to most readers when they read a first page, and clear to most clients when they interview a therapist on the phone. There's some sense that "we can travel together for awhile and it will be worthwhile to do so."
Something like that. 🙂
Billie, that is excellent, excellent: the sense of "we can travel together for awhile and it will be worthwhile to do so." I love that. It's so true.
Alex, quantification now requires multiple regression analysis, so the data need replication with controls for culture, gender, family income, class… all that. As a writer I'm more into the psycho-spiritual stuff now, but studying psych, theology and neuro at Harvard certainly helped me pull my Voice together.
This is a wonderful post. If I mention opening lines for books, it's not so much that I want an opening line that's absolutely perfect, but because by the time you've read the opening line – maybe the opening paragraph – you KNOW whether you like the sound of that writer's voice or not. It's something to do with the rhythm of the words, the way the sentences are broken up, the flavour – the essence. You don't know the characters, you've barely touched on the plot, but the voice either grips you and doesn't let go, or it passes by like flat scenery outside a train window – featureless and boring.
I've found a great critique group that gives people the option either to read out their own work, or let another member of the group read it out for them. For me, the latter is by far the best option. I want to make sure that I'm putting the emphasis and the pauses and the rhythm into a piece of work that are THERE on the page, so when a stranger reads them, they get the same rhythm, the same voice I had in my head when I wrote it.
May all your earthquakes be small ones ;-]
Debbie, thank you for the link to that article about Narrative Voice! What a remarkable discussion.
I meant to say earlier, it isn't just people who call themselves writers who have a Voice. There are people who comment on various blogs I read and who call themselves "just readers" (as if there is such a thing as "just" a reader) whose voices I'd recognize anywhere.
I have now spent way too much time today not writing fiction. Ack.
Great blog, Alex. I agree with those that say voice can't be taught. You're absolutely right that it comes with practice. Write and write some more. You know when you've discovered your voice because it feels natural to you — not necessarily easy, but there's a rhythm that resonates with you. That's your voice. And not everyone is going to love it, but as long as it's natural and honest and passionate, it works.
I like Debbie's music analogy. I took piano for eight years, and even taught my teacher's beginning students before she would take them on — because so many kids quit. I was good at the mechanics. I could read music, I played competently, but I simply played the piano. I didn't make music. And no matter how much I practiced or how many years I played, I might have been a GOOD piano player, but I'd never be a musician. I didn't have the innate talent, or the "ear" for music.
Writing is the same way. Most people can learn to write, even competently, but innate talent–the voice–is either there or it isn't. Sometimes we have to discover it because we need to unlearn all the things we were taught in school, or mess around with genre or tone, until it feels right.
Reine, all I can say is I'm glad I don't have to be scientific about it. I know I'm contributing to the greater feminine POV when I write as an individual woman.
BTW, my daughter read the blog and we went for our walk and she said, "I wish you hadn't made me (I didn't) read that blog by your friend because now I know why I don't like the book I'm reading! Her voice annoys me!" LOL.
Yup. I feel the same way, Alex. And Carol seems to feel similarly, as her favorite teaching method uses popular literature and autobiography. One I course we did played the reconstructed – The diary of a young girl: the definitive edition By Anne Frank, Otto Frank, Mirjam Pressler – against Freud's early work.
Oh, Z, I agree about first lines. They don't have to stand out, but they absolutely need to be in the rhythm of the rest of it (my problem with them is that sometimes writers so obviously work on them that all they do is put me off the book.)
It's great that you have a group that will actually read your chapters for you! That's wonderful.
AB, thanks for that note of optimism about messing around with genre and tone until it feels right.
And please tell your daughter for me that (unless it's homework!) she doesn't have to finish the book if she doesn't like the voice. I never do!
Alex, like many here who've written since they could hold a crayon, I was never taught what to do. But when I worked on character as an actor, that was a tough process of imagining, building, listening and integrating.
And now, that's how finding the voice of the story goes, too. Not sure it's the best possible approach, but it gets me off the zero point, grants some structure, and still allows space for surprises.
Hi Alex, thank you for your post on VOICE…it is quite elusive. This post is the first one that enabled me to have a better understanding of what VOICE is. As a newbie writer, I hear the term constantly, but my question is always "how do you know what your voice is?" Some people have read my writings and say they can see/hear my voice, but it continues to boggle my mind. This blog post gave me a clear picture…the analogy to singers was a great one as was the description you gave regarding the author's voice. That made much more sense to me than any other explanation I've gotten. Thanks again. As a reader, I don't read for "voice" necessarily. I read a story if I get sucked in and lose my consciousness if you will. If that doesn't happen, my reading experiences is shot. I have to be able to feel like I'm part of the story. I want to feel like I know the characters and can interact with them outside the pages of a book. I want to live their experiences, in their world. If an author can give me that, then their book is a well-written one for me. Can't wait to see you in March.
Peace and love,
This is cool post, writers and musicians taking about voice. I am a musician, married to a writer, Meg Gardiner, and we discuss this all the time. From the musical perspective, every musician has a set of tools they use to bring a song to life – the ability to play an instrument, the knowledge of music theory – just like a writer uses grammar and story structure. But voice is what gives a book or a song the magical “it” quality. The one advantage musicians have is that when performing they can play off of others. And when you are with great musicians it can create a collective voice that far exceeds the sum of the parts. Think of the Beatles, Cream, or CSNY. Music performance also has an awesome aspect of creating a special voice in time. Each performance is different and allows the musicians a chance to exceed what they did the night before. Example – I conduct a choir and every Christmas I look at my singers and musicians and explore how to perform the same carols but make them special. And when you get it right you can feel it.
Voice makes every song its own and offers the listener to chance to capture a feeling and even be a part of it. Good books are like that. The voice draws readers into it and makes them feel a part of the experience.
Tom, you are so right about the actor's process of building character. I have endless respect for actors who can do that THING.
I really believe that any work we do in another art form helps build our voice as a writer.
That's great to hear, Paula. It's so slippery to talk about, so I'm glad something is coming through. And the fact is, you're not necessarily supposed to notice voice – all that's important is that you have that feeling of trust in the author, and subconsciously commit to going on that journey with her or him.
Really looking forward to Gettysburg!
Paul, thanks for your great comments! Tthis might sound a little crazy, but as an author you are also playing off others – every character has their own voice – and I think any author here will tell you that they're not in control of some of their characters. Writing really is like being in an ensemble of different personalities, sometimes.
A book I found helpful was Les Edgerton's 'Finding Your Voice.'
My personal conclusion is that you find your voice (or your voice finds you) through writing and writing and writing some more. The inner editor is an enemy of voice sometimes. You have to be able to turn it off. Fear is an enemy too, because it wants you to comparing yourself with other writers. For voice to emerge, you have to be willing to be transparent and honest with yourself. You can't hide behind some façade of what you think a writer should sound like. You just have to write out whatever you are and not mind that there are going to be people who don't like you if you do.
Hoping I'm not sounding overly weird, but I don't think you can teach it because it's more of an inner giving of oneself over to writing from the deeps than it is a skill level. Not everyone is willing to go there.
Voice is to write yourself fearlessly.