The Secret to Finding Your Voice
Forget about it.
Now that’s sorted, I guess this will be a short post.
Or, I guess I could explain…
A friend of mine really struggles with writing regularly, like a lot of us do. Fortunately, when you struggle, there’s always a discoverable reason. I’ll get into that more when I get around to ‘writer’s block.’ In short, writer’s block isn’t a thing, but constipation is.
When she does finish a chapter, her writing is technically very good. She has the mechanics down… but something is missing.
I always look forward to seeing her. She’s fascinating. Her life has been incredible and the way she recounts it keeps me riveted.
All her life she’s struggled with a ton of issues, to the point that it strangles her sometimes. And, every year when the major cruise lines move their ships from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean, she’s on board. Then she hangs out in her native country of Greece until they come back. I want her life… or part of it, anyway.
She’s one of the sweetest, most enthusiastic storytellers I’ve ever met, but her fiction is dry and as predictable as a ticking clock.
She hits all the right beats in her plot, but it’s dead dull. We move from one scene to the next with great description, fairly good action, and absolutely no heart. Dull, dull, dull.
I couldn’t figure out where the disconnect was, so I finally asked her.
She was so uncomfortable that I was bringing the issue up that I almost just bought her a cookie and left it alone. I go to great (sometimes heroic) lengths to make sure my writing discussions are supportive and open. I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable–usually.
Anyway, the words “stop crying” have never come out of my mouth, ever. Man, woman, child–if you need a good cry, go for it. It’s one of the best pain relievers in the world, whether the pain is physical or otherwise. Not that I like it though. Seeing someone else cry makes my own tear ducts kick in and join the boo-hoo party.
So, my eyes welled up while she collapsed in her chair, sobbing.
“I’m trying so hard. He told me I needed to find my voice, and I swear, I’m really trying.”
When I finally got the whole story out of her, I was furious. A previous writing teacher told her that she really needed to work on finding her voice. That’s all he told her. Whether he meant it in the way she took it or not. Those words shut her down and threw up a wall between her personality and the paper.
She had the idea that her voice was something outside herself that she needed to go find. My first reaction was, “What. The. Ever-loving. F…” Then I switched back to supportive mode.
Instead of being told to cultivate and get comfortable with her own voice, she felt like she wasn’t good enough and had to go find something.
By the way–I cry when I’m mad too. If there are tears in my eyes, I’m either about to reach for Kleenex or start swinging. It’s pretty random. I was in the ‘ready to start swinging’ mode.
Now, she works on not fighting her already fascinating voice. She’s good enough–and so are you.
We’ve all started telling a group of friends a story and seen them check their phones, get up to fix another drink, and decide it was time to walk the dog. Or, if it’s really gone wrong, go borrow the neighbor’s dog for a walk.
Pay attention to yourself. What is the difference between the time they checked out and the time they all sat on the edge of their seats. You know, that time Janice just couldn’t hold it anymore and yelled, “Wait! Wait! Don’t tell that part yet,” all the way to the bathroom?
In both cases, it was you telling the story, using your voice. Figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Pay attention. Cultivate your own voice. It isn’t out there somewhere in the ether. You already have it.
Also remember that voice isn’t the same as tone. Cultivating your voice doesn’t mean you learn to write one particular way. Nobody and nothing and no circumstances are just one thing.
Mostly, I write from the punchy personality that the people in my real-world life respond to. It makes me happy. It makes them happy. And, it keeps readers entertained. But, that doesn’t mean I have no depth and can’t infuse empathy and pain into my work. Like most people who easily switch into sarcasm, my life’s been pretty dark, and I’ve learned to tap into that when the narrative calls for it.
Your voice is already in you. Trust it, don’t censor yourself, and don’t sweat it.