Your True Voice

When does a writer (or creator of any kind, from artist to parent to gardener) develop their true creative voice? Is it something that comes from years of immersion in other voices, of education, practice, and maturity, until they winnow out what they like best for themselves? Or are they born with it?




I don't remember when I first knew I was a writer, although looking back I can clearly see I followed the path the craft itself followed through the millennia: telling stories orally before I eventually evolved into putting words on paper. My earliest stories were mere repetitions of what I had read, mingling with influences from the world surrounding me. Since I read a lot of classic fairy tales, and my world was an enchanted wood, I tended towards telling magical stories.

But one of my most enduring memories is of the day I encountered a typewriter. It was at the house of my mother's friend, and I was given permission to use it. As I touched my fingers to the keys, I felt my soul awaken. From that moment on, I understood I was a writer. And yet, what I composed on that typewriter was not anything about fairies or singing owls. It was sheer wry humour. And as I watched the adults around me read it and laugh, I knew there wasn't anything else I wanted to do (apart from be a mother and travel the country in a gypsy wagon, reading tarot cards at country fairs, of course). Knowing you are something and wanting to be that are two different things, and I believe both can be changed. But I never wanted to change. I was hooked on the feeling I got when I sat at that typewriter and turned ordinary little words to my purpose. 

The years went on and I quietly studied the craft of writing through reading, practicing, and getting a university degree in literature. My practice continued in the way it had through childhood: essentially repeating what I was reading. Which meant fantasy stories. A few times I tried humour but lost my nerve.

Recently though, I struck upon a story idea which can only be told in a wryly humorous manner. I told myself not to bother, because I am a dreamy poetic writer. But telling myself seldom works. Before I knew it, I had three chapters written within the space of three days and could not stop, even when I was nowhere near a keyboard. I don't feel necessarily confident in what I am doing (although it helped when two test readers told me it made them laugh out loud, and whatever happens I will always treasure one of them, a bluntly honest person, telling me it read "like Jane Austen crossed with Terry Pratchett".)

What I lack in confidence, though, the story itself seems to have, because I can't let it go. And so I continue on stubbornly. And this is what it feels like:

Like my true creative voice has been engaged.

So I wonder, do writers (and other creators) get a true voice along with all the other inherent things that make them grow up to be writers, and have to guard against it being lost through education, other voices, expectations? Or is it just, in the end, a matter of sheer, bloody-minded confidence?





8 comments:

  1. "I don't feel necessarily confident in what I am doing."

    Wow. Me too. But I was surprised to hear you say it. Your writing flows like a river. How can you not be confident?

    I write. I have voice. I can see it in different stories and things. It took shape and now it's a thing. But I had no awakening like you did at the keyboard. I don't know why I think I'm a writer. I am not even sure I am.

    I told a friend once long ago that I wish I had studied writing in college. She said they would have taught the skill right out of me.

    I had a dream fairly recently, within the last ten years or so, that I was in my old place of worship and there were no walls and people were coming in out of the rain and I told someone I was a writer.

    But.

    I am still not sure. My voice sounds ordinary to me. It flows like a quiet whisper, I think.


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    1. Thank you :-) I mean I'm not necessarily confident in this new project, as it's very different from what I usually write (it has a tone closer to some of the short tales I have shared here, rather than to my published works.)

      I didn't study writing at university, I think that would have been an awful thing to do. I know some people swear by it, but for me personally I chose the apprentice route, doing mindful reading, directly studying the writers I loved, figuring out what they did that worked for me. (It would be different for every reader of course.)

      A quiet whispered voice is a beautiful thing, and ordinary is only another word for magic.

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    2. "...ordinary is only another word for magic."

      :-)

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  2. I think each person has their own voice and it's innate.It is part of your deepest soul. I read a lot and use some of the techniques and ideas I see expressed, but for me it's always a way of bringing forth what is already there. I do think you need to guard your voice. For the first time ever,I recently did a poetry workshop. There were lots of rules about what you could/couldn't write if you wanted to get published eg no adverbs, adjectives etc. I noticed that everyone else's poems sounded the same because they'd attended previous workshops and were following the rules. I went home just wanting to write a poem comprising entirely of all the words I shouldn't use! But since then, I've realised I do need to be careful about guarding my voice and I avoid reading 'advice to would be writers' blogs etc.

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  3. Jane A could definitely do with a hefty dose of TP, looking forward to this!!! ;-)

    I think we can get caught up in all the things we love about the creations of others + a certain self image that we hold on to for various reasons, that our "own" voice is having a hard time being heard. But I also reject the notion that there can be only one. Voice, lover, truth, take your pick.

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    1. Or to quote TP:"The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it."

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  4. It seems to me that much is made about a writer's "voice" these days, when a writer really ought to feel free to write whatever she needs to (sometimes need is dictated by the heart and sometimes by practical concerns like paying the bills!). Many a fine writer has made a career through a variety of literary forms and genres. Some writers (probably under the advice of their publishers)go to print under different pen names for their various projects (for example Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb; Kate Hewitt/Katherine Swartz, J.K.Rowling/Robert Galbraith; Marion Chesney/M.C. Beaton; etc.), but their websites typically promote all of their various works together.

    I don't think of "voice" as a constant. It changes--and should change--depending on the needs of a particular piece of writing. It took awhile (and a lot of computer software analysis) for professors to determine that Robert Galbraith and J.K. Rowling were the same writer!

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  5. You have brought the search for my ' voice ' back into focus, into the warm winter sun.

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