I met Thelma here at Jumping Tandem. We talk a lot behind the scenes, Thelma and I. She makes me laugh out loud. I like that in a friend. Lately, Thelma and I have been talking about voice. The voice that comes through when we write. We’ve had some good chats, so I asked Thelma if she’d write something here about voice. She said yes! Lucky for us! Enjoy!
I have wanted to be a writer since I was in third grade. I had grandiose dreams of being published. And famous, I’ll be honest. The youngest of six children craves a little fame. I focused on poetry well into university years, overworking exaggerated vocabulary and tired similes. During my graduate studies a published poet took a look at my latest work – a longish poem series that included a single piece of prose – and, as he handed me the manila envelope he said, ‘You write stunning prose.’
I never wrote poetry again. In fact, I did not write a single thing for quite some time.
For years as a blogger I did my best to be popular. I emulated those writers who had steady traffic, lively discussions within the comments and who had, it appeared, figured out the formula that bound writing and success together in a tidy package. I was going to fake it until I made it because what reader doesn’t love some good, old fashioned fake’n’bake?
No one, oddly enough. Frustrated, I moaned to another writer, ‘I think I lost my voice.’
Writer’s laryngitis. I had it. There’s no pill for that. Believe me, Mr. Google and I checked that out but good. The remedy is a whole lot of uncomfortable introspection and prayer. I took a break from blogging and in the quiet I stopped asking, ‘What do people want to read?’ and started asking ‘What do I truly sound like?’
With a few divine nudges I recognized my voice easily enough. Admitting I was simply afraid to use it was unpleasant. Realizing the gumption I’d need to embrace it was more than a little sobering.
It’s a bit of a moving target, this thing we call writing. We may understand the craft of stringing words together in ways unique and colourful, and our skill in doing so may increase with effort and exercise but from time to time the process gets a little messy.
Messy, you understand, being an understatement.
Enmeshed in this whole writing thing is the question of voice. Who am I as a writer? What do I sound like? How do I present images and ideas? Am I crisp and clean in my descriptions, or flowery and metaphorical? Do I overuse commas at a near-criminal level? (That last one quite possibly not indicative of voice so much as grammatical frustration.)
Writing is a vulnerable, self-conscious effort. With our words we lay our very selves bare. Sometimes I’m afraid that if you knew I can be loud, occasionally irreverent, and overly intense and shy in turns, you’ll stop reading. Except y’all are smarter than that; you know real when you see it. Keeping it real is what keeps you coming back for more.
There are days I miss the sweet naïveté of the third grader who knew she needed to write because God put it in her. Maybe that’s the real deal… I write because it is in me to do so. It bubbles up and slips out in a voice distinctly mine, boisterous and weak in the same breath. And perhaps the greatest vulnerability is our lack of control: we simply trust that the words given to us by the Word will reach those who need to hear.
What about you? Do you struggle to embrace your voice?
Thelma is wife, writer, and relentless joy-seeker: a Canadian girl learning to love God, her best friend and the joys and sorrows of their life as two. When she’s not writing or putting her feet up, she likes to pretend she knows a thing or two about photography and dreams of running a marathon some day.