Recently I was having lunch with a writer friend and we got to talking about voice.
“To have someone tell you that you have a distinct voice in your writing,” he said, “is the biggest complement anyone can give you.”
I’ve been thinking about this as I myself am in the process of discovering my writing voice. It’s a notion that, for many years, I have been interested in, as all writers should be I believe. Consequently, I always have my ears perked when it comes to the topic of voice.
A writer I find who has something unique to say about voice is Christopher Meeks http://www.redroom.com/author/christopher-meeks “Despite how many people there are, our voices are rarely so similar that someone would confuse you for someone else. That’s just how a voice in writing is – it’s clearly you.”
Clearly you. I am finding that the closer I come to my voice, the more I uncover who I am. This excites me and pushes me more to want to write so that , through the discovery of my voice I will become a bit clearer about who I am.
I walk out of the library after a meeting and I am looking at a spread of yellow chrysanthemums. As I have a tendency to do when I encounter marvels of nature I try to connect with some source outside of my Self. This time, since my mind is on voice, I ask – whoever ‘out there’ cares to listen – if I might be granted a bit of guidance in this.
Barely a minute passes and I hear a voice behind me, “Carry the love of books. Alright!”
I turn. It is a young man in his early twenties. He has a wonderful smile. “Your bag,” he says “that’s what it says on it.”
He goes on to tell me about his love of books. The occult. Something religious. In my years of working with street kids I recognize that he is one of them. I find him adorable not only because he has spoken to me (I am really usually invisible to young men) but also because well, he is so cute and so, well, sexy.
“I love Montreal,” he says, “All the music festivals.”
“Where are you from?”
“Sault Saint Marie.”
I smile. It is in Sault Saint Marie on my way back from a long road trip from Vancouver to Toronto that I come upon one of the most magnificent sunsets in my life. I don’t mention this because I want to listen to what he has to tell me. A voice inside of me says, pay attention. He tells me that he plays music.
“What kind ?” I ask.
“Heavy metal. Blues. Jazz. Lately I’ve been getting into classical.”
We walk a block together. Like old pals. Then our paths diverge. “Keep reading,” he tells me, “it’s good for the mind.”
“Keep doing music,” I call to him for he is already half way in the street meeting up with his two other buddies. Dread Locks. Purple hair. Tattoos. Rings in noses.
He places his hand to his heart, “That’s good for the soul,” he says.
Two souls whose paths have crossed. Two distinct voices. That of a homeless kid and that of a sixty year old woman. For a moment I forget who I am. Who I’m supposed to be. I am simply me. No strings attached. And that likely is all it means to discover your voice.
Just be. That’s good advice. Yet, not simple to follow. Just being is hard. I have to keep working at it over and over again.
It’s like a golf swing. For years I’ve been taking lessons and reading about how a golf swing works. I know all the technical mechanics of it. Straight arm going back. Wrists cocked on the up swing and unhinged just when it is back at the ball. Thighs squeezed like there’s a basketball between them. Hips turn before arms come down. And so forth. The thing is that what really makes my ball fly in the air, what brings a smile on my face, is when I bend my knees more than the books or pros say to do so and when I kept them bent like that up to my finish.
But I don’t always trust myself and because of that I forget and find I’m back on what the books say is a perfect swing. My golf swing becomes unpredictable…a shot in the dark so to speak.
It’s the same with this voice thing and my writing. I find myself not trusting that I have read enough about voice (my library is filled with books on writing most having chapters on voice) or that I have written enough to be able to stand on my own. I still have particles of mistrust floating in my cells and I suspect this will probably always remain.
All my life I’ve been trying out other people’s voices in an attempt to find my own. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing because you’ve got to have models. But there’s a point, I believe, where you’ve got to stop emulating and trust in yourself. To believe that you’ve got something of value to say. And then, when your vision of what’s in your mind corresponds to the words you’ve written then I think that’s voice.
The artist and poet Naomi Beth Wakan (www.naomiwakan.com) says it so elegantly, “It’s not so much ‘finding your voice, for you never lost it, it is more like retrieving it from the layers of rubble, concepts, rules, and inhibitions under which it has been hidden.”
Once again the chicken and the egg make their appearance. Which comes first, the finding of your voice or the finding of your Self?