12. You already have a voice.

Here, read this:

…Parking the car (smooth sleek shiny grey) in the heated, lit underground lot, though at least a good five-ten blocks away from my destination (I’d have to be lacking in intelligence to be parking it any closer: there are certain rules must abide by in these things), and out once again – though unprotected this time – into the night air (cold & misty) for a little bit of a walk: certainly conspicuous in this, as yer not likes to be finding much of too many anybody out on the streets this time of night (especially in this part of town) without a damn good reason: and if the Men in Pink happen to glance you, you will most certainly be inquired as to why wherefore where when what who you are doing out this time of night, which being the accurate nature of your business, and so on and so forth ad infinitum nauseum et cetera. Goes without saying this being my aim to avoid (perhaps one reason for choosing the darker shades in a suit for wear this eve?).

That bale of braided turds, my friends, is the start of a short story by a writer who’s trying to find his voice. I wrote it when I was 18.

Lots of writers try really hard to “find their voice.” Lots of writers produce absolute rubbish trying to create an individual voice. A lot of “trying to find my voice” is also a stalling tactic motivated by fear of having to do the hard work of finding interesting things to write about and figuring out how to write about them effectively. I told you yesterday: Many writers want to be “a writer” without actually doing the necessary detail work. “Finding my voice” for them means “looking for that one magic trick that will show the world I’m a genius so they’ll make me famous and throw money at me.” But because this kind of “finding my voice” is rooted in avoiding doing actual work, it typically ends up borrowing stuff from other people and doing it worse. It’s like a seven-year-old trying on makeup.

You don’t need to find your voice. You already have a voice. You develop it by using it. I sang with a very large, very good choir for years, and my singing voice improved and gained better character over that time. Also, my voice was good enough to get me into that choir because I had taken several years of singing lessons. Those lessons didn’t corrupt it or make it less individual; they made it better to listen to. If you think raw talent is better than trained talent, come over to my place for dinner. I’ll eat roast chicken with mashed potatoes, and I’ll serve you raw chicken with raw potatoes.

Everything you want to do, you do better if you have better technique. You develop that technique by learning and doing. I already told you to read a lot and write a lot. I’m telling you again. It will express you individually because you’re you and you’re doing it. And anyway, your readers don’t give a shit about your wonderful personality; they want to be glad they’ve read what you’ve written. Why are you writing? What effect are you trying to produce on your readers? What are you trying to get them to do? Focus on doing that. The more you do it, the more you’ll do it your way.

But wait: there’s more. You don’t have one voice. You have several. Of course you do! Do you talk to a bartender in a busy bar the way you talk to your mother over dinner? Do you write business emails the same way you write on Twitter or Facebook? It’s all writing! You know perfectly well how to write in different styles, with different word choices and different structures, for different audiences and different contexts. And the more you do it, the better you get at it.

You know how to tickle someone, right? You know which places are most likely to be ticklish and how to use your fingers on them, and if you don’t succeed you vary the location or technique until you do. You’re not thinking “I have to have my own personal individual tickling style.” You’re just doing what it takes to tickle this person here and now. Writing is maybe a little more complex than that, but the essence is the same: focus on who’s going to be reading and what’s going to get the best response from them. You’ll do it your way because you’re you. If they need to know who’s tickling them, they’ll know.

Oh, one more thing. The difference between that unendurable drivel I wrote when I was 18 and what I write now isn’t just that I’ve written a lot and read a lot between then and now, and it’s not just that I’ve found what I’m better at and worked on what I’m worse at. It’s also that I’m 33 years older. Living life, and maturing emotionally, makes a huge difference. A couple of years after I wrote that story, I auditioned for one of my erstwhile drama teachers, who had taken on the artistic directorship of a theatre company. She told me “You need to live more.” It was true. And it’s true for writing as well as for acting, and it remains true no matter how much you’ve lived. So that’s my final suggestion for you, regardless of who you are: Live more.

3 responses to “12. You already have a voice.

  1. Pingback: 12 Days of Gifts for Writers | Sesquiotica

  2. Marie-Lynn Hammond

    “…bale of braided turds…” Made my day. 🙂

  3. ‘they want to be glad they’ve read what you’ve written.’
    I sure am glad. Thank you once again.

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