The other morning Pam (Roughwighting) and I yakked on an early morning phone date. We’ve connected with our voices on the telephone on and off for a couple of years now. We talk about creativity, writing, mothers, dreaming, jobs, books and Hawaii. Plus 2,021 other random things.
Pam’s taught creative writing for years. Since I’ve never even taken an official creative writing course, I’m fascinated about her insights. She shares about how she guides her students to find their writing voice. She says many folks think that writing involves thinking about what they’re writing. Au contraire. The opposite can be true. One ceases to think actively and allows the gates of the mind to open and the words to flow out of the hidden recesses. One discovers his or her voice through this process of opening and allowing the words to hatch, like fuzzy yellow baby chickens. (Disclaimer: Pam did not say this at all. She never once mentioned fowl or hatching, but I am paraphrasing what her words sounded like to me. Never fear, I’ll email her this paragraph for approval before publishing.)
I, of course, have been talking about the “typing fingers” for years. How this process of writing involves the backward step of emptying the mind of thoughts and letting the typing fingers have their way. Whereas in journalism and scientific writing one might attempt to frame sentences and participles in neat and rational order, creative writing takes off in a new and fresh direction. It dashes outside the box and attempts to create something new, lively, fresh!
I remember my journalism professor in college, Mr. McNamara, figuratively smacking my typing fingers with a ruler. OK, he actually said something like this, “Miss Sheldon! You are not being a creative writer any more! You must learn to follow journalistic rules if you want to graduate from this department!”
I sniffled and cried for about a week, but learned how to write like the journalists. Learned how to stifle whimsy. Learned how to kill fun (except in feature stories, where fun could be interjected in measured sentences). Learned how to state facts without reverting to conjecture. (Even though conjecture is inherent in everything we write, because it’s impossible to completely kill bias.) Learned how to delete flowery language and moon-eyed magic.
The joy of discovering blogging ten or more years ago resurrected the voice of the little girl who wrote story after endless story holed up in her white mahogony bedroom.
How DO we find our writing voice? How do we discover our voice at all? How do we learn to speak our truth in the world? To become uniquely ourselves?
I think this matter of finding our voice is central.
Too often, we speak the words and thoughts and opinions we’ve learned. We parrot what our parents said, what our teenage self thought, what our culture indoctrinated. We’re speaking leftover words, claiming them as our own without really bursting the bubble of inauthenticity which surrounds them. They’re old, over-used, no longer bursting with new life, new baptism, new expression.
Without our voices, without our expressions of who we are, we often relegate ourselves to silence. We don’t speak our truths. We stand mute, or parrot old thought patterns. We become perhaps less than our full-bodied expression of our wild & beautiful lives.
Why don’t we find our voices?
I am really not sure about you, but fear has been one of my boogeymen. Fear of looking silly, stupid, crazy, dumb, not enough. It takes courage to express ourselves. To be able to withstand both the inner and outer critics.
When I started blogging around 2007 or 2008, I literally shook for hours after writing a few innocuous sentences. It felt so scary to state some spiritual truth–and to state it a big way (to maybe ten people at the time). It felt life-threatening. One single punch, one single disagreement, and I may have quit writing publicly forever.
Luckily, in this beginning incident, no one took offense and verbally punched. Our inner voice may be very tentative as we take it out to play, to express, to dance. It may be necessary for some lovin’ before it expresses deeper truths.
We often think we’re not good enough. In our writing, perhaps, but also in our other public voices. We compare ourselves to others. We judge ourselves harshly. We can’t imagine being so creative, so honest, so ridiculous, so funny, so out-there.
We stop before we start, caught in a net of not-enough. Caught in our own noose of fear.
Yesterday, I was thinking that we all have many different voices within us. Not just a single voice to cultivate and nod and say, “Yep, this is my voice.” I don’t know about you, but there are 10,000 voices clamoring within. When you open yourself to a piece of paper, or a white computer screen, and let go–how do you know WHICH voice will make a run for expression?
Will it be a funny voice, a sober voice, a vulnerable voice, a discouraged voice, a saddened voice, a happy-go-lucky one? And can we trust that we won’t be judged by that one facet of ourselves, that one perfect imperfect sliver of ourselves?
It’s also true that some expressions are for our eyes only. Or for the eyes of a loving friend. We need to feel safe before we share some things with a larger circle. I have secrets I’ve never shared; they’re kept in a Pandora’s Box in this heart. They’re not meant to be shared now. Their voices flutters within like butterfly wings. They’re precious and they’re silent and they’re not meant for daylight. Not yet.
Perhaps we’re all finding and losing our voices all the time. Perhaps we find a political voice and express it loudly for a while. Then that seems to wane; we find a voice which expresses our love of nature. That comes strong for awhile before a more creative expression bursts forth.
I find it interesting to watch the different interior voices rise and fall, rise and fall, like waves along the shore. And to watch one’s silence and to notice whether it is quieting from fear or from restfulness. Is this voice ceasing because it’s simply time to stop for now, or is it ceasing because something scared it away?
Have you found a voice that you’re comfortable sharing with the world, writing or otherwise? Are there certain voices you’d like to nurture, to express, but you haven’t found the confidence yet? Are there any other perspectives about finding our voices that you could share here?