Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Your Voice

To quote Ursula (Because we live and breath Disney in my house): What I want is your voice.

I've been thinking a lot about voice lately. The topic of voice is one of those old writing chestnuts that have newbie writers tied up in knots -do I have a voice? Is it any good? Where do I find it?- And seasoned writers grasping to explain it -voice is... well you have to... Ah, hell, I don't know!

And is it any surprise? Given that an actual human voice is in itself almost impossible to describe?

I've known my husband for eighteen years. I could pick his voice out of a crowd. I hear it in my sleep -sometimes in a most nagging fashion. But can I describe it? Er... well it is soft, deep, prone to sonorous rumbling when he is moved. Now, can you pick my husband's voice out of a line up? I thought not. I might have been talking about James Earl Jones, for that matter. And I assure you, my DH sounds nothing like JEJ. The fact is, voice is not something one describes; voice is something one hears, and knows.

Still, the subject of voice can sit under a writer's skin like a splinter, causing irritation now and then, and the driving need to pick it out, settle the matter once and for all. What does my voice sound like? Where can I find it? Do I have Voice at all?

But in the wake of finishing my second novel, something occurred to me. Perhaps I had the idea of Voice all wrong. Perhaps Voice isn't style at all. Our voice is a tool. We use it to say something. I'll repeat: to say something. Often in life, when we lack confidence, we lack the ability to say something on a matter. We freeze up. Those with confidence speak up, make themselves heard, and make themselves understood. How provocative is the man/woman who speaks with confidence? We sit up and listen. We long to hear their thoughts.

So now, in my eight year of learning to write, I believe that Voice is confidence. The confidence in your writing chops to sit down and let the words flow, knowing that whatever story it is you are telling, you have the ability to make yourself understood. Writers with confidence have a distinctive voice because they operate without fear and their natural thoughts and inclinations come through on the page. Fear bogs us down. And by fear I mean?

  • Worrying about sentence structure, plotting, dialogue, craft. Best to learn the craft then let 'er rip. This is why voice usually comes to seasoned writers.
  • Will I find and agent? Be published? Finish? Good questions. Worry about it AFTER you are done!
  • Constant worry over is this thing any good? Again, worry about that later. Let your beta readers tell you! Then you can cry in your soup.

This is just the tip on the fear iceberg but you get the idea. And I know about fear. Fear made me take six odd years to finish novel number one. I love my first novel. It is my child. But it was a hell of a thing to finish. Agonizing, really. Should I do this? Or that? Rip it apart? What plot line? Etc. Fear had no part in my second. No part. I could give a ripe shit about fear when writing West Club Moon. It took me five and a half months to finish the first draft of WCM. Is it a better novel than PETAL? Who knows? I love them both. Was it easier to write? Hell yeah. I found my voice with WCM, I found my confidence.

For all those worried about voice, for all those slogging through a novel that you never seem to finish, write for writing's sake, write for the joy of it, the story, write to say something, and push all that fear, the nagging doubts, whatnot to the curb. You'll be happier for it.

And best of all, I'll be there, bright-eyed and busy-tailed, just dying to hear what you have to say.


Rachel Walsh said...

Excellent post Kristen; very wise words.

I think I have to print out "let 'er rip" in 20 point bold and plaster it above my desk. (g)

Kristen said...

Thanks, Rach. :) I think I'll have to print it out too. I tend to forget these things.

But, yes, please do. So I can read your WIP! LOL.