Tuesday, January 21, 2014

On Finding Your Voice - in Writing and in Life

Any beginning writer looking for writing advice is going to find article after article that command her to “find your voice”.

But what is my voice? asks that poor bewildered beginner.

And she’ll read further, and be told, “Your voice is just you. It’s what’s authentic about your writing.”

But if it’s just me, and I’m already me, then why do I have to go about looking for it? she wonders.

And then she’s told that voice is really hard to find, it’s hard to get your voice to come across to the readers, it’s almost impossible for anyone but the experienced to do it – in sum, she’s told, “You really have no idea how hard it is for you to just be yourself. You really don’t.”

And she thinks, Yeah. Right. Fat lot of help you are.

And goes on to easier things, more concrete things, things like learning what weasel words are and how to trim the passive voice out of her manuscripts and What Not To Do in query letters.

All good things. But after she’s worked and worked, and learned and learned, and practiced and practiced, she comes back to that voice thing.

And do you know what? They were all right.

Because voice is just being authentic. But the reason what they were saying made no sense is that voice is more than just being authentic.

Voice is being authentic and communicating. Being authentic and communicating at the same time.
And that means becoming skilled at communicating.

And that's where we hit the problem: communication is something you can learn, something you can be skilled at - but like any skill, when you practice it, when you begin the process of mastering it - you get really, really awkward for a while.

That awkwardness shows up in your writing
It shows up in your life.

And that's when people get frustrated.
And they stop.
They stop talking, they stop writing.
They give up on authenticity.

It's easier to hide.

Because when you're not communicating, at least you're not communicating badly.
At least you're not getting it WRONG.

But you have to get past that awkward point.
Maturity is awesome, but it demands adolescence.
You can't become an adult without being a teenager first – an awkward, gawky, pimply teenager whose nose is too big for her face.

That's why your "voice" didn’t sound right. That's why you didn’t sound real.
Even though you're trying to say what you think. Even though you were trying to say exactly how you felt.
And even though you were trying to say it well.
Because nobody's good at something when she starts.
She gets good with practice.

You need to be sincere.
But you need the skill, too, or all the sincerity in the world won't be enough. It won't come across.

So learn the skills. Read the books. Do the exercises.
And write, and write, and write, and write.
The grace will come with practice.

And if you keep yourself honest,
then once you’re good at communicating . . .
the authenticity will be there, too.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell


Kathy Charbeneau said...


Your post was a well timed, beautifully written piece for this writer who is writing, writing and writing in search of my voice as well as my potential. Thank you.

Amber said...

This is excellent! I think I need to read this every time I even think about writing. I'm always so frustrated with what comes out (and how long it takes) that it makes me not want to bother. But yet I still want to write... it is an urge that doesn't go away.

Jessica Snell said...

Kathy and Amber, thank you so much. YOUR comments are encouraging to ME. :)