“You have to follow your own voice. You have to be yourself when you write. In effect, you have to announce, ‘This is me, this is what I stand for, this is what you get when you read me. I’m doing the best I can—buy me or not—but this is who I am as a writer.”
This is an incredibly important point to consider. Often, we intrinsic writers feel that we have to sound a certain way, or write a certain way to be considered something of significance. I read many short stories, novels, and memoirs and admittedly, sometimes in the throes of reading the words of the others, I’ve questioned not my ability, not my talent, but my voice.
I truly believe that in my writing, the only element that ever truly came naturally–or, intrinsically–was voice. I’ve had to work ceaselessly on characters, setting, plot, description, diction, word choice, etc. but voice, that was always there. It was always distinctive.
I remember once, back when I was teaching high school, during a creative writing unit in my honors English class, I typed up a paragraph to demonstrate to the students the multidimensional qualities a character can and should have. I distributed the paragraph, saying nothing about who the author was; I simply wanted them to analyze the text. I had them read the sample silently, and then asked a volunteer to read aloud. As we discussed the piece, a student raised her hand and asked, “did you write this?” I was stunned, taken aback. How did she know? I asked her just that. “Oh I don’t know,” she said, “it just sounded like you.” It was then I became aware of my ‘voice’ in writing. I pondered this notion; do I have a unique flow?
Think of authors or characters who have discernible narrations–Holden Caufield of course, Jack Kerouac, who once said: “Oftentimes an originator of new language forms is called ‘pretentious’ by jealous talents. But it ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.” A personal favorite of mine–Wally Lamb–also harbors that refined quality that makes readers say, “Oh…this is soooo (fill in the blank). It’s like music. When you hear Elvis sing, you immediately know it’s him. Likewise, The Beatles, Queen, Led Zep, you get the idea.
I want to honor that voice that is my writing. Because, like Popeye said, “I yam what I yam.” In life, and in writing.