More than Words on a Page
At first I was hesitant watching this video. There it was: another video about some teacher telling some reporter some arbitrary facts about establishing a voice as an author. However, as it turns out, Charmion Mohning has a good idea about where an author can find his or her voice at an early age. It doesn't place the blame on anyone, really. A lack of voice in writing is, well, a lack of voice in writing. She suggests that, perhaps, most young writers aren't exposed to the notion of finding their own voice due to strict curriculum. Let's think about what we were reading in high school: Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Dante, Twain, Hawthorne, and so on. While the aforementioned authors are all monumental to the literary world, it is important to note, that in 2011, the way they wrote then is nowhere close to how we communicate now.
I rather enjoyed her idea of simply putting yourself into writing with her example of the witty student who wasn't so witty in his works. Sure, we are all trained to write in the form of a research paper or traditional writer, but how far does that really bring us?
Then again, as I am slugging through The Passage by Justin Cronin, I am realizing that his new book holds an old tune - yet he keeps a certain something that let's you know, as a reader, Cronin wrote this particular piece of fiction.
But what is this something? I can tell you now, as a young writer, I find it rather difficult to define. Examples work the best, but what is the simplest way to describe an author's voice? Hemingway and Stephen King both have a man-in-the-woods feel to their books, but what the heck does that mean?
Merriam-Webster provides several definitions of the word "voice," one of which is useful: "Right of Expression."
Although we draw closer to the answer, it is still difficult to explain in one sentence what it means to have a voice as a writer. And this goes beyond writing. All artists have a voice. Most people have a voice. Finding your voice, however, is no easy task. And damn those who have an innate ability to project their voice effectively through their media (let's face it, writers must have more than one medium these days) on the first try.
To help with the answer, I recently asked Kelsey Timmerman, glocal, touron,and author of Where am I Wearing, for his view on establishing your voice in the form of the written word. My question to him? What is an author's voice?
"When my editor sent my manuscript to the copyeditor, he sent instructions to “keep the voice.” There were several very specific instructions, but the one I remember the most was to keep the spelling of “fella.” Is that voice?
I’ve always adhered to the advice: “Write like you speak. If a word wouldn’t come of your mouth, don’t put it down on paper.” That being my goal, I take it as a compliment when someone hears me speak in person and tells me that I “sounded” just like I do on the page. That said, people also tell me I sound either like Joe Dirt of Matthew McConaughey. I don’t imagine either one of those fellas is a very good writer.
My favorite Esquire writer is Tom Chiarella. For a long time I never knew he was my favorite because I wasn’t reading the bylines. But eventually I discovered that all of my favorite pieces were written by him. I liked his voice.
When I think about voice vs. style vs. tone my head hurts. So that’s all I have to say. I try to think about writing as little as possible, especially when I’m doing it."
Another tactic for finding a voice comes from King. His suggestion in the following video is that anyone who wants to write, has to read. You have to be disciplined at both. Through reading, you were learn how to write. And when you start to write, you will start to develop your voice.
If you or anyone you know is interested in pursuing a career in writing, and is working on his or her voice as a writer, I highly suggest you or them (or both!) attend the Midwest Writer's Workshop July 28th-30th at Ball State University. It's all about voice.
*And I would really like to keep this thing going. If you're interested in being part of the next blog, feel free to contact me here.*
Fear, focus, and the future. C.M. Humphries talks about writing, horror, and whatever.