I’m in the midst of two big writing projects, one professional and one personal. So I’m thinking a lot these days about voice. How to find the right tone, how to connect with a reader, how to speak a word of truth or hope or grace.
Writers often talk about wanting to Find Their Voice, a strange turn of phrase for the muddled, maddening process of translating the noise in one’s head onto the written page with such depth and beauty and clarity and freshness that someone else will want to read it. But desiring to find one’s voice implies that it must be lost; declaring it can be found means that it can be identified in the first place.
I don’t know what my writing voice is, if I’m honest.
Perhaps it’s honest – I try to be, anyway. Perhaps it’s hopeful – I’m stubborn like that. One of the quirks of blogging is that I can see, on the flip side of the page you read now, exactly what posts drive the most traffic. So I can report that people like humor, though I’m not always sure how to write humorously about serious subjects. I can tell you that personal stories connect more readily than grandiose statements. But just because you might like to read something I write doesn’t mean that’s what I should give you. Writing – at least the kind of writing I want to do – isn’t about consumerism. It’s about calling.
Whenever I read the jacket of a book by a new author, I always sigh when I read the comparisons: “the new so-and-so” or ”equal parts Famous Writer and Big Name and Everyone’s Favorite.” If I wanted to read Anne Lamott, I would have read Anne Lamott, I think to myself. I want to read this person; let her own voice speak! But perhaps we can’t help but echo the voices that have shaped our own.
Maybe the early years of parenting are like that, too. When we’re starting out, we can’t help but mimic. We imitate our friend’s example or copy the guru’s advice or follow the book’s instructions, praying it will transform us into a confident, knowledgeable Parent. But in order to find our own voice, we have to stop speaking everyone else’s words.
We have to trust ourselves.
This week I made a few important breakthroughs in my latest project for work. I changed my tone, pulled back in some places and pushed forward in others. Momentum is slowly picking up, and I’m grateful. A clearer voice is emerging, one that I hope will resonate with those who will read it. But this process of finding voice took long days and longer weeks, frustrated file folders stuffed with drafts, umpteen creative brainstorming exercises sprawled across my office, winding walks with the dog to seek answers through my sneakers.
But my personal writing project? I have a long, dark, twisted, labyrinthine way to go before I find my voice there. Perhaps not coincidentally, it’s a project that touches on my parenting, a part of my life that still feels new and uncertain and challenging beyond my expectations. But I’m at the point, with my writing and perhaps my mothering, too, where I’m finally feeling ready to push past the voices that talked me here and dare to come face to face with what might be the toughest and trickiest but possibly truest voice I’ll ever find.