How to Write, Part Four: Why You Should Give Up Finding Your Own Voice
- 2008 Jan 18
I'm obviously mangling the titles of these, but in order so far we have: How To Make a Living Writing; which was followed by How To Make a Living Writing, Part Two; which was followed by Writing: Don't Get Me Started; which was succeeded by How To Write, Part Three. (Why is "follow" another meaning for "succeed"? Aren't successful people usually more leaders than followers? Maybe the language is trying to tell us that the only real way to ensure success is to do what the guy in front of you is doing. How sad.)
Holy cow! At this rate, I am writing the same kind of "How To Write" book I was so recently raving against! So it is true what they say: You become what you hate. Which means that besides becoming the author of a book on writing, I'm destined to become a television commercial. Bummer.)
Okay: Finding Your Own Voice. Writers are forever wanting to find their own voice. And well they should: Using someone else's voice, while fun, can really confuse a waiter.
No, but seriously: Some of you have been kind enough to ask my thoughts on the perrennial "How Do I Find My Own Writing Voice?" question.
My thoughts on that boil down to this: You don't find your own writing voice. You give up trying to find your own writing voice.
If you are someone who is trying to find their own writing voice, stop it. Take up a different hobby. Building models is fun. So is gardening. When it comes to pleasurable pastimes, you can't beat wondering whether or not something growing out the ground is edible. So pick up that trowel and that pack of seeds, get out in the dirt, and stop pondering how to find your own writing voice. Do it now. Or buy a glue gun. Or a crocheting kit. Something. But do give up on finding your own writing voice.
I say this because the whole idea of being a writer is to have people read what you write, right? No (sane) writer hopes his stuff will never get read.
But here's the thing: In order to find your own writing voice, you have to really, really, completely, totally, utterly and absolutely not care what anyone thinks of what you've written. And that's impossible to do. Caring what others think of your writing is the very definition of a writer. Of course you care. How could you not care? You might think that you don't care; you might say, "I, for one, do not care what others think of my writing. I write for myself." But (if you'll excuse me) that's nonsense. You do care what others think of your writing. If you write -- if you'd love to get paid to write whatever you want, if you'd like to be published well, if you blog, for goodness sakes -- then that must mean that integral to your writing process is a concern for how your words will affect your reader.
Lemee just repeat that: Integral to your writing process is a concern for how your words will affect your reader.
Integral. It's in your head. You can't find your own writing voice, because that voice is too intimately entangled with your imperative to connect with the voice inside of other people's heads. When you're writing -- and definitely when you're reading and rewriting something you've written -- it's impossible to keep yourself from trying to evaluate your work objectively, which is to say from the point of view of a reader who is ... well, someone other than you. You try, in effect, to adopt the voice of someone else, to attain a voice that engages, impresses, and resonates with someone else.
Basically, writing is all about the inner voice of your reader. And yet when you write, you want very much to utilize and depend upon your own inner voice -- one that is yours, and yours alone.
But simultaneously writing in your own voice while bearing in mind the voice of your reader(s) is like simultaneously watching TV and listening to the radio. No matter how hard you try, you just can't do it. There's too much noise.
The bottom line is that the only way to find your own writing voice is to have virtually no interest in the only thing that makes writing interesting, which is what other people think of your work.
That is one Mondo Conundrum, no?
I believe radishes are ready for harvesting when their tops are already bulging out of the ground.