Monday, September 20, 2021

Finding A Voice

 It bothers me that I do not have a writing voice - or at least a consistent one that I can discern.

The good authors always seem to.  One does not read a well known author - or even one that one enjoys - without getting a sense for their voice, for how they write and how they speak.  Once they have it, of course, one can always recognize them no matter what genre or subject they write about.  They write as themselves.

This is, I think, the apotheosis of the writer - as it is the same to for any master of any art or way of life - to be completely and total one's true self. Once one is truly one's true self, the nature of the activity does not matter:  one does everything and acts in every way as the person one always is.

Some people seem to be born with this.  They are simply fully themselves from their formative years on.  They seem to be rare though; the remainder of us seem to stumble through life, slowly chipping away - to paraphrase Michelangelo - at everything that is not ourselves until we are revealed from the block of stone.

Part of this, I suspect, is my own fault.  Even now, in my mid-fifties, I am still not quite sure what I want to do or be when I grow up.  As a result, my life seems to have become a series of experiments in widely diverse different directions.  Some of these things stick with me and change me; others are done for a time and then seem to fall away like the trees shedding their leaves in Autumn.  It thus becomes difficult to discern "myself" amidst all of the noise of the taking in and putting off.  

Nor is it particularly helpful, I suspect, that I simply cannot decide what the actual focus of my writing - and therefore my voice - will be.  To some extent this seems to be a work in progress and will always be so; if I look at my writings over the year, they have slowly transitioned in tone and subject as my life has gone in its different directions.  Perhaps, in this sense, it is then to be expected.

Like any budding anything, of course I will fall into the practice of imitation as well as anyone else.  I will read writers who I find inspire me - Gene Logsdon or Wendell Berry or Rod Dreher or Demosthenes or Sir Walter Scott or Isocrates - and unconsciously end up imitating them (as I am sure it is self-evident to long time readers).  Ultimately of course, those have to fade: no-one wants to read an imitation of the original, not even me.

But for those who find their voice, their true selves - one will recognize these people when you find them.  Miyamoto Musashi was completely himself, whether in his writing, his sword school, his painting, his wood carving, his blacksmithing.  To see his works in all of their varied forms is to see the man through them.  Vaclav Havel was another one of these men.  His writings before and his political career after - the same man shows up for both, the same man writes plays, publishes samizdat articles against the regime, and then becomes President (although not nearly successfully as as being a playwright and voice of conscience; being one's true self is not always a guarantee to success in all things).  Demosthenes always speaks as Demosthenes, even though he improves his style and flourishes over time.  And even in Logsdon's early-how to articles and books, you find hints of the philosopher-farmer with the sharp pen for fools and idiots and the wise advice on agrarianism.  

Does it truly matter?  On one hand I suppose, not at all - after all, this is essentially an ongoing project of my own making and (excluding the lifespan of the InterWeb, I suppose) has a finite date of completion one way or the other that will eventually turn up in some obscure web archive of "Blogs of the 21st Century".  On the other hand, I feel like it matters tremendously - not that I would count my voice on subjects as particularly noteworthy or useful or course bending (there are others far more qualified to do that), but at least I feel my voice should ring true.

It should be my true self.

M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled and People Of The Lie, states that every person has some unique trait created in them by God for which it is His intent that they should reflect back to Him for eternity, a million million facets of the Godhead giving their glow back to Him who created Him.  It matters - at least to me - that when that Day comes, I can say to God "This, to the best of my ability, was the true self You gave me.  I have attempted to be it the best that I was able".

22 comments:

  1. Anonymous2:08 AM

    I used to contribute articles to a magazine many years ago. The editor told me to write as if it were a letter to a friend. The words come easier and faster. Read it at least once aloud to help you decide what needs to be said is done.

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    1. Anonymous - That is actually rather good advice. We write to our friends differently than we write "for the world". And the tone and timbre I am trying to achieve are exactly that; like letters to a friend.

      Thank you for stopping by!

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  2. There's a web site called "I write Like". It's an interesting place to go write a few words, or paste something you wrote before. You might find your writing is compared to remarkable word smiths. Every time you try usually reveals a different writing style, which to me, means you have a style that is your own.

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    1. Jess - I have never heard of this, but I just tried it. It claims I write like Arthur Clark for this post. I am will try a few others and see what I come up with.

      Thank you for the suggestion and thanks for stopping by!

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  3. You are over-thinking.

    Everybody has an accent when speaking and nobody can hear their own.

    Likewise, everybody has a writing voice. You have a voice but you cannot hear it because your written words flow through the channels of your mind without banging into the sides, you think it is bland.

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    1. ERJ - This would not be the first time I have been accused of overthinking things. I guess what I am wondering is if in the various forms of writing I do, I am at least consistent in how I write. But really, how I write is the result of how I think, so perhaps a better question is "Is my thinking consistent?"

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  4. Interesting thoughts, TD, and I would contend, by continuing to simply write — whether in this space, a journal or elsewhere — you are sharpening that skill. About 10 years ago I started writing a weekly column for a local online publication. I was a journalism major in college and worked on the campus newspaper there and in high school. I went to law school and that was that. I always loved columnists, and to get to do this later in life is truly a gift. Originally called “What I Know” (from the maxim “Write What You Know”), my editors took the title away, but it’s still equal parts anecdotal musings, Everyman observations and opinions. It’s interesting to go back and read the early columns vs the current ones. There’s a huge difference and my writing today is, I like to think, more interesting and more succinct. I’ve found I can say more using less words, although I really have no constraints or limitations there. Have I found a voice? I had never thought of it that way until I read your entry here, but perhaps I have. I suspect you have too and I suspect we will both continue to do so. Thank you.

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    1. Bob - No matter what author one reads on writing, they all have the same advice: Keep writing. Yes, of course it makes one a better writer, but I suspect that it also helps develop that "how you write" (or voice, as I am calling it).

      The history of our writing does make for an interesting tableaux of our personal history. And while I do find myself using less words, I do find myself able to better express myself through my words - although I always try to bear in mind Strunk and White's advice, "If you can use two words instead of three, use two."

      I suspect, were someone at some point to review both of the corpuses of our work, they would find we had a voice - even if we ourselves did not recognize it.

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  5. Your voice is how you write when you stop thinking about your voice. Just keep writing. I believe our purpose and mission tend to shift as we move along – my late ex-wife said, "We have different lives within the one we live," and I think our voice probably shifts, too. I also tend to echo whom I'm reading at the moment, and sometimes I deliberately try to copy Bradbury because it gives me such joy to write that way. The voice, whatever that is, is probably less important than saying what you came to say. Of course, now you have to figure out what you came to say, but as I like to say, just write anything until you find yourself saying something.

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    1. Warren - Much like ERJ's advice above, and undoubtedly true.

      The comment "We have different lives within the one we live" has me thinking - because it is not a thought I had pondered before but seeing it there, I find that it is true. I had always thought of it in terms of roles, and perhaps that is part of it, but lives and roles can sometimes be different.

      I have not tried to deliberately write like an author, but that might be an enjoyable exercise, even if for my own entertainment purposes.

      The saying is odd - sometimes I can just sit down and know, sometimes it is the result of muttering to myself as I walk Poppy The Brave (which, I am sure, is amusing from everyone that walks by me).

      Thank you for the thoughts to ponder!

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  6. I think I write like Warner Brothers made old cartoons. A lot of disjointed stuff that at some point has a common origin or orbits around a common point. It's like the pylon-turn flight that Nate Saint invented to drop gifts to unreached tribes in South America.

    My head is a strangely wired, and conversations take odd directions, but there is usually a unifying theme or point. It just falls out of my head and through my hands without effort. But I do notice it when I'm proofing.

    Each of your subjects seem to have their own voice as I read them. Stories about your folks, Seneca, your life at New Home, and the Hammerfall, each have a unique timbre. At least, in my mind they do. And that makes it a conversation with a real human. Our voice changes with the subject normally, so does our writing. At least I think it would.... or should.

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    1. Heh Heh. STxAR, I can picture that sequence exactly. Often times, I feel like my mind works that way too...

      Interesting that you pick up on the different voices based on posts. I suppose they do make sense - after all, if I am fair, my subject matter seems to post around a set group of subjects for the most part, and voice do change when we speak. So perhaps I am there without intentionally realizing it.

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  7. Anonymous8:51 AM

    There is rarely the perfect writings that move people. What do You want to write. Is it fiction, suspense, philosophy, romance, self-help? I love the Lucien writings. Your insights bring me back each day. You've developed a different a style though the years of this blog. Have gone back and read some of the very early years.
    Lived with an aspiring author for 4 years. He had a BS in math, master in geology and a PHD in philosophy but through it all he wanted to be an Author. Bought self help books by the crate full. Read everyone from ancient Greece to modern thought on how to write. When we split he was 58 and had still never put pen to paper. You are writing about your thoughts, feelings, insights, emotions and fears every day. Eaton Rapids Joe started his first book as a series of posts like Lucien but combined they were put into a book and it was one of the best I've read in the past year.
    I find self-help books to be the equipment of the man on top of the mountain who when you get there tell you that the answer you seek is within you.
    Margi - Just my .02cents

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    1. Margi - You are right, of course - sometimes literature which is consider great and near perfect never moves me (I may the only person on the face of the planet that considers The Great Gatsby not the quintessential American novel). I also appreciate you making the time to go back through the early years of the blog - good heavens, I do not think even I have the courage for that at his point.

      I once had thoughts of being an author, but has since lowered my sights a bit to blogging - not so much that I suppose I could not turn these into a book at some point (Old AFSarge at Chant Du Depart is doing hat very thing). Writing a book can be intimidating. Writing a blog post a day, or a series of blog posts over the years, is less so. The important thing - so everyone writes in those "how to write" books, is to write. And a fair amount of people have made a fine living off of offering that advice in various forms and fashions.

      Your Self Help book analogy is spot on - as I have be known to say, we often seek advice of others not because we do not know the answer, but because we someone to confirm the answer we have already come to.

      Thank you for your thoughts. They are very helpful.

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  8. My brother had a great singing voice. Unfortunately, he also had a fixation on the Beatles. He was always trying to sound like Paul, so his recordings always sounded like off-color remakes. Once in a great while, he'd sing for himself, and that's when he sang the best.

    You are who you are, TB, and you have value. When you write, say it like it is, coming from YOUR mind. It'll either work for your readers or it won't. If it doesn't, you were destined for something else...

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    1. Pete - One thinks also of the "mock" bands, who become so much like the bands they are imitating that they have no career outside of that very narrow music stream.

      I appreciate the comment Pete. Thanks for reminding me the burden is not completely on me - I am sure there are any number of readers that have tried this out once or twice and moved one - which is okay, of course; I am at best an acquired taste and at worst require salt and lime to take the bite off...

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    2. Writing is art, TB. I'm a singer in the church choir; a soloist (cantor). I realize that when I sing, some are going to like it while others are going to say "Oh God, make it STOP!" I put myself out there anyway, and sing my way. You should so the same with the written word... Sometimes you worst critic is yourself...

      I've thought the same about tribute bands as well. What happens when no one want to hear the Beatles or Led Zeppelin anymore? they're like pandas who can only exist in a specific environment. Organisms such as those don't evolve well...

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    3. Pete - I am by far my own worst critic, but at least I know that I am. Good advice.

      What happens is eventually they end up on the circuit equivalent of AM radio for music from the 1940's: small bars, small crowds, opening for other groups.

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  9. Once many years ago, we were going on a long road trip and I thought about checking out some books on tape at our local library. The first one I got was on a book I had read decades earlier that I thought the whole family would like. I popped it in and was instantly disappointed at the voice reading the script which was way differently than I had pictured it in my head. It took a long time for my mind to combine the two so I could pay attention to the story.

    To Bob's point, I read some of the things I wrote decades ago and shudder at my writing compared to what it is today. I'm sure if I live a couple more decades beyond today and read the posts around this time frame, I will do the same thing. Hopefully for the better.

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    1. Ed - One of the things I am most grateful to Peter Jackson is when he made The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit, he actually cast people whose voices somewhat matched the voices I had of them in my head (for the most part - Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn was still not quite "it" for me). It is probably one of the reasons I do not listen to books on tape that often; the voices are almost never right. I almost prefer dramatic audio productions, even thought they are not as true to the original.

      One would hope that I, too, reach that point of looking at earlier things and shuddering - or perhaps not so much, as one hopes the writing improves at some point?

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  10. As you get older your writing style will change because your experiences change.

    Write for yourself I read once, somewhere.
    And write what you know. However if that were the case, a great many good books would never have been written, I think.

    I should have read the comments first. :-)

    Anyway, you all be safe, TB. God bless.

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    1. Linda, I think your comment represents wise advice - me at 20 is not at all like me at 50+.

      I have heard write what you know - but many many people do research and write what they come to know, even if they have not experienced it. I still find that difficult.

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