Selene, my book has stalled out, and I can’t figure out why. It’s so hard to write and everything feels like it’s coming out wrong. Help!! –Stalled in Sandy Springs
Personally, I, too, have been struggling a lot lately with finding the reason why my book has started to idle and peter out, but then I realized that it was because I was too caught up in being serious about my work as Serious Work rather than being Fun Work. That I’d lost what I actually sound like – that I’d lost my humor – that I’d sacrificed everything that makes my writing… well… mine.
To really answer this question, I went out and did a bit of research – for you and for myself.
So… Never fear, Selene is here.
In the book Writing Voice: The Complete Guide to Creating a Presence on the Page and Engaging Readers (too long of a title, if you ask me), there are numerous essays on how to do exactly this. It also explains why we’ve been neutering our own voices, and with the exception of Chapter Ten, how to re-cultivate and implement your own voice.
Even in the first chapter, the book presents the issue that “In the academy, in corporations, in governmental bureaucracies, keeping the sound of a live human being out of one’s writing is the required norm” (Baig 8). From the time we enter school and start writing out essays, we get told how to make it More Professional. Less Creative.
I distinctly remember being very small and writing little books from folded papers, and everyone told me that they could be better. That I could do more. That it was fine but that it needed more work. So eventually, I started reading The High Academics (no, it’s not fucking weed you piece of shit stoner) to try to cultivate a way of writing – A Style and Voice – that would gain the approval of everyone around me, but in the process, I lost my way and my own voice – the voice that made me and my friends happy. The voice of emotion and happiness and sadness and fear. The voice of reason colored by human existence and soul.
This is when we have to remember that
Your voice is worthy of being read:
- even if you struggle to find it.
- even when it’s so soft you aren’t sure you can hear it.
- even when it seems to shift and change before your eyes.
- even if you think nobody is listening.
Now, I wish I had said this, but I didn’t. It’s on page 19 in an essay by Jordon Rosenfeld titled “Awaken Your Authenticity.” Can you say it’s wrong though?
Because we’ve been pushed down and squelched for so long though, we often don’t know what our Real Voice is, not by any fault of our own. We don’t really have an option to neuter ourselves for the sake of academia and business. We’re simply told to do so. And so we do. Finding our true voice is the problem, I think. We aren’t even sure what it is sometimes.
Your voice is your style. If you’re like me, you’ve had someone helping you out with your style – your clothing choices – since you were a wee bab. When you finally start buying your own clothes, it can be daunting because you go, “Oh, shit! What do I actually like?!” For me, it’s truly androgynous looking clothes – not the butterflies and rhinestones that my grandmother would have me wearing, but I still love her. It’s just not my style. It’s hers.
When you break out of imitating others’ styles, (which is totally fine when you’re trying to figure out what you like and don’t like,) you fall into self-expression! And what a wonderful world it is! The essay “Self-Expression: Your Personal Style” by Richard Campbell and Cheryl Svensson explores a ten-step process to finding that personal style and fostering a relationship with it (96-98). (I’ve summarized the brunt of it, but the bolded parts are directly out of the book.)
- Write What You Know. No one knows your life better than you.
- Write To Your Readers. Who are you writing for? Write like you’d talk to them.
- Write Your Feelings. Get to the heart of it all – your story and yourself.
- Write With Freedom. Allow yourself to let go of your stodginess and fear. Let go, and have fun.
- Write With Humor. Allow yourself to laugh, even if it’s at yourself.
- Write Your Senses. Write the world as you experience it. Everyone’s experience is different, and yours is worth hearing.
- Write Your Inner Self. Who are you? Let them out. They have a voice too.
- Write Your Truth. Write it like you truly experienced it. Write it for yourself.
- Write Your Stories. Write your life stories – your anecdotes. Your everything. Without our stories, who are we?
- Write Often. Practice makes perfect. Don’t lose momentum.
Another essay in the book – “A Voice of Your Own” by Paula Manier – offers a four step process to implementing your fledgling voice in your work (91-94):
Voice lesson #1: Readers respond most to emotional honesty in a writer’s voice. Don’t be afraid to reveal yourself.
Voice lesson #2: If you’re having trouble finding your voice, start close to home. The truth is often right under your nose.
Voice lesson #3: Capitalize on your voice’s strengths. Not only can it help you refine your work, it can help you sell it.
Voice lesson #4: Voice is how you tell a story – not the story itself. Be sure that you don’t compromise the emotional impact of your story to protect what you mistakenly believe is your voice.
The last thing that I can say is to just write! Write as much as possible! Write quickly! Write loosely! Write unplanned! Write without pressure! Write because you want to! If someone is forcing you to write, you’re going to end up a little stunted, and that’s okay. Just remember that you have it within you, and it doesn’t really matter how you get it out.
Writing consistently and freely always has its advantages.
Your voice is worth hearing. So speak.