Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Finding Voice, Part 2

(Continuation of last Wednesday’s post, Finding Voice As a Writer.)

At ChristianWriters.com we delved a little further into finding voice.

Over there I asked this question:

Do you think voice can be taught? I think it's like our singing voice--we can have voice trainers, coaches, critiquers, books on the craft--but when it comes down to it, we are the ones who have to discover just what our voice is capable of.

A great response came from Scott Fields. He had this to say:

You make an excellent point here. Obviously we can be taught the fundamentals of the language as well as the elements of style. Someone can show us what "works" and what doesn't. But it can't be taught in the same sense that mathematics or chemistry can be taught. It's not so exact a science.

I like your illustration of a singing voice. If you have it, it can be improved, but you're the one who has to make the effort to see it improve. But there's a deeper aspect along that line: often times you're not the best judge of whether you're improving appreciably or not. You need other ears to listen to you and tell you when you hit an off-note, or when you need more strength in your tone, or when your voice just doesn't fit a certain song. The problem is that our voice resides and resounds inside the same space as our ears, which can interfere with our ability to objectively analyze how we sound. (Anyone who has ever watched American Idol knows this to be true. ~ Sheila)

The same is true for writers. What with our ideas residing and resounding in our own heads, we're not always the best people to see whether they work once they're on the page. We need other eyes and ears to tell us how we're doing--and we need to be willing to listen to constructive criticism offered by those who see what we're not always able to detect as clearly in our own work. In the end, that's really the only way we can be taught.

And I agreed 100% with his assessment. We do need critiquers to keep us on track. This is especially true at the beginning of our writing career. We need especially to listen to the masters, read the classics and understand why they are classics.
I went on to say this:

Paul tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We absolutely need our fellow Christians to teach, support, and encourage us, but ultimately it's up to us to work out our own salvation.

In the same way, writers need teachers and mentors along the way, but ultimately it's up to each writer to work out his/her voice. If we listen too long or too intently to others, we may wind up losing our voice.

I remember reading a story when I was a child. The teacher explained step by step how to fashion a cow from clay. One child made "adjustments" along the way. At the end, all the cows made by the students looked the same except the one belonging to the brave child who listened to his inner voice. And he shaped a much better-looking cow in the end.

But his cow would not have been the best unless somewhere along the line he learned what was needed to build the "basic" cow.

Each person is unique. Some of us require decades of study. Some learn as a child. But each must learn to build the "basic" cow and then we can add our own touches to make it our unique voice.

The voice of a writer is developed by outer forces as well as the uniqueness our creator endowed us with. It only makes sense to take advantage of the many opportunities around us to learn our craft and practice it. Somewhere along the way our unique voice will find its way into our writing. And “better cows” will be made.

P.S.
Can you believe this was a story in one of our reading books? What were the teachers thinking? Oh, right—that we needed to grow up to be independent thinkers!

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Thanks for sitting a spell and chatting!