Losing (and Finding) Your Voice

Last week my cold developed into bronchitis and took up residence in my throat–and I lost my ability to speak. My voice wavered between a whisper and nothing all day.

It was incredible how one small change dramatically affected my whole day.

My cats were thrilled that they weren’t getting a stern “NO” when they clawed the couch (but upset I wasn’t calling them “nice kitty” either); I communicated with my boyfriend with hand gestures; I used my phone’s keyboard feature to write out notes to the doctor and pharmacist. I still managed to make my needs known, but I felt stunted, awkward.

A few filled prescriptions later, my voice bounded back, but in writing, finding a voice is just as important. Probably more so. And sometimes it is harder to hold onto.

I was trying to explain the concept of “writer’s voice” to a non-writing-inclined friend the other day. He was concerned his writing seemed stilted; I told him it was okay, because, being a rather direct person, that was the way he talked. But voice isn’t truly the same as “the way you talk.” After all, I don’t have a either a thick West Texas accent or a high-English voice when I speak, but hopefully I managed to get those in my writing.

Voice is writing that always sounds like your soul, even when written in different styles. It’s not just the words you use, or the pacing, or the language, or the sporadic use of commas: it’s all of these things. That’s why, in part, it’s so very subjective. I received a rejection letter from an agent that said “the voice just wasn’t as developed as I’d hoped.” I found that very frustrating–I mean, I thought it sounded like my writing voice!–but I was also grateful just for any response.

Because my nuts-and-bolts writing education began in journalism school, where voice is important but, for the most part, clinically detached, I think it’s one part of my writing I do need to continue to develop. Then again, I don’t know that you’re ever “finished” developing a clear voice. I think it continues to layer on with experience and practice–another good reason to have this blog!

How did you find your voice? Was there ever a time that you “lost” it?

Sidenote: I’m hoping to attend this panel by author Jenny Martin. I got to meet her last year, and I’d love to hear more from her!

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