Finding your voice

Identifying your ‘voice’ in creative writing is no easy feat. But it is vital, at least within one cohesive piece of writing. The spoken word can enable a writer’s voice. Here, I’d like to explore how our writerly voices and verbal voices relate.

I’ve been thinking about voice in a literal, physiological sense. I’ve never liked my speaking voice, until recently. I’ve had some good feedback from people so I’m going to drop the self-critical impulse in this regard. Anyway, it is what it is. My voice represents my personal story.

I also find this topic interesting in the wider sense of communication: how do you know what to say? It wasn’t just that I didn’t used to like my voice, I found conversation difficult at times. So much to say potentially, but not knowing what to focus on for each particular interaction. I would be sporadically verbose, and reticent the rest of the time.

But that’s also the self-consciousness of younger years, maybe. I found speech hard, but writing much easier. So I did a lot of personal writing to connect with people. It was easier to formulate the arguments and ideas through writing, than it would be in a verbal conversation.

Still, the happy news now is that I am learning, through recitations, performances and conversations, the power of the spoken voice which has also made me consider the purpose of voice in creative writing.

What does it mean exactly? I found this useful piece from Medium that explains it well:

The writer’s voice: what is it and how to find yours

In a nutshell, voice makes your work you. It’s your personality, your experiences, and it is unique. I’m still working on this in writing, and I guess we all are, always. But I have found that strengthening my spoken voice and putting it on a stage has been very empowering.

Speaking publicly forces you to be the centre of attention. So your uniqueness becomes more immediate and more raw. It is not buried in paragraphs. You can’t hide yourself in an essay.

I do think the writer’s voice and the speaker’s voice can inform one another. For me, the plan is to become more confident in conversation and public speaking, so I can also write with a stronger sense of authenticity.

 

The importance of deadlines

Writing as often as possible is a goal. However, I do not achieve this as much as I would like. Sometimes I’m tired. Sometimes I’ve been socialising a lot. Sometimes I’m exhausted from content designing. Sometimes I’m reading.

But deadlines constitute concrete goals that I can structure my time around. At the moment my two forms of deadlines are:

  1. Performances
  2. Competitions

I have so far only performed at one venue (once a month, so four times this year). Each of these occasions demanded plenty of prep work: rewriting, editing, rehearsing and meetings with my writing partner. In May and June I have a few other nights, at different venues, where I will be performing as well. So more prep work to do and concrete deadlines to work towards.

I have also started entering competitions. This takes time and dedication again, particularly as there are so many (though I am choosey, especially when time poor). Unfortunately I missed all the deadlines on 30 April and 1 May due to the reasons aforementioned (tired, socialising, content designing or reading). Still, competition entry is another new discipline, like performing, in 2019 that is lending impetus to my writing habits.

Deadlines are essential for me. I can be quite driven generally, but I still need those extra incentives to focus my writing practice. And both forms of incentives involve sharing work with new audiences, which is absolutely critical to the whole process.

When do you call yourself a writer?

When do we own a label such as “writer”? How much writing do we have to do to achieve this badge?

Identity shifts throughout our lives. Some people identify with the work they do, and some have other primary identifiers. After several years of practicing meditation and noting how much things change from moment to moment, I now find identity tricky. Still, the concept is powerful.

There is a massive discussion point here about identity politics and “where we are now” in the turbulent day to day. The topic is a salient one.

When you first meet a new person, “what do you do?” might be an early question. This is a complicated conversation universally, I think. What’s our default answer? For me, it has tended to be about what I do to earn a living: my day job. But we could all say so much more than that.

Focusing on the “day job” side of identity here, I think lots of categories/binaries are breaking down when it comes to work. People’s DIY careers are telling because they often merge many forms of activity: career, work, free time, passion and vocation, among others. It’s not simply professional versus personal.

So, when do we call ourselves writers? Each to their own, I think. Who we are is there for us to imagine and then create (only if we have that privilege: a fundamental qualifier).

I don’t have a straight-forward answer to the question, other than an “I think, therefore I am” approach. I’ve written loads now, so I would definitely call myself a writer. Authorship is a debate for a different entry, but I believe even that identity (like all identities) could be shape-shifting.

 

When is the right time for write time?

Over the years I’ve read about many different routines of great writers and discovered that almost all are strict and followed religiously. Usually the prolific writers start quite early in the morning.

Waking up early is a new thing for me over the past couple of years. I love the quiet of the early morning and drinking coffee in bed, even on weekdays. By the time I leave for my walk to the office, I’ve been up for at least two hours.

However, it is only recently that I have started writing in the early morning. Before this, I still had it in my head that I was not a morning person, so, even if I was awake, creativity wouldn’t work.

Actually, writing in the early morning is very productive, for me at least. The creativity does work. So far I’ve only written in the early morning at the weekend, but I’m considering instigating it on weekdays as well, especially as I feel quite tired in the evenings and go to bed relatively early, if I’m having an evening in.

I am currently feeling very passionate about poetry in the morning. I have recently done another recitation at the same literary night as before. I felt much more solid this time. Still a long way to go, but hopefully that is always the case, the growing and changing.

I have also returned to my short story compilation, to get myself back in the prose head space. For me, with this and other story projects, along with poetry, early morning writing seems to be the way forward for skillful outputs.

Second poetry performance

Second poetry performance. Photo credit: Lucy Tertia George.

From medium.com:

The Daily Routine of 20 Famous Writers

The ups and downs of writing

Writing, like life, is not always easy or fun. Life, like writing, comes with multitudinous struggles that affect our ability to create. I don’t want this blog to be a litany of successes and goals, because that would not be the full picture.

These past two weeks have been mentally taxing for personal reasons, and I’ve really struggled to write much of anything. I’ve done a few poems, but that’s all. The short story compilation is sitting idly by, gathering e-dust in my hard drive. My writing partner gave me feedback ages ago that I have still not implemented.

But this is all normal and I am learning that in writing, and in life, I don’t have to be 100% everyday. That would be impossible. The perfectionist in me is very punishing at times and I keep having to tell them that they need to take a break from the relentless quest for achievement. We are getting slightly more self-compassionate, but it is an uphill battle.

This morning I have written a poem that I am quite pleased with so I will continue working on that. But in the meantime, I’m trying to remember that productivity comes and goes. We are not machines. Discipline is one thing, but firing on all cylinders all the time isn’t human.

 

The writer as observer

A month since my last post and I have made little progress with any of my writing projects. My personal life has interjected itself so I haven’t been in an easy frame of mind to write. Then again, maybe that’s just the time when I should be writing. Should have, could have, would have. Either way, I haven’t and I’m not going to beat myself up about it. I have been writing poems as usual, but even those got put on the back burner for a short while there. Back to it now.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the life of an observer. I do a lot of meditation and this allows me to notice things around me more easily than I used to. At least, that’s how it seems. And then I just stare. I stare and I try to think how I can write it down somehow. The following is some practice in observation.

A snapshot of the queue at the food shop

The queue is static. No one moves. One person working the till, at the end, next to about five unused tills, devoid of necessary staff members. I am next up. There must be ten people behind me.

“Can someone please come to help on the tills?” the one staff member makes a plaintive call out to her team. One minute passes. No one comes to help. I stand dead still. The woman behind me looks at her phone.

Suddenly, steam erupts from the Costa coffee machine next to the queue. I stare at it. It is out of service it says. I can’t remember if it says that on a piece of paper or on its electronic screen.

The machine keeps outputting steam and noise. No one seems to notice. I keep staring. It stops. Another call out from the single staff member. Still no one arrives.

I’ve only been standing like this, next up, for about three minutes perhaps. Time seems to have frozen. I could have been here like this for an hour.

Finally, just as the customer in front finishes their transaction, and I walk quickly forward, another team member arrives at another till. I go to the first till. Not to the newcomer.

I bag my shopping as quickly as I can, aware of the impatience behind me. I am at the ready with my membership card so this whole process will take as little time as possible. When the receipt is printed, the beleaguered staff member says stoically that there is a survey included and a little feedback would go a long way. She looks at me pointedly as she says this. “My name is on the receipt”.

The end.

Three Women by Lucy Tertia George

To close, I have a very exciting update. My writing partner, Lucy Tertia George, launched her timely book on 31 October to great acclaim and excitement. We sold out at the launch and I am so honoured to have been a part of her project. Below are instructions on how to buy it (published by Starhaven Press), both from within the UK and internationally. A must read.

UK instructions for Three Women

Three Women by Lucy Tertia George

International instructions for Three Women

Three Women by Lucy Tertia George

 

A solitary student finds her tribe

The word ‘homework’ does not summon up joy in everyone’s heart. But for me, it does. At school I loved homework, which made me a bit of an annoying swot, maybe. I loved learning, and I loved doing the necessary work to learn as much as possible. I also loved getting A’s (maybe another annoying character trait). But we are who we are.

I was recently sent a joke about the fact that being a writer means you always have homework. It was funny, but as I am so nerdy, I thought: that’s great! Just what I want.

Writing gives my life purpose and the fact that I am now aspiring to get my work out there has also provided a huge amount of meaning. Writing is not the only thing that gives my life purpose, of course. My beloved friends and family score higher, but I am speaking vocationally. With writing I can make connections with people through creativity, I can have goals, I can add a new facet to my identity and I can express myself to others in a positive way.

One of my key new links is with my writing buddy, the author of Three Women (available from 31 Oct 2018), Lucy Tertia George (https://www.facebook.com/lucytertiageorge/). We are often bouncing ideas off each other and I appreciate her necessary feedback so much. Without writing in my life, I would never have discovered this enriching connection.

Yesterday I submitted my first short story to a competition. I spent most of the day in my studio editing it. I have been working on it since early June. Lucy provided two rounds of feedback, and I got input from some other friends as well.

So writing is like homework. And I am always a student wanting to learn. However, there is a crucial difference between most of my solitary homework in the past and what’s happening now. I really think collaboration, getting feedback, talking and getting the work out there are fundamental. Surely, it takes a village and once you get your tribe right, the writing should definitely improve.