Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Writing and Voices

Whenever I talk to someone about writing or read someone’s opinion on writing, I get the impression I don’t write the same as most people. I’m sure plenty of people write not only in a similar style or using a similar method, but I don’t seem to see people talking or writing about it.

Case in point, I read a great article referred from Mock Ramblings about comparing writing to singing. In the article, a singer’s range is compared to a writer’s range.

Now, I know people go to schools for singing and writing, and that they develop an almost supernatural self-awareness for one’s abilities in the process, ending up categorized and pigeon-holed for perhaps their entire career. That’s fine that people choose to do that, but I think if one takes the time to look and listen, most of the greatest artists were not technically trained. Some of the best singers may not even understand what “range” means, let alone “tessitura.”

Ultimately, some of these discussions boil down to a sort of over-analysis, which is encouraged in formalized art instruction. I think the idea of talking about “finding your voice,” whether it’s in singing or writing, is a futile effort. It would be as useful, in my estimation, as debating about how to dance.

In my view, you simply do or you don’t, and in the process of doing, you will find your way or be shown someone else’s. It will usually be those who find their own way who come up with something that doesn’t resemble a pre-fabricated plastic pile of mass-produced crap.

I remember having a creative writing class where my always well-meaning professor was trying to tell me she didn’t like a character’s voice. I sat there trying to figure out what she meant. Eventually, I rewrote it while I was in an entirely different mood than when I wrote it the first time, and sure enough, she liked it.

What it came down to, quite frankly, was that the first “voice” was boring, while the second “voice” was whimsical and playful. The first sounded like it had been read from an encyclopedia of facts, while the second was like a conversation with a stranger in a bar. To me, it had nothing to do with “voice” or how I said anything, it had to do with how I felt when I wrote.

If I write something when I’m not in the mood to write, it shows. The sentences read with the same effort I put into them. Nothing flows, ideas become disjointed as I take breaks and come back with a completely tangential thought. And yet, sometimes when I write like this, it’s good. So I do it.

Other times, I am in an almost manic mood, overcome with an idea that I have either polished into a near perfect gem and want to get on paper, or which just needs a little spit and a rag to make presentable. Some of these are my favorite pieces, but others come out sounding frantic, disorganized and incomplete.

Ultimately, I don’t have some success formula. I can’t say I found my voice, certainly not in the singular sense, but I also must admit I feel completely comfortable writing. I feel so comfortable, I believe I could use the toilet in front of you guys. Pass me another roll of TP, will ya?

For me, writing is more like… I don’t want to say it, but it sort of is… writing is kind of like throwing darts at a dart board, only I’m not very good and maybe a little drunk. When I hit send on a blog post, I literally have no idea if I’m even going to hit the board, let alone if I’ll get a bull’s eye.

Personally, I don’t want to think about “voices.” The idea that I would sit down and purposely try to write something funny makes me want to die inside. I don’t think I’m particularly humorous, but anything I do write which is funny comes without effort. There is no blood, sweat or tears in any of my jokes, and maybe they would be funnier if I put more effort into them, but I wonder how motivated I would be to keep thinking of funny things if it was so much work.

As it is, I write what I find amusing, and I write about what interests me. I think I do care what other people think of it, I would just do it even if people hate what I wrote. Really, it’s not that I don’t care what anyone thinks, it just wouldn’t affect my decision to say what I say. I think that was really what I got from writing, a sense that I have an interest in what other people think, both in general and in regards to my work. However, I don’t let this interest distract me from my own ideas. I crave approval, but I won’t play to the crowd.

In fact, there is one lesson I have gotten from both writing in general and from blogging which I find quite useful: sometimes what I write just isn’t very good. Sometimes it’s horrible. Sometimes it sucks. Sometimes what I write is so embarrassingly dumb that I feel the need to call my family and professors and apologize for squandering their admirable example and years of wise instruction. And despite this, it’s okay to sit back down and try again tomorrow.

I don’t truly grasp the concept of a writer’s “voice,” but I do have a writer’s voice in my head, repeating over and over, “Try again.” To me, that’s more important than being able to classify what category I fit into. I’m sure I fit into one, because everyone does, but I might not fit that category tomorrow, and tomorrow just might be the day I write something amazing.

Probably not, but maybe. And if not, I’ll just try again. Hell, even if I manage to, I’ll still try again the next day.

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