I think I’ve learnt to do this. Finally.
When I started writing, I was embarrassed to show my ignorance, so I tried to sound literary. I’ll show you:
‘The mountain rose out of the horizon and watched over and nourished the district, like a good mother. She sent the rain, which soaked the pastures and the bush, drenching it in vibrant green. And her streams trickled the nutrients down, so they seeped into the soil, turning it burnished red. The crops fed like babies at their mother’s bosom, bulging in the fertile soil, and the eucalypts thrived, growing thick and towering.’
At the time, I thought it was beautiful prose, but now I think it reads like some tosser trying to sound literary. I certainly don’t talk like that and believe me, it was hard to write, let alone to keep up, much like a fake accent. Worst of all, when I was trying to write like that, I was so caught up trying to write lyrical prose that I lost sight of the meaning I was trying to convey. Every now and then, I gave myself away — the facade slipped — and when my authentic, Aussie voice came through, people seemed to like that better than my florid, figurative one.
Eventually, I had to admit to myself that I was no walking thesaurus, I wasn’t the next F. Scott, and I stopped trying to be something I was not. I tried to find what it was that I could bring to my writing. I tried to trust myself, to trust my authentic voice and to be genuine. I gave myself permission to be me.
The more I wrote as myself, the truer I sounded. The key, for me, was to free-write: to write without revising. Ignore the editor that deletes an idea before it is fully formed and nips a potential seedling in the bud. To just keep writing. As I wrote in the last post, I don’t worry about how it reads at first; it can be cleaned up later. When in the moment, I just keep writing. By doing this, I find what I want to say, and when I do, my fingers or pen struggle to keep up with my thoughts.
It reminds me of a choir director I know, who, when auditioning children for the choir, asks them to sing down the scale, then raises it a semitone and starts again, and keeps going, faster and faster, and higher and higher, ignoring their mistakes, so the kids have no time to think and they just sing, losing their self-consciousness, forgetting their nerves, singing higher than they usually can, and better, because they’re using their authentic, unguarded voice.
When I re-read my unedited free-writing, it is rarely as bad as I think. By staying with the writing, I often manage to hit something buried in the deeper layers of my mind. I don’t have beautiful prose, but maybe I can nail a truth that resonates with readers. If I’m stopping and starting, or trying to sound like someone I’m not, I’m too busy formulating the words, getting the accent correct, that I forget to look for their meaning.
So, I’ve learned to trust my voice. It doesn’t mean I don’t read others’ works and wish I could write like that — I certainly do! It also doesn’t mean I’m not trying to improve — I hope I can, and I’m trying my hardest to do just that. If elegant turns of phrase ever come naturally to me, believe me, I’ll use them. In the meantime, I’m not trying to sound like someone I’m not. I am me. My voice is mine. I bring to my writing all of my experiences and my personality, and that is all I can do. If nothing else, it’s unique.
Has anyone else had trouble finding their voice? How did you manage to do it?