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?
I love this post, Louise. It’s such a good reminder of what it is that is exciting about writing. Thank you!
Thanks, Iris, for your loyal readership and kind comments, as always.
Good advice, Louise. I did not try for that elusive elegance in writing. My stories are just from my head and my heart. Perhaps my age gives me an advantage in knowing that being me is better — much better — than trying to be someone I am not. Interesting discovery about yourself.
Your writing is very much you, Betty and that’s why it’s enjoyable to read. You’re right, too, about age giving us the confidence to be ourselves. That’s partly why it took me so long to ‘come out’ and (1) tell others that I wanted to be a writer and (2) show them my actual writing. The real me is out now, and there ain’t no going back! Thanks for your comments, as always.
I just…well…write, I suppose.
Am I on the write blog bit?
But you’re still a good writer, Mum.
Ha, ha! I’m loving your play on words, Sam (write and right). I’m so glad you just, well, write. Your personality really shows through because you write like you, well, like you talk. Thanks for the vote of confidence, too. x
Great Post! I remember this draft of your story. I remember commenting on the repeated mention of “the mother” as nature and nurturer. I really enjoy your blog and each rendition of your stories has been a joy to read. You are talented. I’m glad you are finding your voice. Although these posts are really strong and are already ringing with it.
Great to hear from you, Rosie! Thanks for your encouragement and I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. I’m hoping to be reading yours soon, both novel and blog… I’m glad my sparkling prose about the mountain mother stayed in your memory — at least it had impact, even if it was for all the wrong reasons!