It’s the middle of the week, and as usual, I’ve been working. I’d much rather have been writing, but we can’t always do what we want. Due to a personal event, I thought I’d bring up the topic of the writer’s voice. To anyone writing anything (a blog, a novel, a musical) finding your own voice is important. Don’t let anyone steal it from you! (More on that later though.)
Okay, so if you’re writing an obituary, or a news article, or a review, there’s a certain expectation on how you should write. A cover letter to a new employer, will be different from that novel you’re working on. However(!), that’s not your voice. Your voice is your own style or flair. It’s the way you phrase things, or use certain words. For example, I’m fond of the word “however”. I think it’s a great word, and it comes up a lot when I’m discussing things, but that’s just me. Someone else might use the word “because” a lot, relying more on cause and effect arguments than I would. However, that’s just a small part of my voice. When I’m writing even more informally, some of my words change. “I’m going to go to the store” becomes “I’m gonna go to the store.” It’s not me being lazy though. It’s my writing reflecting how I speak, which is with my own weird contractions. (By the way, if you are writing any kind of story, weird little flairs to dialogue like that can really help define a character.)
We develop our writing voices by reading and writing, constantly, without fail. We start when we are young, and develop our writing right up through our schooling, and maybe beyond. Sometimes we have to be careful when we write. We’ll read something we find fascinating, and a little bit of that author’s style will leak into our own. As long as we notice it, and don’t let it take over, it builds onto our voice. Personally, I’ve read a lot of books by L.E. Modesitt Jr., Terry Pratchett, and Jim Butcher. Without a doubt, they have influenced my writing to some degree, but that’s fine as long as I don’t let them take over. Perhaps there’s a better way to go about explaining this.
In the possible words of the great Pablo Picasso, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” When I look at this quote, I think it’s the best way to describe influence, and finding a voice. Like a band might be influenced by Rush, they’ll incorporate some of their style into their own work, the same can be said for writers. If you want to write gritty urban fantasy, you don’t just read up on the elements of a story (though some might). You read urban fantasy. You need to take a look at it and don’t just pick out elements and ideas, but take in the entire thing. When an artist steals, they are taking the influence of another, and making it a part of their own voice. It doesn’t become their voice though. It mixes and dissolves, like sugar in coffee. You know it’s in there, but you can’t see it, and yet you can still taste it. Do this with enough artists, and your voice becomes a well made soup, a casserole, or maybe a bowl of mixed nuts, or maybe you have a better metaphor? Seriously. Actually let’s just go with the soup. I like that one. For those of you who have made soup before, or have at least eaten it, all of the ingredients blend and take on a single flavor when its done. Sometimes you take a bite and get more potato, other times it’s the chicken, but there’s still that one flavor tying it all together. That is your voice.
The reason I chose to write this particular post actually stems from an interesting incident. I do work on another blog, I won’t say where though. Now, I ghost write articles for my employer, and he reviews them, we do some back and forth editing once or twice, and then publish it. Recently though, one of our marketing advisers suggested that I should be allowed to post up articles on my own, in my name. They don’t have to be quite so oriented towards the business, and I can get them out more quickly in between the rest of my work so as to keep the blog more active. Needless to say, I was completely on board with the idea. Writing professionally, in my own name? That’s like a dream to most people.
Here’s what happened. I did a string of articles. Three or so, each on different issues. They were in my voice, with my thoughts, and my name attached to them. Now, he decided that he’d have to review them, just to make sure the content doesn’t give a bad impression of us. I’m fine with that. Unfortunately, just because the articles were my ideas, and meant to be in my voice, didn’t mean they were safe. I came in to work today and was told that one was put live. I was giddy with excitement, and at the first opportunity I rushed over to the blog, and what I found was shocking.
A rewritten title? Fine. I can accept that. The problem was though, that my employer rewrote the post as well. Not only did he change it, but he smothered my voice with his own, adding in history, and jokes that I would never utter as well!? As I read it, I knew it wasn’t mine any more, and yet there it sat, with my name like a digital ink stain. I’ve never been so repulsed by something I’ve written in my life, and I’m a harsh critic of my own work. My voice was now his, and it had been taken from me overnight and changed. What was I to do? I quickly reset the author to him, and removed my user account from the blog, erasing the evidence as well. I’ll be content to ghost write in the future, and I’m never letting someone else use my writing voice, in that manner, ever again.
I will not lose my voice. Don’t lose yours either.