Finding Your Voice . . . or Why You Never Fail Until You Stop Trying
Take ten of your favorite writers’ newest novels unread, close your eyes and scatter their books upon the floor in front of you, then without looking pick one at random and open it somewhere, anywhere, so long as you have no idea which writer’s novel you choose.
And I guarantee you’ll know through your tingling Spidey Sense within a few paragraphs if not a few sentences the specific writer’s novel you’re sampling in your grubby hands.
Because all great writers have found their Voice.
That tasty personal mystery every writer aspires to decipher which separates their intimate narrating wheat from among the mediocre recounting chaff.
No writer ‘just finds’ their Voice because they’ve spent a specific number of years writing, or they graduated from Waste-of-Time-and-Money College and own an expensive degree they’ve paid tens of thousands for declaring them academically brilliant.
Knowledge is power, yes, but wisdom is capability. And the honest triumph of life is you only realize this truth not taught in school but through age because real world experience is the best of all teachers.
If you required heart surgery, would you choose the doctor who spent twenty years in college memorizing every medical textbook but has never performed a single operation, or the doctor with four years of medical school though also has a hundred successful heart surgeries under his or her belt?
Because living life matters.
Remember that the next time your car throws a rod and it comes time to tip the ‘dumb’ greasemonkey who shirked an expensive education for hands-on garage apprenticeship.
A lot of writers spend their entire lives hunting their elusive Voice. And a lot of writers flounder because they continue relying on everything taught them in school.
Never start a sentence with And or But.
Fragment sentences are bad.
Never end a sentence with a preposition.
Blah blah blah.
“Shut up, Mrs. Shilling! I got it, I got it! I before E except after I shove the C up your nagging butt!”
Eighth Grade flashback.
Too much Black Pyramid in my teens.
Anywho . . . we’ve had endless grammar rules pounded into our heads since elementary school English, and I’m here to tell you that all of them are obstacles to finding your Voice.
Don’t forget the rules, just shelve them while making choice breaks.
Writers without Voice write while concentrating on grammar and facts relevant to the story and the characters involved.
Writers with Voice write without concentrating at all because their Voice is natural, like breathing or blinking, and simply . . . is.
Stop fixating on the beat of your heart and instead focus on the flow of your blood. Relax, and go with the . . . well, flow.
Voice isn’t plot or structure or character or how well you can describe them. Voice is passion, and not just passion but your unique twist of it.
Think of an excited child who rushes their parent and in breathless fashion tries to relay a story in all its astonishing details. The parent knows the story is trivial, but to the rejoicing child the story exists as the most wondrous event imaginable. And they practically sweat passion while they stammer and stutter it out.
“Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! This frog, it was big and green and slimy and-and-and I was chasing it while it hopped at the pond to get away and-and-and I almost grabbed it when this bird it squawked real loud then-and-and then . . .”
Passionate painters don’t just brush colors to canvas, they bleed their emotions.
Passionate singers don’t just shout their songs, they breathe their ballads.
Passionate poets don’t just recite their words, they cry loose the burning yearning in their souls.
And passionate writers don’t just chronicle fictitious events, we revel in imagination while expressing glorious triumphs and excruciating tragedies of the human spirit.
Writing is art. And the entire point of art is to inspire emotion, to feel — something, anything!
You know your writing is boring bunk if it elicits no emotional reaction.
Bad writers provoke apathy.
Good writers evoke sympathy.
Great writers inspire empathy.
It really is as simple as that.
Perfect example: when I read a Stephen King novel I feel as if I’m sitting there while he’s beside me describing it all through firsthand account. Steve doesn’t get all the words ‘perfect’ or ‘right’ and that’s okay, because he’s engaging, and that’s what matters most. Stephen King isn’t great because he’s the ‘best’ writer (opinions vary, mine among them), he’s great because his writing proves intimate and conversational, sometimes calm, sometimes excited, with fluctuating degrees between. But most important it grips me by the fluttery feels and squeezes.
This is why drugs are so addicting.
Drugs induce temporary euphoria.
So do roller coasters.
So do scary movies or tearjerkers.
So does playing with your beloved pet.
Or having a sweaty wrestle with your lover.
Or startling awake from a tossing nightmare in the relieving comfort of your safe bed.
People spend their hard-earned money on and their precious time experiencing the lives of others because of the emotional impact they enjoy in temporary trade.
Professional wrestling is another perfect example. It’s absolute crap these days and has been since the early 2,000’s, so I’ll hearken back to the good ol’ days of the late 90’s when Duane The Rock Johnson and Stone Cold Steve Austin ruled the squared circle.
The great illusion of pro wrestling is the ability of the wrestlers to cast a spell upon you, tricking you into believing they really don’t like each other and they really are trying to hurt each other for real reasons. But take that away and what you have left are two sweaty bodybuilders performing acrobatics in a predetermined ‘contest’ rife with bad acting.
No one cares.
What separates The Rock and Stone Cold from the crap wrestlers of today is that they found their Voice. If you know your WWF history then you know both men floundered before achieving superstar status.
Before he was The Rock, Duane Johnson debuted as Rocky Maivia.
And no one cared.
Before he was Stone Cold, Steve Austin debuted as The Ringmaster.
And no one cared.
Because nothing separated them from among the other wrestlers. They marched to the ring. Performed. Marched away. Repeat as nauseam.
Then one day everyone smelled what The Rock was cooking while giving a Hell Yeah!
Because The Ringmaster found his Voice and became Stone Cold.
And people cared.
Because Rocky Maivia found his Voice and became The Rock.
And people cared.
Finding your writing Voice is a personal journey, and no one can lead you there but you. Which is ironic considering the only one holding you back from finding your Voice is also you.
To toot my arrogant horn, I’m a high school drop-out who’s become a #1 best-selling author because I’ve always applied this universal truth of life no matter how persistent the cold cruel world seeks to crush me underfoot: You never fail until you stop trying.
So keep trying, and good luck.
And remember this proven formula to writing success: (Effort + Perseverance = Results) x (Time + Patience = Voice).