Mincemeat: on writing
  "Of all fatiguing, futile, empty trades, the worst, I suppose, is writing about writing."
Hilaire Belloc

Writing Your Voice

At a book club recently, a woman asked me about what it was like to write the goose girl. She was surprised when I recounted the months of wrestling with the word, writhing in my chair in despair because nothing was working right, hours of frustration to earn a few minutes of grace. That was not what she had been expecting to hear. She had stayed up all night reading the book, and she had imagined the writing experience had been the same for me—my words flowing ceaselessly, unable to rest for the wonder of everything flowing from my pen (or keyboard—those metaphors work better in archaic settings).

What a lovely dream! As any writer will tell you, this never happens (though I donít think we ever stop hoping that it will). In order for the words to sound svelte and fluid, hours of wordsmithing and plot wrangling and character pleading happens behind the curtain. I thought the following article expressed some of this well (though Iíd wager it took him at least a dozen drafts before it did).


Excerpts from an article by LOUIS MENAND, New Yorker 2004-06-28

Some writers write many drafts of a piece; some write one draft, at the pace of a snail after a night on the town. But chattiness, slanginess, in-your-face-ness, and any other features of writing that are conventionally characterized as "like speech" are usually the results of laborious experimentation, revision, calibration, walks around the block, unnecessary phone calls, and recalibration...Writers are not mere copyists of language; they are polishers, embellishers, perfecters. They spend hours getting the timing right-so that what they write sounds completely unrehearsed.

A better basis than speaking for the metaphor of voice in writing is singing. You can't tell if someone can sing or not from the way she talks, and although "natural phrasing" and "from the heart" are prized attributes of song, singing that way requires rehearsal, preparation, and getting in touch with whatever it is inside singers that, by a neural kink or the grace of God, enables them to turn themselves into vessels of musical sound.

What writers hear when they are trying to write is something more like singing than like speaking. Inside your head, you're yakking away to yourself all the time. Getting that voice down on paper is a depressing experience. When you write, you're trying to transpose what you're thinking into something that is less like an annoying drone and more like a piece of music. This writing voice is the voice that people are surprised not to encounter when they "meet the writer." The writer is not so surprised.

You know, after reading this again later, I'm left with more questions than I had at the beginning. He really doesn't explain much, does he? But I'll keep this on the site anyway because the idea that he or I can't explain what a writer's voice is or teach someone how to find their own is interesting in and of itself.

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