The Art of Ignoring

16 November 2018 on Fiction, Storystorm  

16A writer’s voice is their holy grail: key to their success and an absolute nightmare to find.

What a strange conundrum, that finding your voice is hard. It should be as simple as opening your mouth, but time and time again voice proves one of the most elusive aspects of a writer’s profile. So much so that many writers fear they don’t have a unique voice at all.

This is untrue.

That voice is just muffled.

Over the course of our lives, we receive countless bits of advice and criticism from peers, teachers, agents, craft books, everywhere. This seems wonderful, healthy. We take in as much as we can to learn as quickly as we can, but eventually we stop to work, and then we stare into our computer screens with, at best, frustration and, at worst, dread.

Why?

Because we hoard the advice, like knickknacks from a flea market, to understand as much about writing as possible. Unfortunately, we stop hearing our voice over everyone else’s, rendering us unable to make concrete decisions about our aesthetic beliefs. To make things worse, these voices are often contradictory. Write short. Write long. Write from life. Write from your imagination. Write about mules. Never write about mules. We trip over truisms about perspective, crack our toes on “improper” beginnings. And what a lot of noise.

So, what then? Stop learning new things? Don’t seek help?

By all means, learn like mad—and ignore as often. Do it actively, push things out the door. Write as badly as you can, on purpose, to prove that the world won’t end. Put your voice front and center. Otherwise, you might stop trusting yourself. It is easy to believe other voices are fundamentally better voices, that the only way to achieve success is by sounding like someone else, but it’s hard to build originality with artifice and it’s discouraging to spend most of your creative energy acting. Our voices aren’t hard to find because they are phantasmal; they’re hard to find because we bury them. Poor things.

At the very bottom, we fear people won’t like what we like, and that people will think we use dumb words. We fear our voice, in its truest form, isn’t strong enough.

Well, your voice is strong enough. If you’ve ever enraptured a room, a dinner table, even a single person with your words, then your voice is strong enough. I’ve read marvelous writing without characters and fantastic writing without a setting detail; fiction modeled after museum plaques and poems modeled after multiple-choice tests. Anything can work, so long as you always—always, always, always—write to your voice’s strengths, for the joy of hearing how you sound and the way you see the world.

So tell those other voices in your head to take a hike. They can leave their tools behind, but you’d like some peace now, thank you very much.

Take a breath.

Smile.

You have work to do.

Ben Reinhardt is Barnstorm's Managing Editor. 

 

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