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Finding your voice, part I

November 26, 2013

Whenever I start feeling sick, I just stop being sick and be awesome instead. True story. — Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother)

When I checked the blog this morning, I was shocked and kind of scared to notice that I had just five blog posts in the hopper. Usually I try to keep fifteen to twenty scheduled so I don’t have to panic and produce a mess of content on demand. It takes the pressure off.

So having five posts–and three of them already scheduled writing prompts–is a bit scary.

Top that off with the fact that I’ve had a week of a business trip, followed by another week of all-day business meetings, and that I’ve been awesome instead for the past three days…

Hey, welcome to life, you may be saying. It happens. What does that have to do with writing?

I don’t know, I’m making this up as I go. — Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark

It has this to do with writing–all great writing, beyond the emails you respond to and the report summaries you put together, if you’re so blessed, has to be something unique and personal to you.

Radio is a personal medium. — Ron Pesha my broadcasting teacher, in 1981, repeating an often-used cliche.

If that’s true of radio, it’s even more true about your writing. The technical stuff is something you work out over time. How to put a decent sentence together. How to write dialog so all the characters don’t sound the same. How to make your characters come alive and pop.

But you can’t learn your voice.

When we lived in Arizona, we attended a church with two priests. I don’t remember their names. But one of them was a dynamic priest and his homilies seemed like they were over almost before they began. The other priest’s homilies were preparation for purgatory–if purgatory were run by Ben Stein.

But at the end of church one day, I turned to my wife and said, “You know Father A’s homilies are really captivating, but Father B has a lot more content.”

But Father A’s voice was so much stronger than Father B’s that his homilies seemed to hit harder than Father B. I don’t mean that his pipes were sterling silver, voice of God. I mean voice the way we use it.

The point here isn’t that voice covers a multitude of literary sins–though it can. The point is that your voice is a key part of your writing and it comes from within you. For it to work, it has to be unique and it has to be based on experience and even situation.

The way I fill a necessary blog post is different than the way you will, because I look at things differently. Most people wouldn’t write this blog post by including references to a currently dying sitcom, the greatest adventure movie of all time, and an obscure coming-of-age movie from the early 1980s.

Most people can’t make those things work. Maybe I didn’t. But to the extent that I can, it’s because of voice.

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One Comment
  1. November 26, 2013 7:18 am

    What should I do with all this extra time? Let’s dig out the what I haven’t had time for list? Book sent to publisher, run Boston Marathon, start next book, book tour scheduled, book finished and on Times best selling list!

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