Friday, February 17, 2012

A Question of Voice

I HAVE been thinking about the rich and varied pieces that you all brought in as examples of admired voices; the voices that continue to play in your heads.

Often when I'm just beginning to work on a piece -- particularly if I'm delving into something I know will be difficult to navigate, something long, complex or most likely will be controversial -- one of the first things I want to establish is tone. I realize that pause  is part of my process of centering myself to find my "voice" and consequently, the appropriate tone of the story. I often do this by first grabbing for writers I love and admire whose voices convey both authority and lyricism. Mine?: James Baldwin, Leonard Michaels, Joan Didion, Albert Camus -- for starters. There is something about the way the words move on the page that put me in a what I call my "writers trance" -- when I can hear myself, my voice.

Last year, around this time, I was reading a book called The Writer's Voice, by essayist and journalist A. Alvarez that is a brief meditation on "voice" and how it differs from style. I thought I'd share a piece of what I'm reading here.

"By comparing writing and psychoanalysis, I'm implying that finding your own voice as a writer is in some ways like the tricky business of becoming an adult. For a writer, it's also a basic instinct like a bird marking its territory, though not straightforward or so musical. So how do you do it? First, you do what all young people do: you try on different personalities for size and you fall in love. Young writers, in fact, are a peculiarly promiscuous lot . . . . First the writer's voice dazzles you and you read everything you can lay your hands on. If that doesn't cure you, the sickness goes critical and you become obsessed with the beloved's whole take on life: what he did, where he went, even the kind of people he slept with. You don't want to be like him, you want to be him. In retrospect, infatuation is as embarrassing as promiscuity, but for the writer it is a necessary part of the weary process of growing up."

My question to you, class: Who are the writers that you've fallen "in love with," the voices you've found yourselves mimicking in your own writing as you've worked to find your voice? To find the right "mood" for your piece? Do you still do it? How does it help you get started? Leave comments below.

caption: multiple drafts
credit: L.G.

1 comment:

  1. I have fallen in love with Zelda Fitzgerald, mainly in her letters to her husband Scott which I have read from a compilation of their letters to one another in the book “Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda.” She writes with so much passion that she inspires me to get in touch with my deepest feelings, and the images she paints about her illness along with her tortured love for Scott amidst both of their illnesses is incredible.
    In one letter to Scott from a psychiatric clinic in Switzerland, she writes “Dear Scott - Except for momentary regressions into a crazy defiance and complete lack of proportion I am better. It’s ghastly losing your mind and not being able to see clearly, literally, or figuratively - and knowing that you can’t think and that nothing is right, not even your comprehension of concrete things like how old you are or what you look like... Where are all my things? I used to always have dozens of things and now there doesn’t seem to be any clothes or anything personal left... What a disgraceful mess - but if it stops our drinking it is worth is - because then you can finish your novel and write a play and we can live somewhere and have a house with a room to paint and write maybe like we had, with friends for Scottie ad there will be Sundays and Mondays again which are different from each other and there will be Christmas and winter fires and pleasant things to think of when you’re going to sleep... and I can keep sane and not a bitter maniac - I will be so glad to see you - I hope most of the poison will be gone by then. Please be good, Dear. It’s so much better to love the things you’ve always loved if you can just remember about them.”
    (I was not planning on typing all of that out but I just couldn’t stop - her writing is so beautiful.) I have found myself mimicking Fitzgerald’s train of thought type of writing, not solely because I enjoy it but I find it is the easiest way for me to get full, detailed sentences down that I am pleased with. The mood it paints is one of reality and tenderness and one that does not attempt to lie to the reader, and that is something I so appreciate. Her raw feelings come spilling out effortlessly because she does not filter herself, almost in a Gertrude Stein sort of manner, but her thoughts make sense and get the reader into her head without much detail of what goes on outside of her head.
    I try to do this without making my writing jumbled, but it is the most cathartic type of writing for me, and if I have had a rough day or have a specific emotion I want to get down on paper, I find that is the best time to mimic this style. It also serves as a good exercise to get started writing before I write for a class assignment because it gets my thoughts flowing in conjunction with my fingers moving and gets my writing in sync with how I feel.
    I have written this blog post in this manner... not worrying too much about commas or run-ons or repeating words, and in a way I feel that it expresses my true feelings about the piece - exactly as I would have said it aloud, but with a little more depth to it.