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