by Amy Boulanger
A couple of years ago you might have found me, slumped at the local café, bemoaning to my friend about the writer’s life. The struggle. The mammoth mental mountain I daily climbed, in the process of creation. Please!! I barely wrote. When I did, stories remained incomplete, added to the fattening file on my computer: Story Ideas.
Sure, I had plenty of ideas. But like the performer who lands the plum part, I found myself stiffened by stage fright whenever I sat down to write. I imagined my potential audience—some ambiguous, phantom mob—jeering at my words.
I was, I told my friend, convinced that I had nothing to say.
“You have thoughts, opinions. Interests and curiosities,” he said. “You do have something to say.”
It took a while for me to see that.
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Forgive the possible Hallmark cheese, but each of us does have something to share. A unique voice and outlook to lend to the world. The confusion—certainly for me, probably for most of us—comes from finding that voice.
During school and immediately after, I fell prey to the art of imitation. I’d read a Carver story and suddenly everything I wrote shared the same minimalist style. Clipped sentences. Characters that seemed to have stepped out of an Edward Hopper painting. This is fine, emulating the masters in order to understand the craft. It’s how we learn.
But clinging to that security blanket would be like watching Sophia Loren on screen and taking on a faux Italian accent, mussing my hair and wringing my hands. While I admire her movies, I am not her. Just like I am not Raymond Carver or any other writer.
We must transition to our own style. As writers, we have to discover our voice. Claim it. Own it. Then begin sharing our work.
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So, how do we find that voice? The funny thing is, it’s right there, begging like a dog at the door to be let out.
It’s practice. Look at it this way: there was a time when I didn’t know how to swim, or ride a bike, or properly boil an egg (sad but true) or dance Salsa. But patience and practice, carving time into each day, led to acquiring these skills.
Are you writing to entertain? To inspire? To motivate or educate? Or because, at the end of the day, you simply cannot see yourself doing anything else? Whatever your reason(s), your voice will evolve and take shape through sheer practice.
When I review older pieces of my writing—often after bracing myself with a stiff drink—I see the evolution. It’s evident even in writing that’s only a couple of years old. There has been so much growth. And there’s much more to come. But what stands out clearly is my voice. Emerging clear and strong. Ready to be heard.
WriteByNighters, how are you developing your writer’s voice?
Amy Boulanger is a writer and avid coffee drinker (black, a sprinkle of cinnamon). She has been nominated for The Best New American Voices (2006) and listed among the Top 25 Finalists for Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction contest in 2010. She holds a BA in English and an MFA in Writing.