July 19, 2013 § Leave a comment


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“Good movement, strong voice.” These were some of the remarks a creative writing professor had written on some of the pieces I found shoved in my nightstand this morning. Bent staples, old CDs, some leftover Euros, my high school yearbook, and close to a hundred pages of writing spanning 5th grade to last year. I struggled to open the drawer.

“Strong voice.”

I thought this comment over while I counted the Euros. It felt like a higher compliment than “good movement,” somehow. A superior achievement to making a good transition. But what did it mean, anyhow? My “voice” was strong? What did it mean to have a weak voice? Every author has a voice. They’re speaking on paper, from beginning to end, right? Or do they? Can a poor author write an entire manuscript and not have said a word? Be voiceless?

Or is it that so much writing feels like one big voice, with the same intonations, the same emphasis, perhaps even the same words? You read one thriller novel by John somebody and another by Kate somebody and you say ah, yes, I know this voice, I’ve heard it before, I trust it, I’ll follow it to the end to find out he’s multiple personality and really did commit all those murders.

So then, maybe a strong voice means breaking through. Everybody’s chanting at the some volume in the same rhythm and suddenly someone starts whispering to a different beat. You pick up a new book and it shocks your senses. Something you haven’t heard before.

This is perhaps the greatest challenge for any artist. Breaking through. It’s more than just being different, being unique. We are all unique. Not all of us have a “strong voice.” You must not only break through the clutter of everyone else, but of yourself. A strong voice comes from an authentic place, a real, truthful feeling. Think of it as a little light trapped under layers of sand. You’ve got to dig, past the defense mechanisms and the impatience and all the modern world distractions to get there. It ain’t easy, but you’ll be rewarded.

It should be mentioned that a “strong voice” is not an eternal state of being. God, no. Just thinking it makes me feel exhausted. If I’m lucky enough to break through to that place and stay there and write, write, write, once I’m done the sand fills back in the hole again in a rush, and I fall back and let it. You don’t win the battle every time. I get frustrated when I write something that’s crap, nothing special, and jealous when others can seem to turn out “strong voice” pieces like it’s nothing. I’m struggling to stutter, and they’re singing in the shower.

But here’s the beauty of it: If you’ve tapped into it before, you can get there again. The young hipster woman with too-large black glasses thought I had spoken with a “strong voice” in that one childhood memory piece. I thought I had too. I had felt it rise within me as I wrote, asserting itself, saying I’m here, I’m here, let me speak. And I felt the exhaustion and closing back up when I finished.

Some people don’t even know that little speck of light is hiding under there, or don’t care enough to do the work to get there. They’re content to stay up above. Digging is messy. It’s time-consuming. Who’s to say you’ll find anything?

Here’s what I find, though: Breaking through to that voice, letting it yell, uninhibited, into the world, and resonate, and reverberate off the walls and ring in your ears-this is how we assert ourselves, make our presence be know. Tell the layers of clutter they ain’t got nothing on us. Really speaking-it gives me hope.


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