As a novice writer I keep reading about the importance of having an authentic voice and I have been really grappling with this concept. I understand that it is about; writing from the heart, writing as one speaks, writing from experience, being true to self etc, but how the heck does that translate for me?
One thing I am discovering on this writing pilgrimage is that parallel to the characters I am creating, I seem to be on a journey of self-discovery. It seems with each new manuscript, I am learning or uncovering something about myself, which I think is part of this search for an authentic voice. My characters all seem pretty strong but I want to make sure I expose a little of their vulnerability too.
One interesting part of this search is the whole revision/editing process. I received my first professional editorial evaluation a month or so ago and It blew me away. Firstly I realized how attached I was to my creation and so the critique felt, just for a few seconds, personal, and then I became so excited about the prospect of growth and improvement for my story and protagonist, I felt truly grateful for my editor’s insights. Just as I embrace honest, constructive input from friends, who are not trying to change me, but do want to help validate the true me, so I really appreciate good critique partners and editors who are supporting me to find that authentic voice. I have talked about following one’s passion in the past and because I feel like I can’t help but write, I have this sense that my life is going through some wonderful and challenging revision. So I am assuming the more I write, the more my authentic, inner voice will find words, because it cannot be silenced.
Another discovery is the fine line between writing for your audience and writing what you think people will want to read, rather than what you know is more appropriate for your story/characters. I see I have a tendency to want to add in humor where it isn’t necessary because I have a marketing voice telling me that humor sells! Now I love funny, don’t get me wrong, but an authentic voice knows when it is appropriate.
A recent revelation is helping me understand how an authentic voice doesn’t mean you write exactly the same way for each story, as your voice will manifest differently through different protagonists. Recently I was chatting about the holocaust in France to a French friend in French, and added something in English. She, not being used to hear me in English but understanding me completely, said how different I sounded. So I said “you should hear me in German!” and proceeding in this language, she was again amazed at a “third Joanna”. Tone, pitch, rhythm, intonation, word length, sentence structure etc all change how we sound in each language. I then started to talk about how I felt I came across as a little more serious in French because my Anglo-Saxon humor, while translatable, just wasn’t as funny for the French, so inevitably after years of trying to explain my obvious wit *sigh*, I attempt less jokes these days. So am I a different person in each language? No, I believe I am just as authentic, but you will discover different sides of me in different languages.
I also think asking myself the question each time I start a manuscript, “What do I want children to go away with when they have finished my book?” is also helping me discover my voice. This could be beginner’s naivety, but I I hope that my reader will tuck away a little bit of truth that will help them discover what their own voice is.
I think if we are writing with our authentic voice we will inevitably include bits of ourselves in our writing, even if the setting is far removed from our personal experience. I believe a sensitive reader will recognize and respond to this.
I am sure it takes time to develop this authenticity in one’s writing, but it is an essential goal for each of us. I feel if I keep writing what’s within and don’t try to force a style or voice, it will happen naturally. How do you perceive having an authentic voice?