You’ve just recorded a voice message for your phone.
Hi it’s Blarb, I’m super busy and important!
(Like the caller didn’t know that already?)
You decide to listen to it once to hear what it sounds like, so you play it over.
OHMYGOD. Shame. Do I really sound like that?
And then you walk around all day trying not to speak.
Recognize that incident? We are so horrified by our own voices because we normally hear ourselves from inside our own head, so it sounds a little bit different. When you hear what other people hear, it’s not what you usually hear and you freak out a little.
Ever tried reading your own writing? Cringed because it was so obvious what you were trying to do? Or totally got your own joke and was super pleased with yourself for having such great humor?
We’re so accustomed to our own voices, it’s hard to understand what it sounds like to everyone else.
When developing our creative work, we’re told to find our voice. Something that defines us and picks us out of a crowd. The you in your work.
You’d think this would be easy peasy. I mean, it’s your own voice after all. Couldn’t you just… talk?
But no no, of course not. There’s all of these techniques and strategies you need to think about. You need to change, adapt, experiment, while still keeping your voice. When you’re not really sure what your voice sounds like, it’s hard.
Say you’re giving a speak. You prepare by reading all about rhetorics, and suddenly you stand there on the stage and hear yourself say I have a dream.
You’re plotting a novel, are super excited and tell your friend about it… who says it sounds like Harry Potter. And you’re maybe a little flattered but then no it’s totally different, I mean, yes there’s a magic school but the characters are so not the same and also they have smartphones.
You’re a new blogger and you keep sounding like different people in every post and you can’t tell if there’s a thread in there somewhere, knitting them together.
When developing your voice in a new craft, you’re probably going to look at other people who have done something similar to what you’re trying to do. It will affect your voice. And that’s okay.
It’s the point, really. You want to learn their techniques. Test out the styles, dabble, see what you’re good at.
People will tell you to find your own voice and you’ll secretly wonder if you have a voice at all. If you’re a copycat, or just a straight out boring, mediocre person. You’ll probably be right about that for a while too. We imitate. We try things that doesn’t fit us. Things we aren’t very good at. Keeping a strong confidence in that phase can be hard.
We could just stop.
Save ourselves the hardship of find that damn voice.
Let the others speak. Those who already have a voice. Yours aren’t as interesting, after all. There’ll be no loss.
But that’s your self-doubt speaking. It’s the fear. The part of you who actually knows what comes next, and it’s scared.
When you’ve imitated, dabbled and tested for a while, there comes a point when you have a choice. It’s the point when you know the basics, you’ve practiced enough to start seeing where your strengths lay and what you like. That invisible voice starts bleeding through. Either you could stop, shut the voice out, keep being a copycat or give in to fear and stop completely. Or, you could take the other road.
You could let your voice speak.
Something truly fantastic happens when people have learned and learned and learned and suddenly, they bring it to a whole new level. The level you can’t teach. The one that's inside of you, that you have such a hard time finding. The one you sometimes can’t hear, but others can point out to you. The voice that makes your words sing.
I experienced this when I attended a course in creative writing about a year ago. The teacher was quite tough - in a good way - and we learned techniques I haven’t used before. I kept handing in texts, got lots of red notes back. It needed more drive, more life. I tried. And tried. And then, one week, I handed in something a little different. I wasn’t sure it would work at all, but it had something to it that was new. A tone. Something. I couldn’t really put my finger on it. After she’d read it, she looked at me, I braced myself for more pointers.
Elin, wow, this was really, really good.
I was surprised. Oh really? This worked? Okay then!
It wasn’t that I’d finally mastered her techniques, it was that I’d taken them and brought my own voice into it.
I’ll probably keep changing and refining my voice my whole life, but that moment was a shift. Now I know that there in fact is a voice somewhere in there, and I can find it if I’m patient enough.
The thing is, it’s a scary process.
First because you aren’t as good as you’d want to be.
Then because you have no idea what your voice sounds like, or whether you have one at all.
And last, because bringing your own voice into it means that you can’t hide behind techniques anymore.
If they critique you now, they are attacking something very personal. You.
I can’t tell you how to make it less scary.
Just know this.
You have a voice.
You’ll find it if your dare.
When you do, it’s going to be worth it a thousand times over.
It’s like trying on boots. Maybe you’ll have to test 100 different pairs before you find the ones that feels just right. But when you do, oh you do.
So please, don’t quit halfway through. Let yourself test out different flavors and styles. And most importantly…