A Project’s voice

“Find your voice.” A writer is always being told by other writers to find their own voice, their unique style, them in words, them in syntax, self in twenty-six letters or less. It can seem like a daunting task, an effortful and painful task, and when we think about those we read it can even seem like an impossible task. Well, keep at it, they say, sooner or later you’ll get there. The important thing is to keep writing.

Indeed. The important thing is to keep writing, and if you remain chained to the keyboard and sweat and bleed enough you will probably get there – or be crushed by the sheer cruelty of the practice. Once you’ve found your voice though, assuming that your endurance suffices, what then? Do you churn out work after work that in the end might appear quite similar? (I love Vonnegut but I’d say this about him.) Or do you begin to experiment and try to forge a new voice for yourself after you’ve determined that you have enough finished products under your belt? (I’ve read that Murakami has been in this stage for his last few books and that it hasn’t been working, that he’s lost his touch. I couldn’t comment on that as I’ve never been inclined to read him, but if the accusation has been put forward in print there might be something to it.) Although it’s possible that we’re getting ahead of ourselves and that the mere (mere!) attaining of an independent voice is more than enough to worry about, I would like to suggest that there might be an alternative path lurking here in the shadows. That path is, of course, the current writing project itself.

You have determined that your story must be told, that this, this, is worth the easily thousands of hours of labor that you will put into it, the years of your life that will be devoted to its creation and the years of your life that the creation of it will take away from you – each book surely knocking at least one annum off the end of your span as the process takes its inevitable toll. You plan, you structure, you organize, you plot, and then one fine day you find yourself at it: actually writing, finally. The breath of life enters your characters or your thesis, the words pile up, the sections and chapters take form, and along the way the unexpected becomes something of a familiar friend. We all know the twists and turns that our projects end up taking as what was planted spreads root and sprouts, blossoms, grows. “Who knew that was in there?” The characters did; one could say they had it in them, whether their author/creator recognized it or not. And if we are wise we allow them (or again, our theses) to speak for themselves and to tell us just what it is that they would actually get up to in this situation, just how they might relate or respond or react or interact. In this way we soon discover that not only has our hard-won writing voice been carrying the day but that our project’s peculiar voice has begun to make itself heard. How can we then stifle that?

If there is anything truly and completely pleasant in writing surely it is in such little wonders. When re-reading, or endeavoring on round twenty of our editing, we might be taken aback at how unlike “me” this has started to sound. That is because it has developed to the point of now sounding like itself. Well done! To take a project to that depth, to that level of sophistication and intricacy, where it begins to sound like nothing else but itself is to have achieved a rare hallmark in the annals of our craft. You have not just excreted another middling “bestseller” bit of pulp, you have given the world a new form of life, a progenitor, an Eve. And you did it by not letting yourself interfere too much with yourself, by allowing your project to first find and then continue on with its voice. Your voice – your writing voice, your style, your special touch – will naturally still be there, but layered within and above it there will now be this something extra, this something emergent that takes writer and reader alike by surprise. The project’s voice. You plus it equals much more than you-it. You plus it equals this.

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