Sounds exciting… kind of like the classic Cinderella rags-to-riches story. It would be wonderful if it were true, but the reality of writing is far removed from the fairy tale hype.
First, let’s recognize what is true about this advice. The quickest way to find our authentic voice really is to write the way we speak; to imagine our best friend seated in front of us as we regale them with our fascinating stories and persuasive wit.
Sounds simple enough, but there are twelve plus years of training and conditioning getting in the way.
Don’t believe me? Let’s journey back a few years.
At some point in our school career, we all remember the English assignment we decided to actually apply ourselves to. Remember how we agitated for days leading up to the due date, and in the wee hours of the morning, how we penned exquisite brilliance we never knew existed within us!
There wasn’t time for anything beyond a first draft, but we knew our teacher wouldn’t mind because she would read our dazzling deductions, our clever turns of phrase, then herald our emerging brilliance by awarding us an A+.
Were we ever wrong!
The next day, ready to accept our just rewards, we received our papers with trembling anticipation. We peered at it… and reeled back in disbelief! Instead of glory, we faced ruin. Our paper looked like it had been dragged through a butcher’s shop: Red ink seeping and oozing from a multitude of wounds; our fledgling authenticity bleeding to death in our hands.
This was the audience we were forced to write for, to please for twelve plus years. An audience of one: The Vivisectionist.
That was the day any desire to write was snuffed out of many. The rest of us became technically and grammatically efficient at meeting scholastic demands, but our writings became listless; bereft of passion or joy.
In his book “Writing with Power”, Peter Elbow likened attempts to write in an authentic voice as trying to stuff a writhing snake into a bottle, or to desperately hang onto a bucking bull. He saw it as a difficult, even painful process, but well worth the trouble. When we lose our authentic voice and write too concisely with too much control as we were trained to write in school, we kill the snake; we break the bull’s back. We accomplish the task of writing, but it is bereft of the magic that arises from a truly authentic voice.
So, what can we do about this? Here are two powerful strategies we can employ:
First, give up trying to write perfectly right out of the gate. Let nouns and verbs splash across the page like paint. Let words drip and mix, blend and shift. Think Jackson Pollock. To do this, you need to turn off the critical editor in your head (who sounds suspiciously like the Vivisectionist), and write with abandon about your interests and industry, your victories… even your failures. Follow threads of thought leading to hidden stories and nuggets of wisdom you never realized you owned.
The second strategy employs the power of consistent practice. Plan to write new material for ten minutes every day. If ten minutes turns into an enjoyable half hour or so, that’s fine, but you have to keep the ten minute ritual to make progress. I promise this one simple commitment will lead to a new world of discovery.
We all have an authentic voice the world was meant to hear! If you can employ these two strategies, the rest of us will be enjoying yours.
Enjoy the day and write your way!