10 Sep Writer Problems: Finding your ‘own,’ voice and being your harshest critic
This week I want to talk about finding your ‘own,’ voice as a writer and if such a thing can truly exist. Opinions are not formed from thin air. Every thought, every decision and every conscious effort to write something is not influenced solely by you. Everyone always talks about the importance of writers reading as vastly as possible. However, I have never heard anyone discuss how the tendency to sound like the writers that inspire you, kills a writer’s individuality. Although imitation is the best form of flattery, it is also the easiest way to stop sounding like yourself.
Due to my tendency to play devil’s advocate to my own points, I am now wondering if it is even possible to sound completely like yourself if and when your words are so heavily inspired by things that have been written or said before you. Is sounding like those who inspired you, (especially early on in your writing) always an inevitable part of an author’s journey? Is a ‘unique,’ voice an illusion we create in our heads to make ourselves feel better about what we write? My personal answer to that is yes. I think there is no such thing as an original thought. To me, the most important thing when writing isn’t to focus on sounding special or ‘ground breaking,’ it is about sounding compelling, interesting and real. You should be your harshest critic. You have to be honest about yourself and honest about whether what you have written reflects how you feel or your state of mind.
There is no greater power than the written word. An agreement or contract becomes a lot harder to get out of or change once it is put down in a written document and signed. The words of a religious preacher are meaningless if she or he contradicts the doctrines in her or his holy book. Colonisation would probably not have occurred if our ancestors were not made to believe that reading and writing in English was one of the most useful assets a person can have. These common examples just go to show the influence and impact that words, literature and writing have on all of us, whether we are active readers or not. Words hold weight and meaning and being a writer or aspiring to be one, is a lot of pressure because of this.
Having your words matter may sound amazing but there is a great deal of responsibility I can only imagine high-profile, influential thinkers and writers must feel. When words hold weight, it is not solely about sounding real anymore, it also (subconsciously) becomes about sounding right and that in itself is a trap. This desire is the first step to limiting yourself as a writer, especially if you write fiction. All the fictional writers I admire never wrote about perfect characters. They never idolised anything, instead they obsessed over imperfections. All the writers I respect critiqued something, whether it be about human behaviour or the society they live in or themselves and that brings me to my long tirade of questions. Can your writing ever be worth talking about if it does not have this quality and if you do not feel like an outcast? If your writing does not challenge the status quo will you ever be great? Are you a liar? Are you pretending not to like how things are? Are you simply reaching for the sensationalism that comes with being considered ‘radical,’ ‘edgy,’ or ‘authentic?’ Are you after the allure of being labelled progressive and interesting or do you really believe what you are saying? Are you more hell bent on sounding eloquent and intelligent than you are on sounding real? What do you want to achieve when you write? Who are you trying to affect when you write? Are you writing something that is worth analysing from any perspective? Are you writing something that transcends time? If your favourite author read your piece would they be proud? These are questions I think every writer should ask themselves before embarking on a serious project. If you do not want to confront the answers, you are not ready to write. Not knowing and acknowledging your uncertainty is always better than running away.