I may be the only woman in America who doesn’t think Tom Cruise is hot–but even I have to admit he had a certain charm in Risky Business. There’s just something appealing about a man singing and dancing in his tighty-whities (or even brownie-wownies) without self-conscious regard dampening his sudden burst of authentic happiness.
As writers, we would do well to aspire to this level of pure joy–this absolute lack of regard for what your great-aunt’s husband’s mother’s priest’s barber might think of your writing. Sounds silly? Maybe, but we writers are a neurotic bunch, and you can’t write from a place of authentic voice if you’re worried about others judging you unworthy.
As a poet, the speaker in your poem is not you. As a novelist or short story writer, you are not your characters. You are channeling something–some others–whose stories must be told. They are bursting forth from your fingertips–what an awesome responsiblity to keep them true to form.
This is not to say that your writing will not benefit from revision and editing–only that you must be true to your own voice or you cannot be the writer you were born to be.
Yeah but–I can hear it now. I can’t be completely exposed. I have too much to lose. Too many people will think blah, blah, blah…
So I’m going to pull out some big guns…What do some of the masters of the craft have to say? Do you prefer it as Chaucer would have put it?
Or perhaps you have a more commercial-bent than literary. If that’s the case, this is for you:
Special Note to those Recoiling at the F-Bomb: To you, I do not mean to offend–only to illustrate. Fuck is a word. Ever seen the opening of Braveheart? Where the king allowed the nobility to take “First Rights” with a bride–meaning a man of “higher station” could rape the bride of a man of a “lower station” before she shares the marriage bed with her betrothed? That’s where the word comes from: Fornication Under Command of the King. So I only use it to illustrate my point. Fuck is a word–ugly though it is with its forceful consonent sounds. Words are the tools of my trade. Which is the point of this post anyway. I am being true to my writerly voice in using it. But I digress. Maybe…
So swear words aside, Here are some of the greats, past and present, on being true to your own voice in your writing
- “This above all: to thine own self be true.” William Shakespeare
- “To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.” Allen Ginsberg
- “Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.” Virginia Woolf
- “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Maya Angelou
- “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” Madeleine L’Engle
- “And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” Sylvia Plath
- “Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.” Virginia Woolf
- “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” William Wordsworth
“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.” Margaret Atwood
- “All you have to do is write one, true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.” Ernest Hemmingway
And so, I invite you to take the Papa Hemmingway Challenge:
If you struggle with to know where to start, look within… Years ago, I ran across a book called NOT QUITE WHAT I WAS PLANNING which was a collection of six-word memoirs collected by the editors of Smith Magazine. I always used this as an ice-breaker activity with my creative-writing students and loved what they were able to come up with after a few go-rounds.
For inspiration, here are a few of my favorites from the text:
- He wore dresses. This caused messes. –Josh Kilmer-Purcell
- She left Texas none too soon. –Jen Worrell
- Cadavers played an unexpectedly large part. –Mary Roach
- Never lived up to my potential –Leslie Sterling
- Town car, tailored suit, dirty nails. –Nicole Blades
- Should not have eaten those mushrooms. –Emilie Raguso
- The shit invariably hits the fan. –Ashleea Nielsen
- Says deaf boyfriend: you’re too quiet. –Anna Jane Grossman
- ABC’s, MTV, SATs, THC, IRA, NPR. –Jancee Dunn
Enjoy the process. Be true to your own voice and follow your muse.
Risky business, indeed.
SJ Anderson, Foxy Writer Chick