Thursday, December 21, 2006

Finding My Voice, Mark II

I've been trying to put my finger on exactly what my writerly problem is, and I think I had a moment of clarity. Sort of.

When I started taking writing seriously, in my mid-twenties, I was doing a lot of work that required me to mimic -- something that seems to be innate. I have a natural ear for voice (augh! and a natural gift for mixing metaphors!). This came in handy when I was ghostwriting middle-grade fiction for three different series, and helped a lot when I was freelancing or trying to get on staff at far-flung magazines. But when the time came to write for myself, I didn't know where to start. What was my voice? How did I write, when nobody was telling me they wanted x, y, and z, in that order?

It was so hard and awful to give birth to my on-page self, but eventually, out of the mess of journals and personal essays and weird unpaid web-postings, I found that snarkyself: Sassy-inflected, standoffish ironic commentary gently peppered with real feeling. Frankly, I sounded like a lot of my cohorts, but that's because we were all sort of alike under the skin anyway. We weren't being derivative, we were just infected by the same zeitgeist, and that was OK. And I did have my own pool of light. It was pink!

Little did I know that voice had a shelf-life. I'm (nnnduh) not the same person I was when I was 25. The past couple years saw me sort of vanishing, reformatting, growing, changing. The same old snark does not satisfy anymore, and the stories I told then are old news to me now.

Plus, I've got so much more life under my ever-expanding belt. I mean -- I can not buh-LIEVE the things I thought were tragic in my twenties. Had I known then what I'd endure, I'd have actually had reason to crawl under my covers, smoke unfiltered Camels and weep into my Wild Turkey. My skin is thicker now, I'm more tolerant and kinder, free of the tyrannic overcommitment of the insecure, and -- I actually know what I'm talking about some of the time.

Which means the old ways don't fit, the old phrases and words sound tinny in my ears. I have to do it again: write and "journal" (oh god, that does not work as a verb) and blog and dig up pals who curate readings so I can find out how I write -- and what I write about -- again.

It's not bad. It's what separates the Billy Joels from the Bowies. And it explains why I haven't just sat down and written in the past few months. Or so I hope.

3 comments:

jennifer echols said...

You have a VERY distinctive voice that's very similar in your YA novels and mag pieces (which is all I've read). It may be hard for you to hear because it's yours.

Patrick said...

Well if your blog writ is anything to go by, you'll dominate. I'm a fan.

And twenty-four, so by all accounts there's a fair way to go finding my voice, and agonising less about not writing 'enough'.

You're inspirational :)

Madfoot said...

Aw thanks guys! I don't know whether to feel flattered or ancient. I'll try both -- what else are multiple personalities for.