Ah. Your unique voice. Tell me about it.
When I started writing, all the advice seemed to end up with finding your Unique Voice. That’s what makes you a writer. That’s what agents and publishers are looking for.
Okay; fine: I get it. Well, the theory, at least. I’ve done English as a subject half to death. I’ve analysed (well, tried to) Jane Austen’s elegant turn of phrase, I’ve studied Dickens, George Elliot and Charlotte Bronte……
So creating my own unique voice had to be a synch, eh?
But it always came back to the same question: so what is it? What is my ‘unique voice’? Is it a style I create to get noticed? Is it finding a quirky way of expressing myself? The no-capitals-or-punctuation sort of quirky. Mmm. Unless I win the lottery and don’t have to consider paying the bills, maybe not.
So what is it?
It’s only recently, while going through the huge learning curve of working with an editor, that I began to realise that I DO have a unique voice. Sometimes, just sometimes, I can hear it. Most of the time I’m too busy banging away on the keyboard to even attempt to notice.
It’s nothing fancy, nothing grand or earth-shattering. It’s me. Just as every wrinkle and blemish and occasional aching knee is a badge of honour of every experience I have ever had, so is my unique voice. It’s every tear, every laughter, every humiliation, that life has thrown my way. And every dark night of the soul, too. It’s the paths I’ve taken, the mistakes I’ve made, and the learning curves I’ve embraced. Some more willingly than others. It’s me.
And what I’ve also realised is that my voice didn’t just arrive fully formed, any more than I did. It’s slowly developed over the past decade of learning to be a writer. I was so impatient when I first started that I never understood that the craft of writing, like all others, takes time and constant practice. Over and over again. One of the wisest things I’ve been told about writing is that if you were learning a musical instrument you would expect to practice for years before you got anywhere. Before you could even play the thing without your listeners wincing, come to that. And it’s the same with writing.
And so it’s true that nothing is wasted. The embarrassing short stories I thought were so clever, and absolutely and totally weren’t. The first novels that will (deservedly) never, ever, see the light of day. Like the first tuneless screechings of learning to play the violin, they were the first hesitant steps. It didn’t mean I was necessarily rubbish: just a beginner. And it was the trying over and over again, the learning from the mistakes, the geekish obsession towards some kind of perfection, that finally resolved itself a kind of tunefulness.
And, strangely enough, I’ve realised that process has changed me, too. Increasingly, I’ve found that to understand my characters, I’ve had to look into myself, my actions, my choices, and my relationships. At times with rather more clarity than I would have wished. And so I have grown and changed, too, along with my voice.
And is my unique voice any good? Haven’t a clue. And, anyhow, that’s not really the point. Who decides what’s ‘good’ in the first place? I can sell my work (well, some of it), which means that readers want to read it, and that’s good enough for me. Because what I’ve also realised is that this is not the end. As in the end product. Any more than I’m the end product of me as a human being, and that I’ll remain as I am now for the rest of my life. This is just the beginning. My voice will continue to change and grow, and hopefully keep on improving.
And that sounds like a pretty exciting journey to me. Hold on to your hats …….