Chickens, eggs and the question of voice

I am a writer. I may not make my living that way (yet), but I am a writer at heart. I love the act of putting words on paper. I love to tell stories, to organize my thoughts about a subject in words, to express my deepest emotions on paper. One of my hurdles in turning this passion into a way to make a living is trying to figure out what kind of writing best suits me. Where is that place where my writing joy, my talent, and the market intersect?

I’ve never pictured myself as a “literary” writer, a poet, or a screenwriter. If I write fiction, I suspect genre fiction of some kind is better suited to my interests, but the actual genre I would choose is still unsettled. I think I’d love writing memoir, but I have a hard time imagining anything about my life being interesting enough to have a market. I increasingly think that essays or some form of non-fiction, particularly a more reflective form of non-fiction, might be a good fit, but what might that look like? What am I best suited for?

Every writing book I’ve ever read, every writing class I’ve ever taken has talked about the importance of a writer finding her own voice in her writing. This is one of those things that develops and becomes evident over time as a writer gains practice, but it is intrinsic to the way each writer writes. Although voice is something that can be developed and influenced, I tend to think of an authentic voice as one of those innate things that springs from the writer’s subconscious self.

Yesterday, as I was pondering years worth of writing that I’ve done, I began trying to figure out what my voice sounds like. It’s obvious to me that I have a fondness for long, complex sentences, with frequent dependent (and independent) clauses, conjunctions, and qualifiers. I don’t quite rival St. Paul in some of his epistles, but I do definitely tend in that direction. (Having struggled through some of his writing in the original Greek, I suspect there are few that could truly rival his sentences and remain intelligible!)  As a counterpoint to the long, complex sentences, I also tend to throw in occasional short sentence fragments, particularly when making a point of something. I love to compare and contrast ideas and explore the various facets of things; “on the one hand … on the other hand” makes frequent appearances in my writing.  I also have a predilection for obscure vocabulary and would struggle to make myself concise even if my life depended on it. I show occasional flashes of dry humor, usually self-deprecating in nature, that I suspect no one else gets.

All in all, I’d say my voice tends to be dense and hard to follow, which brought me back to my earlier question of genre (in the largest possible sense of the word). How much does a writer’s voice dictate her marketability for various kinds of writing? As I describe my writing above, it definitely does not sound like a voice that would fit well in any writing that was designed to be a light-hearted, easy read. This has the potential to impact my preference for genre fiction.

These musings led me straight to the chicken and the egg question for voice. Namely, which comes first: the voice or the kind of writing a writer does? Or, like the chicken and the egg, are they so intertwined that the question of either coming first is ultimately unanswerable? Is it possible for a writer to have a significantly different voice when writing different types of things?

My analysis of voice above is based solely on my many volumes of journals and on the voice I’ve begun to recognize on the blog. My fiction writing, limited as it was, was all lost in a computer crash a few years ago, so I cannot look back to see if the voice characteristics I mention above showed up in the same way there. My business and technical writing for work purposes has tended to be more dictated by form, so it’s hard to tell how much of that is truly representative of my natural voice. Although, I do remember a former manager once telling me that my bi-monthly progress reports sounded to him just like I did when I was talking, so perhaps my voice leaked through even there. (It may also just mean that I’m as hard to follow when speaking as I am when I write. Who knows?)

But what I really want to know is whether my voice, as I currently understand it, is simply a manifestation of the fact that most of writing has been of a more self-reflective nature, or is it one of those innate, unchangeable things about who I am? If I wrote something else, like a novel, would my voice change? If not, does my voice limit me to certain kinds of writing that are best suited to my particular voice?

I don’t have answers to any of these questions. I am not even sure where to find the answers, but my observer-self is curious. I suspect I will be paying more and more attention to voice in others’ writings in coming days in hopes of finding a clue. I’m sure I’ll report back on where my musings lead me, but I hope you know better by now that to expect a concise report.

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One thought on “Chickens, eggs and the question of voice

  1. Pingback: Synchronicity Friday 14 « Journey Through the Chrysalis

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