Don't Shush Your Voice
By Kelly Carey
I don’t have a great singing voice. A high school choir teacher once told me that if I agreed to go to study hall instead of his class, he’d give me an A. My family begs me not sing around birthday cakes, and I mouth the words to hymns in church because I’m pretty sure God would prefer it that way.
I’m shushing my voice.
If I did this in writing, my stories either wouldn’t exist, or they’d come out flat and false and would never resonate with any reader, anywhere, ever. And yet, much like I have learned to hide my voice when it comes to singing, I think many of us have been taught to silence our voice when it comes to writing.
It happens gradually like a drip, drip, dripping until our unique way of speaking, of phrasing things, of reacting, and arranging words drowns under 20,000 leagues of edits from teachers, society, peers, and finally our own internal critic.
I do understand the idea that you need to know the rules of good writing before you can break them. We wipe out slang and colloquialism for proper grammar and impressive SAT level vocabulary. Academic writing peels out the voice of the unique individual and cushions it with research, and MLA formatting, and data, and flow charts, and the desire to match a professor’s rubric.
Society and peers place expectations on us that can alter our voice so that we comply with popular opinions, norms, and accepted practices. Layer over that our fear of sharing our inner thoughts; concerns that our experiences and feelings are solo outliers; a belief that no one would understand; and a dread that our voice might be met with raised eyebrows, confused stares, or worse and BAM we mouth the words instead of writing them down.
I think we are all born with these beautiful voices, but somewhere along the line, we zip our lips and head to study hall.
The gifted writers in our community don’t go to study hall – they sing LOUD! They don’t worry about a choir teacher giving them an F, a chuckle at a birthday party, or the way the guy’s neck hair in front of them in church stands on end – they just let their writing voice sing.
Examine what happens in that split second of time between a thought popping into your head and the thought becoming words on a page. How much pummeling does it take before you write it down? Do you hear your high school English teacher? Are you thinking about how your mother will react? Worried about what a co-worker will think? Are you editing it for an agent, editor, or potential reader? All this before it makes it to the page and suddenly your wonderful true to you thought is a diluted pile of boring mush.
The idea that you should dance like no one is watching, sing like no one is listening – it’s not quite as easy to apply when it comes out write like no one is reading. Let’s flip it to say: write like everyone wants to read!
Write loud in your voice! No need to go to study hall – you got this! And we want to hear it!
1/8/2020 11:43:05 pm
Wow! Not what I thought it was going to be but I loved it anyway! The issue you addressed is one I've been keenly aware of in the music business since the early eighties. Anyone can conform, but does that do anything, really, to enrich anyone, include the conformer? Great stuff, very intelligently and competently written. I'm coming back!
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