Finding your voice

Advice, October 4th, 2017

I still haven’t found my voice. It’d probably be best to call the search off at this point, even. For most of the search my perceived lack of voice hasn’t really inspired me to write. I’ve come to the realization that it’s done the opposite, even. And I end up using it as a justification to put off working with a potentially good idea because “I should really wait until I’ve developed my voice for this one.” And of course, I haven’t, and perhaps won’t, but I don’t think that’s the point.

Of course, by now you probably know the lengths I go to to find relationships between disparate ideas, arguments, and plots. It’s almost pathological, really. And since we use the term voice, I’m immediately reminded of language acquisition (shocker!). And of course, precisely here is where I run the risk of losing everyone except myself, but that’s okay!

You know who else needs to find their voice? Babies. And they do it all the time without setting it as a goal. I think that’s one important take-away right off the bat: you can’t set your targets on an end, you’ve got to trust to process. The truth is, you have a voice now, just as I do, just as babies do. You could draw a line and say that when they babble they aren’t exercising their voice, but that’s fairly arbitrary. It might not be what we consider to be a good voice, it may not have the features we’d like for there to be in the voice, but the development of a voice continues beyond babbling. Does that mean that you don’t have a spoken voice now because it’s still in the process of becoming? By treating this as a binary, either you have it or you don’t, a lot gets lost and even more gets waved away. Instead, by treating each step as a step “in-becoming” necessary for future steps and necessarily the product of past steps, we can take our minds off the tension of finding our voice. Good news: you’ve found one. Bad news: It may not be the one you want. That’s okay, remember this is a process.

The second thing we can glean from language acquisition is that comprehension always precedes production. Non-verbal babies are surprisingly adept at making sense of language even though they really can’t say much at all. And maybe this is where you are as a writer or a creative. If I’m being honest, it’s where I am. It’s not a very helpful place to be. Of course everyone recommends reading voraciously if you want to be a writer, attending plays if you want to be a playwright or director, but at a certain point you’ve got to do something with it. That’s the other side of this lesson from language acquisition. Babies aren’t passively taking in words and sentences and learning a language, they’re actually remarkably active in the process. Babbling itself is extremely active because it allows them to practice making the sounds necessary for a given language. So really, the take-away here is the importance of babbling. That’s the importance of literary doodles, sketches, drafts of multiple endings, stories you throw away at the end of the day. This is very much easier said than done. It hurts to produce something you’re not happy with and it hurts to throw something you spent time on away.

I haven’t given up on looking for a voice, but I have given up on it’s validity as an excuse. We’ve got to babble as creatives, we’ve got to play with the basic units of meaning in our respective arts and gain implicit knowledge about how things “fit,” or at least how they fit for us. Maybe I won’t ever reach that fabled and totalizing level of consistency, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t approach each piece with a steady hand (ironic, given my tremor). As Browning said, “Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?”

Victor Gomes

envy is ignorance; imitation is suicide.