Finding Your ‘voice’ before breakfast

It’s best to write first thing, soon after you’ve awoken, and even on an empty stomach if you can. That’s when and that’s how you get connected up to what matters, to what you want and need to write. That’s how you link to writing itself, become one with writing and your writing prior to the distractions of digestion, the news, the world of others.

Yes, to write for others you need to find and maintain a world of your own. That can be a desk, a chair, a ‘room’ (as Virginia Woolf famously proclaimed) but also a time, a technique, and a way – all of these your very own.

It’s a private, selfish thing then, but, as I say, a means by which to access and form something that might be valuable to others. A note in a notebook might be a note-to-self, but what we call ‘writing’ in its more fully feathered form is surely always a communication, a correspondence, a kind of epistle or appeal. When we really ‘write’ the whole world is potentially in the room with us, in the writing, and ‘in mind’

Publishers have various criteria for what they will take the trouble of putting through the lengthy, complex and expensive process of producing for the market place. It’s always a gamble and, despite all the beauty, inspiration, loftiness, innovation of literature etc. publishing also comes down to hard-nosed economics, such as: ‘how many of these should I make, at what outlay, and if I do, what kind of profit can I make on selling them?’

I just started reading Goethe’s ‘Faust’ and right from the prologue a poet is arguing with a theatre director regarding the degree to which art should be lofty or grounded in the ‘bums-on-seats’ mathematics and fickle finance of crowds and all their complexity.

I know, from one brief but direct experience, that one of the values or qualities, of a text or a writer, that publishers look for, to tilt the balance between printing-up one book and not another, is something they mysteriously refer to as ‘voice’. I can’t say that I know exactly what they mean (they speak of it a little like wine connoisseurs speak of wines), and I can’t say whether I think I myself might have this ‘voice’ or not, but I think I can understand a little of what they mean.

Of course, we can locate this ‘voice’ ‘literally’ in song and speech. There are singers, orators, or just people who talk to us, who we will listen to, hear them out, make time for them, no matter, it seems, what they say. We give import to the particular timbre and resonances their vocal chords produce. The trick with writing is perhaps to convert something like that into words on a page or a virtual page on a screen.

Kafka famously wrote a short story about Josephine the mouse singer who regularly enthralled the occupants of her burrow, even though her audience didn’t really understand what she was singing ‘about’ nor even whether they liked the sound or not. She was just strangely compelling.

I like to think that ‘voice’ in writing might be like that. It could be something you just have or do not have, but I suspect that, like most artistic attributes, it’s something we can also acquire through consistency, persistence, through reading and absorbing other ‘voices’, great and celebrated voices as well as new, emerging voices.

But we also surely acquire ‘voice’ through our own techniques and methods, which could mean writing a Blog, at the same time, on the same day, every week, and / or writing as soon as we’ve awoken, before we’ve eaten, before the hourly news has fooled us into thinking that ITS voice is more important than our own. And even  before the first coffee of the day sweeps us and our writing up into the exultant hubris of feeling, too self-consciously perhaps, that what and how we are writing is just a little more important than it actually is.




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