Saying things in your own unique way is the epitome of “voice” in writing. It’s your “take” on something that may have a hundred different ways to express. I remember in high school I used to eat lunch with a musician friend of mine, Geoff. One day he brought along one of his friends who was also a musician – a guitarist, to be exact. There we were, shootin’ the shit, eating our lunches, talking about music when the conversation turned to discovering “your voice” in music. Geoff’s friend said something that day that I will never forget. He said, “Finding your voice in music is that moment – when you’ve been playing Hendrix like a million times – when suddenly you hit that one note, the one note that you just know…is yours.” I stared at him for a moment then quickly came to the conclusion that he was so full of shit that it was coming out of his mouth. I’ll never forget that conversation because it’s so not true. Well, to be fair, it’s half not true.
Finding one’s voice in writing – or anything for that matter – comes from hours of practice. So Geoff’s friend got it half right. It’s just that you don’t suddenly have a moment of epiphany when you hit that one note (or word) and you just…you just know, man…that’s your note, man. Recognizing one’s voice comes with familiarity: the more you hear it (read it), the more you come to recognize that it is your particular way of putting things – your unique phrasing and diction.
Today, we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Now there was an individual voice if there ever was one. Stirring? Evocative? Yes. But, did you know that he also authored several works of literature that were just as moving as his speeches? As an avid reader, I may be biased but I think his writings are even better than his speeches because they provide more context to what he’s trying to express. Check this out from Strength to Love:
There is little hope for us until we become toughminded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice, half-truths, and downright ignorance. The shape of the world today does not permit us the luxury of softmindedness. A nation or civilization that continues to produce softminded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan.
But we must not stop with the cultivation of a tough mind. The gospel also demands a tender heart. … What is more tragic than to see a person who has risen to the disciplined heights of toughmindedness but has at the same time sunk to the passionless depths of hardheartedness?
You can almost hear him speaking as you read those lines, can’t you?
Posted by Paul Yim