One of the biggest challenges any writer faces is finding his or her voice. That is, making your writing read like you.
If you’re writing purely for yourself, pouring your heart out into your journal or poetry let’s say, this problem doesn’t arise. You’re expressing yourself through your writing, putting words down on paper or tapping away at your keyboard as self-expression or therapy.
Which is, of course, fair enough.
But if you want to share your writing with other people it needs to be yours.
With fiction, this could be arriving at a style of writing that sets you apart from other people working in the genre you’ve chosen.
For memoir, autobiography or other forms of personal writing like blogging, it’s about writing in a way that’s recognisably you.
This is usually much harder than it sounds. And it will probably involve lots of hard work and soul searching.
Who was Raymond Carver?
Raymond Carver was a tremendous American poet, short story writer and novelist. If you’ve never read him, I’d suggest you start with Where I’m Calling From, his 1988 short story collection.
Carver’s writing was marked by a particular kind of ‘brevity and intensity’.
But it turned out that this had a lot to do with his editor Gordon Lish, who advised him to use as few words as possible. After Carver broke with Lish, his writing became far more expansive and lyrical.
The voice that had made Carver so successful wasn’t really his.
My own writing is more about memoir than anything else and finding who ‘I’ am was, and is, a real struggle. I’m fortunate to know writers, editors and critics who have been happy to read my writing.
When it comes to the technical stuff, they’re a godsend. The problem comes when they decide what in my writing is actually ‘Me’ and what isn’t.
One person will say that the funny stuff is really ‘Me’. Another will say it’s the mystical pondering. And so on.
Because I respect their opinions, I used to try and write like the ‘Me’ each of my friends thought they’d identified. I developed multiple personalities in my writing.
I was trying to accommodate all their different ideas of what ‘Me’ was. Often, what I thought was most ‘Me’ was the stuff they liked least – which is interesting.
This became so frustrating that, for a time, I stopped showing my writing to anyone.
Worse than that, I began to second guess myself when I wrote, constantly asking ‘Does this sound like me?’ It got so bad that I gave up my own writing for a time.
One of the unexpected and thrilling side effects of taking up yoga was discovering how it connected me to the source of my writing without me trying.
– David Holzer
Yoga and ‘Me’
One of the unexpected and thrilling side effects of taking up yoga was discovering how it connected me to the source of my writing without me trying. The urge to write would often come while I was practising.
By the time I lay down for Savasana, the guided relaxation at the end of the class, ideas were coming so thick and fast that I was desperate to get to my notebook.
Like most of us who write, I’d experienced this compulsion to write many times before but never with such intensity and regularity. But it didn’t stop there.
A lesson from the Yoga Commando
The Yoga Commando was one of my first teachers. He was and probably still is an especially knowledgeable and kind teacher. I signed up for a week of private classes with him.
One morning we started with Sun Salutations.
After 25 minutes of him effortlessly saluting the sun while I poured with sweat and became more and more wobbly he stopped and said ‘Why are you doing this?’
‘Because you are,’ I said.
And then I understood. The Yoga Commando led me to one of the great insights of my life. I’ve applied it to my yoga practice and my writing ever since. I had to make both yoga and writing mine, not follow anyone else blindly.
Now, when I show drafts of my writing to people I ask them to look only at things like grammar, spelling and style. Good or bad, my voice is my own. No matter how much I rewrite, I preserve my ‘Me’.
Although we need our teachers, there’s no point practising yoga unless we make it ours. It’s the same with writing, whether you’re writing just for yourself or you want to become a professional writer.
Since I realised this, I’ve listened to my self. As should you.