I recently read this article on writer’s voices: What Happens When Writers Tell Stories That Aren’t Their Own.
We forget about who isn’t in the room. And sometimes, we forget about who might be. We need to get out of their way. I want us to consider the radical notion that people are already speaking up and showing up for themselves and we have not been looking for those spaces. Or they are in our spaces and we have not been hearing them. Or they have decided we are assholes and we legitimately make speaking in our presence unsafe. Nonetheless, people are already giving testimony.
This has made me think about my writing, because I write and have written in a range of voices, gay and straight, male and female, autistic and schizophrenic, young and old. I’ve written of people from countries I’ve never been to, and races and religions I know of only peripherally, of mothers losing their children, about gay men turning bullies, about prostitutes, miscarriages, rapes, pedophiles.
Writers’ voices can be political, and I get what the author of the article is talking about– it made me question my writing and whether I’ve appropriated a voice I ‘shouldn’t‘ have.
When I write, I mostly take down dictation, not sure why I use a particular voice, whose it is, and why I’m writing it. I have no intention of representing someone, only the restlessness in my body that I must obey, the words that follow one another, cadence. There is no conscious thought. There is a channeling of emotion, and though I’m aware this sounds like a lot of hocus-pocus, that’s exactly how it works when I write stories like this one or another.
The voice is then backed up by research, tons of it. When a voice comes to me that I know nothing about, I read up a lot to try and make up for the lack. I get it read by people who have experience in the culture, situation, mental state I’m writing about. The journey of a short story might take years, and even then, the intention is never to appropriate power or privilege. If it still reads like a dead thing, it stays in one of my folders.
A live story is to be as true to the character as possible, as true to the emotion, the circumstance as I can, and to always, always suspend judgement. Writing is an act of incredible hubris (you create a world and its people) but it is also an act of total humility (you lay yourself vulnerable, you work hard to get your work vetted by those with experience, and you never brag about being able to write about the other. It is a privilege, not a right).
More than anything else, it is about being true to my body, the urge inside of it to bend towards writing. Indeed, it is to use all of my body to write, and to obliterate from the story its teller, to leave as few signs of the artist and the craft as possible, so that the story takes on a life of its own, independent of me. Readers decide who or what it is about once it is out of my hands.
I see my body as an instrument, and mostly, it produces its own voice, and sometimes that voice resonates and becomes the voice of others. At a certain pitch, of love, pain, joy, sorrow, this resonance is universal. One thing I’m sure of is that it is the voice chooses me, and not the other way around. I’ve learned, over the years, to trust and respect this.
It isn’t always easy, and indeed often torturous, but committing to it is the only way open to me, one that creates an oasis of ‘isness,’ amongst all the chaos.
So I’d say, I trust in the universe and the voices that rise from within me as part of that universe. I’ll leave the talk about privilege and lack of it to those who know better. I have to write what chooses me, because I don’t see any other way.
What about you? As a reader have you found a writer striking a false note, or resented a writer for appropriating a voice? As a writer, do you think we should only write what we ‘know’? What is true knowledge? Who has the ‘right’ to speak in a particular voice? Should a writer’s voice be self-censored? When and why?
Please join Daily (w)rite on its Facebook Page if you’d like to be heard by this community. If you liked this post, you can have biweekly posts delivered to your inbox: click the SUBSCRIBE button in the sidebar.