Friday, July 20, 2012

My Voice

I was reading a blog post recently with advice for authors on building a blog to help promote their work. I read several blogs like this, and they usually have good, or at least interesting advice. It doesn't always apply to me. Sometimes it doesn't apply right now and I'll bookmark it for going back to when and as I am ready for it.

This particular blog post went a bit beyond not applying to me, though. What I took away from this post was 'You're doing it wrong!' And that bugs me enough that I'm going to talk about it.

How Important is

The blog post I'm talking about included the advice that you need to find your voice, and make sure that voice comes through consistently in all your writing. On the surface, that's good advice. We read authors whose voices we enjoy. And if you read my blog, enjoy my voice, and know you'll find the same enjoyable voice in my published work, you'll probably be a little more likely to buy that published work.

At least in theory, an authors voice is one of her most important commodities - her signature that is not just on the front page but imbued in every word she writes. Every author, in theory, has a unique voice and many faithful readers can identify a paragraph written by their favorite author whether or not the byline is present.

In general, voice is considered to be pretty damn important.

But what if you have more than one voice?

None of us is one dimensional. We are all complex beings who can't be easily pigeonholed, and I doubt finding a consistent voice is easy for any new author. Finding your voice, I expect, is rather like finding yourself - not a simple project.

However there is an assumption built into the idea of finding your voice. The assumption that each person has only one voice or should restrict themself to a single voice.

And here is where I am 'doing it wrong.' At least, if I listen to conventional wisdom. Luckily for me, I've never blindly followed the conventional wisdom yet, so I doubt I'll start now.

A Chameleon? Or a Variety Show?

When I was still going to college, I took a psychology course which talked about the way other people affect our behavior. In particular, I remember one class when the teacher explained how studies show that some people behave pretty much the same no matter where they are or who they are with. Other people are less consistent - their behavior changes depending on the circumstances.

We all do this to a certain extent - you probably dress differently for a day at work (if you have a 'regular job') than you do for going out with friends. A lot of people are more comfortable talking about their sex lives with friends then their mother. These are ways the vast majority of people change their behavior depending on where they are and who they are with.

By Florent HARDY, CC 3.0
Some people take it a step farther. Some people's behavior changes so much that they may seem to have a completely different personality depending on which group of friends they are hanging out with at the time. I don't know where it came from, but the term 'social chameleon' stuck in my head for people like this.

And I suppose you could say I'm one of them. At least, my old psych teacher probably would have said so. The thing is, from my perspective, I am always consistent with myself. Myself is just pretty complicated, and sometimes I'm crazy and silly and wild, sometimes I'm quiet and watch and listen and absorb what is going on. Sometimes I'll hold nothing back, other times I may be discrete in what I share and why. Is the quiet serenity I show when entering a forest any less 'me' than the giddy nut who has dice-throwing fights and stages random tickle ambushes on her partner? Is the fun loving mom any less me than the obsessive writer? Is the woman who when truly upset about something can curse like a truck driver more or less 'real' than the woman who almost never curses, because what's the point?

Who I am doesn't change depending on who I am with. I don't act differently to blend in with others the way a chameleon changes color to blend in with the forest. I just am different. I am multitude and I am one. I like having a complicated personality and being just as comfortable in a meditation group as I am squealing over some great piece of steampunk or dancing in the middle of the street, just because I like the music the busker on the corner is playing.

I'm not a social chameleon - I'm a walking, talking variety show. Stick around me long enough and you'll see just how varied it can get.  Yet each different 'segment' is all me - just a different side of me.

So how does a person who's theme song is Meredith Brook's "I'm a Bitch" find a consistent voice to express myself?

I don't.

My Voice is a Symphony

I'm not playing a single instrument here, I'm the entire band. My voice will change depending on my topic, my feelings, and my audience. Each time I write, I am adding a new note to the song. And it is the interplay of the different notes - the fact that my voice is not consistent, but is instead varying through the scale of who I am - that makes my voice mine.

My Voice:

In this strange woodland, the trail is a dark brown blaze against a riot of green. I'm sure there are leaves beneath the verdant growth, but they are hidden by vines, bushes, and saplings. If I were to step off the trail two feet I would not be able to see the trail, because it would be hidden by this overgrown jungle. Assuming I could step off the trail, without a machete to hack my way through the undergrowth. It is almost disturbing to know that if I stumbled back onto the trail I would recognize it immediately.

And western culture follows that pattern. Again, partly out of necessity. Would I prefer to be able to refer to the spirit-workers (yeah it's a shit term, I'm trying to avoid 'shaman' and IMO 'medicine man' is just as bad) of each Native American tribe, African tribe, Amazon tribe, etc, etc etc by their proper names? Yeah. Do I have any way to learn those proper names? At most, a handful. And no equivalent term exists in English. So with apologies, I will probably continue using the word 'shaman' (actually, spirit-worker is kinda growing on me) and if I meet anyone from those cultures I will tell them "I'm sorry, I don't know the word I should use. I'll be happy to use the word in your language if you can tell me what it is."

Marie’s eyes narrowed as she saw Paul and a strange woman laughing and holding hands outside the movie theater. She stormed up to them and slapped him. Hard.
“What the hell!” Hand to his face, he growled at her, “Marie, what is your fucking problem.”
“Fuck you,” she said, “Fuck you and the horse you rode in on. My sister is marrying you next week and you have the fucking balls to be out at the movies making kissy noises with someone else?”

Deep in the dark earth, all was still. Nothing moved, nothing lived. In the deep cavern, hidden from the world, there was silence.
Until a heart began to beat.. barely perceptible, it was still almost overwhelming. A subliminal thunder.
A moment later a new sound entered the hidden world. The quiet rush of breath filled the cavern.

Gearge didn’t know why Franj had insisted on the strange name for the ship, but since he didn’t much care, he went along with it.. Out of curiosity, he tried looking up the name in on the planetary ‘net. All he found was a song, from several centuries back, about baseball. Catchy thing, he’d caught himself whistling it several times that week. He might even hit one of the re-enactor events on their next leave, see if he could figure out what made baseball so wonderful.
Didn’t help him figure out what the crazy name Franj had come up with.

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