For the last four years, the place all my work has circled around has been this thing, this force, this process called “finding your voice.” It started here, really, when this Writing Is My Drink blog came into being in 2010. I’d write a post about my lifelong struggle in the war between Expression Vs. Pleasing Others and wouldn’t know how to categorize it and then created the category “Theo Finding Her Voice,” and the stories there later evolved into the book Writing Is My Drink: A Writer’s Story of Finding Her Voice (And a Guide To How You Can Too). Finding one’s voice has also become the epicenter my teaching radiates around–in my memoir classes and now in the Writing Is My Drink webinar.
One key to helping writers find their voices, I’ve found, is locating the conversations they long to be a part of and the important topics they yearn to write about. For numerous reasons among which self-doubt and fear of conflict rank high, many of us are staying out of the conversations we want and need to be in and away from the topics that magnetize us. One of my students who often experiences block noted in a recent class discussion that when she wrote a blog post about a topic that made her very angry, she had no problem staying on task and her reader response was enormous.
“So what else are you pissed off about?” I asked her and I ask myself because our anger and our sorrow and our indignation point us to our important work, the topics through which we will find our vision and voice. When we surrender to these stories fully, we often find our voices rising off the page with clarity.
But even if we’ve done the work to “find our voices,” we still might not USE them.We might not use them because we are afraid. I am afraid. I am afraid of conflict, of being wrong, of rocking the boat, of offending, of losing myself along the way, of fighting losing battles. But what is the point–I ask myself–of all the education I’ve been given and that I’ve struggled for as a writer and a person if I do not use that education to write about important struggles beyond my own fears and to speak up in the face of injustice? What’s the point of finding my voice if I do not use it? I continue to ask myself this, to challenge myself with the charge of really using my voice.
I teach my students that after they’ve found their important topics to locate the flaw they fear will keep them out of the conversations they need to be a part of. Often the flaw will keep us out but if we can locate it and name it, our flaw can also be our way IN. The flaw I feared would keep me out of important conversations about writing, for example, was my self-doubt. Yet after I embraced my self-doubt, it became my way of connecting with readers and students. By sharing my own stories of delay, procrastination, fear, and doubt, I’ve been able to help writers to find their voices. Why? So they can use them.