I’ve seen a lot of writers on Medium write about finding their voice.
Writers everywhere write about finding their voice.
The thing is, I’m not sure I’ve found it and, if I have, whether I ever want to let it out.
I can write a blog post, an essay, a story, and the odd one entertains and maybe even provokes thought. Some of my clients are pretty thrilled with the ghost writing I’ve done for them.
I’ve played over the years, and I know how to get attention online. Some things I’m willing to do. Other things? Not so much.
But how much of that work is milk toast … vanilla … wishy-washy? How often do I dance around a theme or topic, gently grazing it without cutting full into it and letting the insides tumble out?
More often than I want to admit to myself or to you.
From the Proto-Indo-European root *wekw- “give vocal utterance, speak”; related to vocare “to call,”
Vocation: early 15c., “spiritual calling,” from Old French vocacion “call, consecration; calling, profession” (13c.) or directly from Latin vocationem (nominative vocatio), literally “a calling, a being called” from vocatus “called,” past participle of vocare “to call”. Sense of “one’s occupation or profession” is first attested 1550s.
It’s not just a style thing. It’s also vocare, as in vocation … as in calling.
Vanilla is commonplace. I like it as a flavor and so do a lot of people (that’s why it’s everywhere and never dies), but writers don’t want to hear mention of their writing and that flavor together in the same sentence.
Anyone who writes can find a style. The more you practice, the more you can experiment and feel what works. You build confidence.
If you ‘perfect’ your style (whatever that means), you will find readers who appreciate it … you’ll even likely build a following of sorts because of the way you can turn a phrase and combine one word with another in a way that’s never been done before.
Fans of any of the big name writers out there will tell you, when they read a paragraph written by that writer they know it’s him/her instantly. Their style is distinctive; uniquely their own.
But, ask yourself: is that style the sole reason you’re a fan? Is it Stephen King’s adjective artistry that keeps you up into the night to read one more page? Is it Margaret Atwood’s verbal virtuosity that makes you buy her latest book?
Not to say that there isn’t some who find style enrapturing, but there’s usually more to it than that.
Style is but one aspect of voice — the safe part — because it doesn’t offend unless it’s so awful that aesthetic tastes are insulted. Style doesn’t threaten or challenge the status quo. People either like it or they don’t.
The other part — the vocation part —is what scares me.
If you’re too crazy or unique, it’s like that weird Cajun Squirrel flavored potato chip — daring tater tasters may try it out of curiosity, but then it disappears forever as a failed experiment.
Some of the stuff in my head might be too Cajun Squirrel. Even worse, I could find myself offending people — and I really like most of them. I watch other people put their hardcore opinions out there and I see the backlash, and then I also see the massive followings.
If I released my full vocare, I fear what may or may not happen. It would be like stripping naked and standing in the middle of a busy intersection. I wouldn’t want to be ignored, but I also wouldn’t want to hear insults or get thrown in jail. I’m not sure I’d enjoy an adoring crowd either and applause would be unnerving.
I imagine that most people would ask, “why are you doing that?”, and I wouldn’t really have a good answer except, “because I felt it was something I had to do”. For those who see no purpose in public nudity, or writing, my answer would never make sense. I’d have to find peace with that — mutual understanding is sometimes just out of reach.
So there it is — it comes down to a choice about voice.
Choice #1: Feel the satisfaction of mastering the medium of words, creating a style with it unlike any other. Dress for success. Choice #2: Take off all your clothes and dive into a chasm, without knowing if you will ever see the bottom or survive hitting it face first. Choice #3: Do both.
One choice isn’t better or worse than the other. Just scarier.