05 Mar Find your true voice as a writer
Finding one’s voice as a writer is the difficult but necessary first task facing every new author—spelling and grammar perhaps excepted. While there is no better or other way to become an authentic, original writer than to write, and write, and write… the practise of making perfect, of being true to yourself by finding your own true voice can be aided and abetted in a number of ways.
1. Avoid over-analysis and intellectualisation
Inspiration is like a sky rocket, a fast moving, suddenly lit firework; ride it heavenwards while the flame burns bright; ride it without care for length of journey or name of destination.
If inspiration is a sky rocket, excessive intellectualism is surely a fire extinguisher; suspend the dampening effect of critical thought by putting aside the intellectual mind, and its tendency to doubt, limit and measure—listen instead to the voice of inspiration within. The more you let it take its own form and course, to speak unhindered, the more fruitful and authentic your writing will be.
2. Seek inspiration in silence
Inspiration can also be sought in silence and in depth, just as in the practise of meditation. Some writers talk of the process of learning to write as “finding their voice,” an experience analogous to the subtle, instructive inner voice sought in meditative discipline. In a contemplative, instructive vein, Jack Kerouac advised “Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind.”
You can find your true writer’s voice, and in fact the source of creativity itself in stillness of thought. With patience, wait for the ripples upon the mind’s surface to subside; there you will see inspiration and creativity staring back at you. Listen always to their whisper.
3. Form and technique are destructive, not constructive
Don’t get distracted by technique in the beginning; the pen should be the instrument of your inner voice—not the other way around. On a computer, ignore layout, font-size and line-spacing; just let words pour forth. Form can be addressed at a later date, and often more constructively from a suitable distance. When starting out, stay up close and focused, one word at a time.
4. Writing is a conversation
View writing as a conversation. If you imagine yourself as writing for an audience, which really is the point of writing—having something worth saying to somebody worth saying it to—writing becomes not a solitary act but a communication, talking in silence with potentially the entire world. Imagine and then feel a conversation with another as though they were actually present, like a best friend, close inside your heart; then the words naturally will come. This technique is one to way find your true writer’s voice—you give it expression in the act of talking to an imagined other.
This method is also used in television and in radio, where the reality of being in front of millions of people can produce fearful paralysis. Also for actors, who use their imagination to aid a more natural performance, to ‘just be themselves’ in front of a lifeless camera. It is no different writing at a computer—not always in truth an environment conducive to natural, expressive conversation.
When done well, writing is a conversation, but with you as listener, dictating a voice that speaks from within.
5. Be courageous
Be courageous, even if you have to lie to yourself; convince yourself that you are brilliant! You are a writer—imagination is your chosen weapon, so use it to your advantage. A blank page can be daunting, a failure of ideas discouraging; if imagining yourself as a great writer gives you the necessary courage and self-belief to be able to write, then do so.
As meditation teacher, poet and writer Sri Chinmoy explains, “Insecurity goes away when we acquire the capacity of identification.” If you can identify with the capacity to write well you are half-way to actually doing it. Repeat bravely with Jack Kerouac “You’re a Genius all the time,” for almost anything goes when you have an empty page to fill.
6. Be your best critic, not your worst
If a word or idea refuses to come you, a sentence denies completion, and ‘next’ remains an unanswered question, the worst sin is to get caught up over it. Negativity, worry and self-doubt are an anathema to creativity; anything that stops you moving, progressing forward should be shunned. Remember this as a maxim: “keep moving, keep moving.”
Like Jack Kerouac again, who would imagine himself heroically as author-athlete, his writing an act of physical and mental athleticism. Arguably his best novel, On the Road was written in a single three week sitting, a Herculean effort of endurance which required an unbroken ream of typewriter paper 120 feet in length. Obviously this is somewhat extreme, and to continue the sporting analogy, it is suggested that his performance was illegally ‘enhanced,’ but the analogy is good; like an athlete keep moving, keep writing—skip a paragraph, write back to front if necessary or in order of thought; even move on to a completely different project—writers often have scores of works on the go simultaneously, awaiting the muse of inspiration for their completion.
7. First-thought, best-thought
The “first-thought, best-thought” aesthetic of Zen Buddhism is one well-practiced technique used to find the authentic writing voice, a technique borrowed from meditation to bypass the filter of intellectual mind, appropriated but not invented in the modern era by the Beat poets and writers—Allen Ginsberg most famously. First thought here is considered to be ‘true’ thought: perception unmediated by the distorting lens of intellect or the surface personality. It is another way of describing intuition, and is the basis of the saying “First impressions don’t lie.”
Formalised as “spontaneous prose” by Kerouac; and by Ginsberg, “spontaneous, fearless telling of the truth of naked, authentic experience” to paraphrase, developing spontaneity and intuition in your writing will work miracles for your creativity, not to mention sense of authenticity and authorial power. Discarding rationality and reason is a hotline to your heart as a writer, and getting your heart, your authentic voice and self on the page is the only way to move and inspire your readers.
The final word goes to Allen Ginsberg:
“The only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world. That’s what poetry does.”
In its capacity to convey truth and feeling, prose written from the heart may just save the world as well.