A writer’s voice

A writer’s voice is as distinctive as a fingerprint.

One of the challenges I often face as a writer is deciding which voice I should turn to when writing something for a popular audience. Through years and years of institutional training, my default voice has become an academic one. And when the subject matter is particularly sensitive, like in my memoir about the friendship between Edwina and me and the circumstances that brought us together, I oftentimes find myself theorizing ideas rather than jumping into experiences and exchanges we’ve shared.

Speaking as an academic isn’t usually intentional in these instances. It’s simply easier, and far less painful, to write about matters like abuse and addiction and illness from a distance.

Since starting work on my memoir, I’ve taken some breaks to read work by authors whose default voice is a less academic one. People like Heidi Julavits, author of The Folded Clock, and Marina Keegan, whose posthumous book The Opposite of Loneliness speaks without pretense to readers.

The kind of pain and insight and wonder I’ve experienced as a breast cancer survivor and in my relationship with Edwina is the sort that’s felt first. I just wish that I could resist the urge to push down those feelings by over-thinking what it is they mean. Sometimes, it’s what we sense deep inside that matters most. It is enough.


2 thoughts on “A writer’s voice

  1. Hello!
    I commend you for your decision to write a memoir, and I’m happy to know that you’ve managed to triumph over cancer. As a nurse, I’ve seen what cancer does not only to the patients but to their families. To manage to brave the grueling treatment involved and to be able to win over it all would make an excellent read.

    I can understand why it’s easier to write in an academic tone regarding an emotional experience. The tone of the educator is perhaps an effort to keep yourself detached from the subject, making it easier to talk and write about. But a more emotional approach helps not only make up a better memoir but also to help you express feelings you may not know still remain inside. I’ve always come to see writing as a form of therapy, especially during the painful phases of my life. It isn’t easy, but writing is one of the most effective outlets I’ve found that has helped carry me through recovery.

    But bottom line, what matters is you are able to start with writing your memoir. Tone, structure and other things can come later through several revisions, but I’ve read once that human memory is a fragile and fallible, so the earlier you write about your experiences, the more accurate the retelling will be.

    I hope you’ll be able to achieve your goal of getting the voice you want for your book. 🙂

    • Thanks so much for this help and motivating bit of advice. This is just the sort of thing I tell my students to do. I guess it’s harder to follow-through when it’s your own story!

      I will continue to record my story word-by-word and page-by-page. The voice will emerge as I go.

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