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Claim Your Voice

Forsyth, Limb's Shadow
We have trouble connecting with our own confident writing voice that is inside all of us, and even when we do connect and write well, we don't claim it. I am not saying that everyone is Shakespeare, but I am saying that everyone has a genuine voice that can express his or her life with honest dignity and detail. There seems to be a gap between the greatness we are capable of and the way we see ourselves and, therefore, see our work.
~ from "Writing Down the Bones," Natalie Goldberg

I believe this observation, by beloved creative writing guru Natalie Goldberg, can be extrapolated to apply to almost any form of endeavor. Art is work, work is art. Our perception of our personal capabilities is often hobbled by our fears of inadequacy. It is hard to produce good work if before we even commence we don't believe we can. Even harder in the wake of actual failure. How can I do better when I did so horribly before? Goldberg's observation contains two important stumbling blocks - when we do connect and do something well, we don't claim it. And second, heed the gap between capability and confidence. And confidence, my friends, is one leaky boat in need of constant repair.

Anyone who has endured the ravages of a critique group, work review, unkind agent or editor, boss, or bad public reviews, knows only too well the two-edged sword which divides confidence from the critical importance of consensus. How can we be aware and supportive of our own developing inner voice when the room is shouting in unison for us to do better, differently, or altogether stop? (Or as more is often the case, to mimic work known and approved.) We can't. But somewhere in our inner selves is the door that keeps the outside world out. We need to find it and make sure it swings both ways. Any artist, any person, needs to be able to tune in and tune out, as well as listen in when the world really has something to say.

How do we know when to listen? I don't really have the answer to that. It's almost instinctive I think, an inner reflex beyond fight or flight that says, "Heh, wait. That made sense." Our genuine selves are always in hot pursuit of stellar expressions of being; creative breakthroughs that nearly blind or light the night. We love the spectacular within ourselves and within others indivisibly. To do our own best work is mostly about staying out of the traffic intersection of public comment as long as possible. As Goldberg advises, first find and own the strong voice that is yours alone. Then be confident of a place in the room.

I generally urge new writers in my workshops to go slow moving from a "work in progress" to feeling a work is substantially formed and ready for critique. I think supportive and positive critique groups are useful in any form of project development, including writing, but they can also dismember an idea, strangle innovation, strip the twinkle right out of pizazz. The importance - way down the road - of positive consensus, critical praise, group approval or industry preference (This is the year of vampire novels, oh wait, that was last year...) cannot be dismissed. IF you are going public with your work. Not everyone should or will choose to be public. Emily Dickinson is often the star of this debate. Would the poet's work have been as strong, as confident and fresh, if she had been writing for a-farthing-a-day press? While we may or may not ever intend to take our work into the world, the first step remains the same: be genuine. Identify and nurture. Silence the inner (or outer) critic, and create until creating is one and the same as the voice in your head.

We all have something to say about this world. Paint, sing, dance, play, design, innovate. There's but one of the each of us. (Generally speaking, cloning efforts aside.) Begin here. Begin within. Pursue the genuine.
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