What does it mean to ‘find your voice’? It’s one of the reasons you’re here, we often say to our students on Dark Angels courses – to find your voices as writers.
We said it last night, in fact. John and I are back at lovely Highgreen Manor in Northumberland where last year, in March, we spent two days sitting out in our shirtsleeves beneath a hot sun and strangely bare trees.
Now it’s May. The trees are starting to green, but half an hour ago there was a hailstorm. Cradled in its fold in the hills, the place nevertheless feels protected. It’s a safe place and you need to feel safe if you’re looking for your voice, especially in the company of others.
Creating that feeling of safety is a crucial part of what we do. People who are finding their voices must feel that they are not being judged; that they are free to go where their instincts take them without fear of criticism or ridicule. So we work hard to create an atmosphere where that is possible. Our physical surroundings play their part in that.
But then what happens? What does it actually mean to ‘find your voice’? Well, it’s not literal. We’re not working with singers. So to some extent we’re using the word ‘voice’ metaphorically. But either way, it is still about finding something authentic.
This morning we heard people reading out the opening paragraphs of their autobiographies, an exercise we had set them last night. The voices were unique, of course, but it wasn’t so much the sound and the choice of words, as the way in which the writers had, perhaps unwittingly, expressed so much of what they stood for, that really distinguished them from one anther.
To paraphrase Wordsworth, they were speaking themselves truly. I don’t think it would be over-simplifying things to say that they were doing it by concentrating on what they had to say rather than the manner in which they said it. If language is thought given form, then what we call the ‘voice’ is really a manifestation of the way an individual perceives and responds to the world around them. You could say it’s the text rather than the typesetting.
Finding one’s voice as a writer, therefore – or simply as a human being, is more a matter of becoming clear about what one has to say than how one will say it. And that, of course, means knowing who one is and where one is going. No wonder people need to feel safe before they set about articulating that clearly, sometimes for the very first time.
On a different subject, As I Died Lying, our collective novel, which I wrote about last week, has achieved 33% of its required pledges already – a tremendous result. But we’ve still got 66% to go. So do please visit the Unbound website (click here) and take a minute to read the blurb, watch the movie and help us towards the target with a pledge. A copy of this unique literary endeavour will be yours!