There’s an important thing in writing called “voice.” Different composition scholars define it in different ways, but basically “voice” refers to the unique qualities of the writer’s writing. What distinguishes his or her writing from everyone else’s?
More often than I wish were the case, college English classes discount voice, sacrificing it to academic conventions, or established norms and guidelines, to maintain the “language of scholarship.”
In my master’s thesis, I argued that I lost interest in my English classes, in part, because my voice was not allowed there. I still got A’s, though, because it was easy for me to imitate what teachers wanted—it was easy to “pose” as someone I was not on paper.
While this practice earned me a 4.0 in my major, sadly, it took me away from defining my own role as a writer, and developing my own voice.
As well, maybe I didn’t feel my voice was welcome, either in the classroom or anywhere else. Looking back, writing in non-academic settings should have been a given…but no…I resisted airing my voice in a professional, outward way—squelched it under the covers of my journals. Where else could it go?
My “voice” as I conceived of it at age twenty-one was that of a depressed, deflated victim—a mental basket case. I felt bad enough about myself already. So why should I let the truth out and ruin the cover I was trying to keep?
How to Hide Your Voice
When you want to hide your voice, and if you have some of your wits about you, it’s easy enough to blend in. Perhaps imitating others—whether in academic writing or behavior—isn’t the natural impulse, but when you want to lie low, it’s easy enough to blend. At least, it’s easy enough to “cap” your real voice.
Maybe I’ve never really “blended” as well as I’d like to think I have. But what I have done is to keep quiet. And by some miraculous twist, I’ve been able to project the image of calm and collected.
Many people have told me, and not just in recent years when I’ve actually achieved some inner peace, that they’re impressed by my outward calm. I’ve been called phlegmatic, composed, serene, and someone who never seems ruffled.
Well. Ahem. Pat myself on the back. What a “good” job I’ve done at concealing my real self.
Apparently I used to think this was something to be proud of, suppressing my voice.
No more. I’ve grown tired of it.
Letting It Out
I used to stifle my voice because I thought it was warped and would get me labeled. What I didn’t realize was that it was okay to have that voice. It wasn’t okay to keep it forever, of course, because indeed it was warped—a warped outgrowth of my God-given identity.
Now I know my voice just needed redirecting. The form could remain, but the content had to change.
Sometimes I tell my husband I’ve been trying to figure out who I really am since we married eight years ago. I tell him it’s like my personality was gutted after I went through my deep depression and initial college crash. He tells me I’ve always been the same person—I’ve always had my identity. I guess I have. But it just got buried for awhile in shame and self-doubt.
No more. Starting with this blog, I’m reclaiming my true voice. And it’s not the voice of the popular majority. It’s not that of a detached literary critic. It’s not a silent observer. It’s not an insecure, defeated little girl.
My voice is thoughtful, emotional, yet hopeful. It is often unpopular. But I’m okay with that. It is mine, given by God, and I intend to use it.