I’ve been writing ever since I was old enough to hold a pen. I remember sitting on a red plastic chair at school, my small hands clutching a felt tip pen and the scent of wax crayons and pencil shavings filling the air. Swinging my legs back and forth, I’d happily spend my ‘free play time’ after finishing my work lost in the creation of tales of adventure in far away places.
When I was nine years old I was lucky enough to have an amazing teacher take over my class. Mr O was the youngest teacher in the school at the time, then aged 28, and was passionate about reading, art and poetry.
One grey day in autumn term Mr O brought in brightly coloured boxes full of children’s picture books. Every Friday we could take one book home with us to read for the week. Coming from a household where books were expensive luxuries, I remember the sheer joy I felt, knowing I could discover a new story every week.
Not only did Mr O encourage my reading but he was the first person to recognise my interest and talent for drawing and writing. My mum was suprised to hear this at parents’ evening; no one in the family had any artistic talents or interests.
Looking back, my writing voice was at its strongest at this very young age. I’d write with no thought to an audience, I wrote for the joy of writing.
I spent the next few years writing stories, reading and writing poetry, drawing and reading vorociously. As a teenager I still wrote but somewhere between the ages of 16 and 22 I drifted away from hobbies and towards nights out with friends and strangers instead.
A few years later I began to write again. I had some publishing successes, with my pieces appearing in magazines. I wasn’t taking my writing seriously and my output was quite low but somehow I achieved success along the way.
And then anxiety hit my writing. I wrote a piece, something different to my usual stories, and shared it with someone who wrote successfully in this area. They commented that my writing was very good, technically, and easy to read but that somewhere my personality had been lost.
I cried. I’d thought the piece was ok, I’d worked hard on it. I slammed my laptop shut and had gone to bed annoyed and a little disheartened. The next day I’d woken up with the kind of clarity that only exists in my early wakenings.
So I’d tried something and it hadn’t worked out as I’d thought. So what? Maybe I’d tried too hard. Maybe I hadn’t tried enough. Whatever, I’d missed the mark on this occasion. On this occasion only – this did not diminish my previous writing experiences.
Being a thinker, I mulled this over for the next day or two and realised what I’d done wrong with that piece. I’d written the piece with this person in mind, knowing they were going to give me feedback. I’d tailored it for someone else. I’d been self-concious. I had abandoned my own voice.
Abandoning my own voice was something I’d done before, out of necessity to survive. Having suffered at the mouths of bullies in my teenage years, I’d learned that it was better to blend in. To camouflage. To never draw attention to myself.
This meant not putting my hand up in class even when I knew the answer and no one else did. It meant avoiding the teacher’s eyes when she asked for an opinion on the book we’d read for our homework – knowing full well I’d written pages on and pages on the text.
For many years I did everything to avoid calling attention to myself. It was almost like living a lie. I was hiding myself because of what I thought other people wanted me to be. I never had the right words or the right clothes or the right friends, so why bother being me when this was so obviously wrong?
And when I embark on something new or different, this is the being I revert to, almost automatically sometimes. And this is what had happened when I wrote and shared that piece of writing.
There’s nothing like cold hard realisation that you’re repeating a mistake from the past to make you sit up and listen. I re-wrote the piece and sent it away for feedback. The feedback was more positive this time and proved to me that what I wanted to say mattered. My opinions were just as valid as any one else’s. My voice was unique and it was important to recognise and nurture it.
There is great freedom in being who you truly are and I’m reminded of the quote: ‘Be who you were meant ot be and you will set the world on fire.’ (Anon).
Tips for finding your writer’s voice:
- Try ‘free writing’. This is where you write at least a page, whatever comes into your head, and you don’t re-read or edit the pages. Just let the words flow. If this is difficult, it’s fine to write ‘I don’t know what to write’ over and over until the words are released. And they will be released, eventually.
- Keep a journal. It doesn’t matter if you write only a few lines once a day, once a week, or whatever suits you. Writing down our observations and thoughts are when we display our true un-edited selves.
- Experiment with genre and style. You may be a seasoned blogger but have you ever tried fiction? Maybe you love to write a diary and want to share your words on a blog. Just try different things and know that every perceived step backwards is a step towards learning more about you as a writer.
- Use memory as writing prompts. Think about your first day at school, or perhaps the first time you went to work. Your favourite holiday memory is also a good place to begin. Try to recall these memories using all five senses.
- Know that you are unique and that your experiences and the way you view the world is personal only to you. Use that in your writing. There is no one else who can write like you.