Sunday, September 26, 2010

Finding Your Voice

Finding Your Voice

On one of the promotional materials for Toastmasters International is the slogan, “Find your voice.” It intrigued me that speakers, like writers, have a voice to find. Clearly they weren’t referring to a person’s speaking voice. What is voice and how does one find it (if it was every really lost)?

I’ve heard voice described as a fingerprint, the thing that makes the speaker unique. It is the defining quality that sets one artist apart from another.

From what I’ve learned in the writing world, I’ve begun to think of voice as the culmination of my experiences expressed by me. The words I use, the expressions, the emphasis, the things I see as funny, and the world view that comes through my writing.

For the speaker it is the words spoken, the pauses for emphasis, the speed and timber, the expressions used. For the writer, voice becomes the words on the page, their order, and meaning. It’s what gets left out as well.

How does one go about finding one’s voice?

Jane Yolen, in her book, Take Joy, points out it is not the author’s voice at all that is important. It is the story’s voice that is primary. It is not something to be found, for her, it is to be uncovered. She categorizes voices and shows in many instances they are universal.

Does her opinion fly in the face of the traditional definition of voice? I think, rather, it is a shift in focus. The focus changes from the author to the work. Authors, illustrators, speakers, are free to use voices as required, though they will always be limited by how they speak. If we are to find our voices we are to find ourselves.

In my opinion, refining voice for any given piece is like coming to accept what an author has to offer through his or her piece.

Why is it so hard to find? Strong voice is part of the fine line dividing the good work from the great work. Finding/defining voice involves risk. Voice is what is heard, and what is accepted or rejected. It is the artistic expression unique to the artist. Speaking it loud enough and strong enough is a challenge. Take the Toastmasters’ challenge in your writing or illustrating, find your voice.

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