Monday, April 9, 2012

Voice, Part 1: Almost Losing It

“To have a voice,” L.L, Barkat writes in Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity and Writing, “a writer must have passions and a sense of place.”

I think of Wendell Berry, with his passion for a kind of neo-agrarianism and his region of Kentucky. I think of William Faulkner and his passion for a way of life that had disappeared in his native Mississippi. I think of Charles Dickens in Victorian Britain and all of the passions that coursed through his novels (mostly centering in questions of social justice).

We don’t have to be a Berry, a Faulkner or a Dickens to have a voice.

But for a long time, I wondered if I indeed had a writing voice of my own.

From about 1975 to 2006, speechwriting was a significant part of my career. In those three decades, I wrote for 12 CEOs, numerous other corporate executives, people running for office, a school board president and a few non-profit executives as well.

To write a speech for someone else, and to do it well, you have to essentially assume their voice – both their speaking voice and their “personal” voice. Over time, I learned to “channel the speaker” and write in their voice – their stories, their ideas, their hopes, their favorite quotes and authors, their speaking patterns and their idiosyncrasies. I read what they read, I listened to their taped speeches, I watched their videos. I talked with them and listened to them in meetings and conversations.

Most PR people hate speechwriting, and with good reason, Speechwriting is never about you.

The best speeches I wrote sounded exactly like the executive who was speaking. My own desires, messages, thoughts and hopes tended to be suppressed. The time to articulate them was in conversations with the executive about the speech. If he or she liked them, they became the executive’s.

When I stopped writing speeches for others about five years ago to do other things, The thought was in my mind that my voice might be permanently locked up. It was probably no coincidence that I started doing a lot more writing for myself – the series of novel manuscripts, one of which became Dancing Priest; this blog (now three years old and counting); writing for The High Calling, The Master’s Artist and TweetSpeak Poetry; guest posts and articles; and speeches and presentations for myself.

It turns out my voice had only been on the back burner, but it had been there all along. It has been wrapped together with my passions and my sense of place.

I’ll have more about that on Thursday.

Over at TweetSpeak Poetry, Lyla Lindquist is leading a discussion of L.L. Barkat’s Rumors of Water. She’ll be posting on the five short chapters comprising the section on “Voice” on Wednesday. 


Jerry said...

Wendell Berry is a wonderful example of voice. I will be watching for these blogs. Sometimes I just need to clear my voice.

Bill (cycleguy) said...

When you use the phrase "assume their voice" it makes me wonder if that is what preacher's do...assume God's voice? Just thinking out loud. Any thoughts?

Glynn said...

Bill - I think of preachers as the vessels God pours through. Would that be the same or a similar thing?

Maureen said...

Timing is important. You allowed your voice to rise at the right moment. . . when it could be heard as yours alone.

JofIndia said...

Learning to speak as someone else. Your post raises fascinating and challenging issues.

SimplyDarlene said...

Oh sir Glynn, your voice is grande terrifical!

And this piece coincides nicely with your interview over at my place today (yes, unabashed advertising so folks can learn more from a great writer like yourself).


Bill (cycleguy) said...

I think it would be the same Glynn. I am "assuming" to speak for God. I am His voice, His vessel, to use your words.

Jennifer @ said...

I'm glad you found your voice. It looks just right on you.

Do you think that your own voice has evolved, Glynn, even after you found it? I'm curious to hear your thoughts on that.

I look back at my news stories, which had a definite voice to them. (Yes, we can even have voice in journalism...) But my voice has changed somewhat since then, though I think my writing is still rooted in a journalistic voice. I look back four or five years ago, and see that new notes were being woven into the song. Maybe my voice is a chorus -- or at least a four-part harmony. In any case, I sure hope that it's in tune! :)

S. Etole said...

Think my mute button is stuck in the on position.

Lyla Willingham Lindquist said...

Susan, it's not the mute button you have. It's an incredible sense of timing and value. You say what is perfectly needful and fitting for the moment and it makes what you say of infinite worth.

Glynn, I don't know how a person does what you did -- channeling so many voices at once without losing your own. It must say something of the strength of your own voice that it remained intact. And I'm glad that it did.