Not too long ago, I joined a writers’ group on Facebook, The Writer’s 1% Club. Gaining insight from the group’s founder Jennifer Blanchard is a huge help, but so is watching the others make progress. This is a nice little motivation to keep me going as well. A recent topic on the board, and in one of Jennifer’s emails was how to find our Authentic Voice as a writer. As an artist, in general, Voice is a concept that comes up often. For the most part, I think the majority of artists, regardless of medium, know what this means, but we don’t always devote much thought to what ours may be. This is, of course, a problem as soon as someone asks us to define it, which usually comes about because… we don’t sound like we have one. This is not always the case. However, regardless of reason, it is a something to take stock of every once in a while. If you’ve followed me for any length of time, or know me in person, you know that I am a big supporter of personal growth and introspection. If you don’t know you, and know what you stand for and believe in, why should anyone else? It may sound harsh but, if you follow or know me, you also know that I’m a fairly no nonsense, “anything sharp, heavy, or blunt will do” kind of gal. Let’s just get the job done. No polite BS. And the last person you should be telling polite lies, and tiptoeing through delicate handholding sessions with, is yourself.
Back to Voice… I found this email interesting because these questions are excellent for everyone to ask themselves, not just writers or artists. Knowing the answers to these questions not only would help me as a writer to focus the core and direction of my writing, but as an individual, I have a better understanding of myself. This enables me to find other aspects of my life where I may be able to make better use of my Voice as well. Frustration, Passion and Hope. Our ability to identify the things that frustrate us, or that we don’t like, that we hate, seems to be very easy. Sometimes identifying our passions is not as easy. Depending on which end of the optimism/pessimism spectrum you lean, hope is very relative. America becomes a microcosm of these three things very noticeably, very quickly every four years. I’m sure anyone from a democratic nation can easily identify the three “types” detailed below amongst their friends and family in every round table discussion (argument) during every election cycle. So, as I said, I really feel this applies to more than just our artistic voice. And how we answer these questions can also help us, in life, know how to better focus our energies to get things done, to pursue achieving the goals we have in mind or want to see… and that doesn’t have to mean politics (that was just a relevant example.) If your passion is shelters for puppies, making music, or teaching under-privelaged kids, but something feels missing or you’re just not getting it done… ask yourself the questions. Figure out where you’re falling short.
Here’s an excerpt from the email we received from Jennifer explaining an exercise in finding our Authentic Voice. My answers follow:
“Emily P. Freeman, who talked about how to cut to the core and finally uncover your authentic writing voice–and the things you’re meant to be writing about. And she mentioned a trio that–when combined–creates a powerful, authentic voice that you can use to stand out and connect with your ideal audience. Those three things are:
Freeman says you must have all three of these things, or it just won’t work. She even had a name for each “false formula,” or combo that was missing one ingredient:
Frustration + Passion = Cynical Ranter (you’re ranting and complaining, but without hope that anything can or will change)
Frustration + Hope = Rote Duty (you’re writing out of a sense of duty–because you think you should–and not because you’re passionate about it)
Passion + Hope = Boring Optimism (without the frustration, you’re just writing about sunshine and roses, which is great, but not enough to connect with an audience on a deeper level)
When you write with only two of those three required ingredients, you end up with a failed combo that doesn’t amount to a thriving fan base. Your readers want to follow a leader (aka: author) who has all three ingredients in their writing.
So, what if you have no idea how to create this combo for yourself? Freeman shared three questions you can ask yourself:
1. What bothers and/or frustrates me?
2. What am I passionate about? (Freeman says, “pay attention to what makes you cry,” as she believes that’s where your passion can be found.)
3. Where do I see hope?“
How do I find my Authentic Voice? Well, let’s run through my answers…
1. What bothers and/or frustrates me?
Since I was a little kid– no literally, I am going there– I’ve had what was eventually dubbed by someone as my “Joan of Arc mode.” I idolized characters like Wonder Woman, Ellen Ripley, and Joan of Arc, all of them warriors of a certain stripe or other. One fought against injustice, one for survival, and one against the oppression of her people. Sounds insane, I know, but these things really did make sense to me as a child. The older I got the more I found the battles they raged, raged in me too. I find myself endlessly frustrated by the intolerance, bigotry and willful ignorance of people in a global society that has no justifiable reason. We are globally connected now. Information flows so freely that a lack of education or the ability to educate oneself is not so limited as it once was, and those who are limited by this are only limited due to systemic oppressions that far too many people do not even want to admit exist. We live on a dying planet that we are killing and instead of working together to survive, we fight amongst ourselves and continue to hold each other down. Injustice, our need for survival and oppression. Every day. Every day these things frustrate me and everyday I see them. I cannot open facebook or twitter or look at the news without it being there. Hell… I can’t go to the store without seeing or hearing something that gives me a headache.
2. What am I passionate about?
On an existential level, definitely passionate about learning and personal growth. I’d say enlightment, but I mean that with a lower case ‘e’, not the capital, Buddhist ‘E’… if you follow me. But that probably wouldn’t hurt either. On a less cerebral plane… storytelling, film, art in so many forms. I’ve wanted to make films for as long as I can remember, but I also love novels and comics and video games that have real stories to them– and oh yes there are some amazing stories to some video games. I am passionate about the idea that people can find entire new worlds through pictures and words, but more important, that those worlds can teach them something about themselves and the real world around them. Going back before Aesop’s Fables, stories were used to teach people. Sure, you could listen to a quaint little tale about a turtle and a hare, but there was a lesson there. Stories have the power to transform people, to save people. Some of the most horrible moments of my life I was able to survive because I had the fictional worlds of wonderful writers and artists and filmmakers to help me escape. But those worlds also gave me characters like Wonder Woman and like Ellen Ripley who also taught me powerful lessons and helped me to survive those years. I learned how to still believe that Justice was a real thing. I learned how to be a survivor and how to get shit done… because bitches get shit done. Didn’t matter that there was a giant ass alien with acid blood eating people- bitch got it done, saved everyone. Newt, did what she had to do, survived, got it done. That was the power of a story. I saw a kid only a little younger than me surviving some scary shit, so could I. Stories are transformative in ways we don’t even realize sometimes until years later, decades, or maybe don’t ever realize, but its there. They touch us and we grow for having known them. So, fuck yeah, I’m passionate about storytelling. I have a film degree that I took twice as long as most of the other students to earn, because I powered through the psychosis cycles of Bipolar to get it – because I was going to survive my shit, get it done. Because this shit matters, not just to me– it fucking matters.
3. Where do I see hope?
I see hope in every tiny measure of human decency and achievement, even if that’s just a little kid that comes up with an idea for an awesome robot suit for their two-legged dog so it can still play fetch. I see hope, when someone like Elon Musk is trying to do things with all of humanity in mind, instead of slapping his name on buildings, fake universities, frozen steaks and bottled water. When people in a position to DO something actually DO something… and when people who can’t do a lot, don’t just give up, but actually keep trying. I see hope when I can still get out of bed in the morning and I haven’t given up. As a person with bipolar and PTSD, surrendering to hopelessness is so easy. Too easy. I may not be one of those people you hear someone say, “oh, she always finds the good in people,” but I am someone who sees the world in a fuck of a lot of grey. And that might sounds drab, but it’s important. Finding the potential to do something good in even the ugliest person, or recognizing the flaws in someone who is seen as sterling, is easy from the outside. I have a glimmer of hope when I see others able to do this in themselves or recognize these things in each other. When the world stops seeing each other in black and white, grey gives way and then things can maybe, someday, ebb closer to the utopian technicolor switch-flip into Oz. When I hear that my readers find an originally despicable character is, in fact, redeemable, then I know I am succeeding in showing that. When they are capable of seeing it, that gives me hope. I don’t want to wake up one day and surrender to the impulses to just give up, so even though my life has never gone in the direction I anticipated (and never does, so I will never bet money on any of it) I have hope that if I keep believing that humanity isn’t hopeless, then others will too. I guess I am a bit like Rust Cohle in True Detective, season one. He called himself a realist, others called him a pessimist, but his final words, the final line of the season, proved that really, underneath all of it, he had hope. A pessimist wouldn’t get out of bed everday and keep doing what he did. They wouldn’t see any point in it. Why hunt the violators if they are an inevitability? He was a realist who had hope. A realist understands that every little bit does help and the more small measures made reach toward a larger goal until eventually… eventually, we can, with enough motivation, change it all. That’s hope.
Detective Rust Cohle: [looking at the night sky] Once there was only dark. If you ask me, the light’s winning.
So, how would I sum up my Authentic Voice?