I’ve been thinking about voice a lot lately. Claiming our voices in the upcoming election has become a critical issue for those of us living in the U.S. But it’s also a critical issue in memoir.
Because memoir, it seems to me, is largely about reclaiming our stories. It’s about reclaiming our voices.
And that means taking back our power on a soul level. This is what makes it such hard work.
There’s the craft and technique of memoir, and then there’s the spiritual journey. And getting to the point where we feel safe enough to allow that voice to fully emerge on the page can be a journey.
This is why I stress safety so much in my work. Without a safe container, it’s too easy to go off the rails. This is also when the inner critic tends to rear its ugly head in a misguided attempt at keeping us safe. But what it really does is keep us small.
Lest you think you’re alone with your inner critic battles, consider Twyla Tharp’s process from The Creative Habit. Although she’s been a professional choreographer and dancer since 1971, each time she starts a new project, she faces five big fears:
- People will laugh at me.
- Someone has done it before.
- I have nothing to say.
- I will upset someone I love.
- Once executed, the idea will never be as good as it is in my mind.
And this is a woman who’s excelled in her art for 50 years!
Although each of our inner critics are unique, they share a similar goal—to keep us safe. But that safety comes at a cost: it keeps us small.
If we put too much stock into that voice, it’ll keep us from sharing our stories, not to mention following our dreams.
That, my friend, is the last thing we need, especially at this moment in history. For those of us in the U.S., our shared humanity has been ruptured, nearly beyond repair.
That’s where art comes in. Books, movies, music and visual art connect us. They remind us of our shared humanity. And right now, we need that connection now more than ever.
We need voices of all shapes, sizes, colors and backgrounds to tell their stories. Stories across age, race, gender, class, belief, geographical location, spiritual inclination—these are all passports to reclaiming your voice. These are all parts of what make you you.
Because here’s the secret when it comes to making art: craft and technique will only get you so far. Craft is an important tool, absolutely. But it’s your individual voice that becomes the beating heart of your book.
Your voice is what will set your story apart.
In the movie, Blank stars as a once-promising playwright nearing 40 whose career has stalled. She teaches drama to high school students as she tries to come to terms with her unfulfilled professional accomplishments. After her mother’s death, her character explores hip-hop and the appropriation of Black culture while staying true to herself and her art. I love how absolutely fierce, sweet, funny and unique her character’s voice is.
Is this a movie that will appeal to everyone? Nope. And that’s part of the magic. Any time you try to appeal to the masses, you lose your mojo.
Just like a book that tries to appeal to everyone appeals to no one.
Your perspective, your beliefs, your unique quirkiness—this is your beacon. Voice is how you find your people.
Consider David Sedaris’ work. Are his books technical masterpieces? Hell no. Most of them don’t even have a plot! But they’re enjoyable as hell, and we read his books because they’re fun. When you fall in love with narrator, you’re along for the ride. Craft be damned.
That’s the power of a voice-driven memoir.
So allow yourself to shine, my dear. Show us your quirky, unique self.
To reclaiming your voice,
P.S. If you live in the U.S., VOTE!
P.P.S: I’ll be offering a new round of my Memoir Mastery course in January. If you’re interested in joining us, please keep an eye out in mid-November, when I’ll be opening up early bird registration for the January 2021 cohort. Now that we have a larger community, I may be capping enrollment for the Supported version.
P.P.S.S. If you know someone who could benefit from my notes, please forward this email and encourage them to join our community here.
P.P.S.S.: If you haven’t already, please vote!