Therese here. It is my great pleasure to introduce you to our newest WU contributor, novelist Meg Rosoff. Meg’s first book, How I Live Now, has won several awards including the Guardian Award, the Michael L. Printz Award, and the Branford Boase Award; and has been made into a film, to be released later this year. Her second novel, Just In Case, won the Carnegie Medal. Rosoff’s other novels include What I Was, The Bride’s Farewell and There Is No Dog, as well as three picture books. Her sixth novel, Picture Me Gone, will be published this September.
Big thanks to community member Sevigne Sevigne, who recommended Meg to me originally as a potential guest. I did invite Meg to be our guest, and she graciously agreed, and submitted an essay. But once I read it, I knew we’d want her for keeps. Happily, she agreed. I think you’ll agree, too, that it was the right decision to ask her to join our ranks.
Please help me welcome Meg, who will be speaking to us quite a lot about one of her passions: Voice.
Finding a Voice
Do you have a voice? Can you recognize a voice when you hear one? And while we’re on the subject, what does “having a voice” actually mean?
Poetry is a great place to look for a strong voice. How about:
How to Kill a Living Thing
Criticise it to its face
Say how it kills the light
Traps all the rubbish
Bores you with its green
Harden your heart
Cut it down close
To the root as possible
For a week or a month
Return with an axe
Split it with one blow
Insert a stone
To keep the wound wide open
(Eibhlin Nic Eochaidh)
Do you hear a voice in those lines? (Despite being unable to pronounce her name, Eibhlin Nic Eochaidh’s voice is so clear to me, I’m tempted to offer her a chair and a cup of tea.)
Many would-be writers spend far too much time nervously scrabbling about for a voice, but the word itself is horribly misleading. “Voice” (unlike “power” for instance, or “presence”) suggests a superficial quality, one that can be manipulated by having singing lessons, or by changing the tone, volume or accent.
There is nothing superficial, however, about voice when used in the context of writing. Your writing voice is the deepest possible reflection of who you are. The job of your voice is not to seduce or flatter or make well-shaped sentences. In your voice, your readers should be able to hear the contents of your mind, your heart, your soul.
So….what is the essence of your personality? What is the clearest expression of your DNA combined with a lifetime of experience? What does the combination of nature and nurture add up to?
In other words, who are you? Who are you really?
If you don’t know, you need to find out. Self-knowledge is essential not only to writing, but to doing almost anything really well. It allows you to work through from a deep place – from the deep dark corners of your subconscious mind. This connection of subconscious to conscious mind is what gives a writer’s voice resonance.
Read a great writer, listen to a great singer, watch a great footballer and you’ll feel the resonance – it’s the added dimension of power that can’t quite be explained by mere talent. An ability with words is nice, but it’s not a voice.
Connecting with your subconscious mind is not easy. It requires confronting difficult facts — about yourself and about the world. Can you know who you are without understanding your own weaknesses? And what frightens you? Can you know who you are without understanding the evil, the selfishness, the cruelty of which you’re capable? OK. And the goodness, kindness, brilliance as well?
So maybe, just for a few days, stop thinking about how to get published, how to find an agent, how to write a perfect sentence, how to make your plot work….and think about who you are and what you have to say instead. What makes you tick? What do you love? Who do you hate? What makes you different from everyone else?
The more you understand yourself, the stronger and more individual your voice will be. And here’s a little insider’s secret: What all publishers are looking for is a strong voice.
All of them.