Finding a Voice, Somehow (Maybe)

I always liked writing. In school I was the girl who wrote poetry, with the (secret, pretentious) belief that it made me much smarter than my peers. My classmates were generally the social type, and I was not. I had my group of friends, we hung out as much as we could considering class differences and that we were in different years. It was all good.

In the past two or three years though, I’ve begun writing more seriously. At the beginning of university, I took anthropology. I enjoyed it, but there was something missing. The texts were good, and the archaeology I delved into was fascinating. Some people don’t see the appeal in digging up old bones and stuff, but I loved seeing things that non-archaeologists don’t generally see. (There I go again with the pretention. My apologies.)

More recently I’ve begun to see what it was that was missing in anthropology. At school, I loved English. At the least I really liked it. When you’re analyzing a play, you see characters. You see plots and motives and double-entendres. You get to read works several hundred years old, and if you’re like me you marvel at how the language has changed since 1603 (or whenever). Anthropology, from what I remember of it, is more scientifically inclined, and you might get statistics or graphs. That kind of stuff.

So, eventually I made the decision to switch to English. That is where I am now.

Last year, or the year before, I started going through my old notebooks and poetry and went to great lengths to dig out an old notebook from five years ago. I wondered, when had I stopped writing?

Then some stuff happened and I thought, well, I need a vehicle to express all this irritation. Why not try writing it out? So I picked up my pen and paper, and scrawled out a poem very quickly. It was rough and raw, but I knew what I was saying and what I wanted to say. Over the next two or three days I spun off about a dozen fairly quite short poems.

The madness had started.

I felt better for having written it down, even if no-one but myself was going to read it.

Then I came across something on tumblr one day which intrigued me. It was called National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. I decided: bugger it, I’ll give it a shot. So I worked through those fifty thousand words over twenty-three and a half days, and stuck it all on a USB with the intent of revisiting it.

My next writing catalyst was a short story contest. It was only a small thing, but I diligently slaved over my story. I wound up not entering, for no apparent reason that I can recall.

Over the next eight months (which brings us to here and now) I continued to write feverishly. Other stuff happened, and then a few other things. I wrote it all out, taking inspiration from the people involved and various actions that had been taken or made.

Last semester, in English, we studied the poetry of Emily Dickinson. This is where the title of this… post, is it? Becomes relevant.

I always liked Dickinson, for her odd way with punctuation and the way she didn’t just stick to writing cute stories of love and flowers and fluffy bunny rabbits. The next thing I learned about her was that she was notoriously reclusive and kept all her poetry in a drawer. I didn’t get that, but then I did. Then, I didn’t. Either way, it fascinated and puzzled me. Why slave over something, if you’re just going to put it away and forget about it? (I presume she slaved over them, but she may not have. If memory serves, each poem is identified by number and/or the first line, because they don’t have a title.)

I’m relying a lot on memory here, because I have a quite bad memory and don’t feel like going through my old course books for the sake of it. The poems I do remember reading are oftentimes in the first person narrative, and I’ve always liked first person narrative. I’m a sucker for it. Well, not quite. But I do use it quite often in my poems, which I guess shows Dickinson’s influence. I don’t know that I use punctuation like she did (I don’t capitalize random words either) but I do like to mess around with where I put commas or full stops. I rather like it when a sentence is broken up, either with the line division or punctuation. Then it feels kind of jerky and halting, which I like.

I think the narrative used alters my intent. I can’t speak for anyone else, though probably many can relate, but when I write in first person, I want to draw the person in. I want them to come up close to the narrator’s thoughts and give them an insight. Third person, what I want to do is distance them from the narrator, make them feel like they are watching the character from afar, sort of. In third person I want them to have to wonder what is going on in the character’s mind, because they’re not getting the full picture.

Another influence, I suppose you call it, would be Maureen Johnson. I’m going to focus on her twitter as well as her writing, because if her tweets are anything to go by, she’s quite the character. She tweets sometimes, about serious things, like… politics or something, and then something silly or even made-up. She also uses asterisks a lot (I think that’s what they’re called. It’s the * thing. You know, that thingy… anyway.) which I freely admit has carried over into my own tweeting. I have yet to reach her level of twitter awesomeness, but it is one of my long-term goals.

Johnson’s books look to cover a range of genres. I have read a few, some of which are in the adventure type range (13 Little Blue Envelopes, about a girl who goes travelling around Europe with envelopes containing directions, left to her by her late aunt), and some which are apparently the horror/scary story variety , such as The Name of the Star. I think that’s what it’s called. I haven’t actually read it, but I have heard that it induces people to sleep with one eye open and the lights on.

I’m not yet sure how her writing has influenced my own, but I do like her apparent ability to work with different genres. I would hate to be pigeonholed into only ever doing one genre. That is why I want to learn as much as I can about writing different genres and stuff.

As for my own preferences, I don’t know where they came from. One of my earlier fanfictions left the ending open, for the reader to decide. I like to leave people guessing and not fill in masses of detail. I suppose it’s become a habit to give the bare minimum of detail, so the reader has to use their imagination. Where that comes from, I don’t know, but you can only read so much flowery prose before you tire of adjectives. Besides, there are so many clichés, and clichés are the enemy.

Another thing I like to do is sometimes put in my own thoughts, as I’m thinking them. What that might tell you about the writer, I don’t know, but I do like to give some of my thoughts up. Not the really personal ones, of course. I’m doing it now, as I write this. As the writer I might appear a bit scatty or silly, but then maybe I might seem more human. You know, like-this odd person who wrote this stuff is a real person with real thoughts. It’s why I like things like twitter, because when you’ve got a celebrity-type person tweeting stuff you’re reminded that they actually do exist. I hate when I read a book and I can’t imagine something about the person who wrote it. It closes the distance between author and reader a bit. At least, I think it does.

Then there is the habit of writing myself in. I do this occasionally, I’m the first to admit. I saw that movie Adaptation and while I’m not at all sure what it was about, I’m pretty sure that the narrator guy talked about writing himself in as a character. I may be wrong, but the bloke presenting the seminar he went to on screenplays and stuff said that doing so is stupid. Or clichéd, or something. Like I said, bad memory. And yet, he did it. Then again, I don’t know what that film was about so I could well be wrong.

I think I’ll end here. To summarize, I haven’t a clue what my voice is or where I have found it. Probably I’m still finding it, and I doubt that you will have learnt much about me. Also, I’m not sure I’ve really said all that much about my writing voice.

Feedback and constructive criticism are appreciated.

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