Years ago, in my first writing group, I met a writer who told me he was hunting his voice. I instantly pictured him stalking through a jungle of stories and characters, holding a rifle and wearing fatigues. When I told him this, he laughed and said that he meant “hunting” in a different way. He was talking about hunting like a phone system picks up calls and directs them to the correct lines. If the first line is busy, the hunting feature automatically delivers the call to a second line, and then possibly a third and so on, until someone answers that call.
He explained that the call is the unique, creative essence of your soul. The person who picks up the line and answers it, is you.
This way of thinking about voice enchanted me. Some missing piece clicked into place for me about how to find my own writing voice, and how to nourish and channel it.
When we study craft, receive critique, and revise our sloppy drafts, we bring in feedback from the outside. We gather information on the mechanics of writing and apply it to our own. We absorb suggestions from others and integrate them into our work. This gathering and absorbing is incredibly valuable, but it is still a collection of resources brought into your writing from the external world.
Hunting your voice is the exact opposite. It’s you bringing what is already within to the surface, and expressing that energy outward. It’s you connecting with your own bright inner light, and then allowing that light to shine out into the world.
When you move into this kind of territory, there are no more roadmaps. No guidelines. There is no right way to do it.
My feeling is that this can be particularly hard for members of our modern-day society because we are surrounded by products, messages, and mentalities that tell us we are not enough and that we need to be better. We feel safe when we download the “best” roadmap. We feel secure in gathering information on “how to do it” from gurus, experts, and the other people we label as thought leaders.
But if your writing is born out of a deep, emotional need to express yourself, then there comes a time to turn down the volume on all of these outside radio stations. Hunting your voice is making the choice to open your heart and really listen to your own music. And although some writers have a writing voice that starts out loud and strong, many writers work for years to coax out that small, still voice from within.
So how do you ensure that when the call from your creative essence comes through, it doesn’t get sent to voicemail hell?
Turn Off the Distractions
We know that television, social media, and our cell phones break our concentration and suck up our time, but what we tend to forget is that each little bit of information that comes our way also influences our mindset, even if only for a couple of seconds. We confront a piece of data and immediately decide, “I agree with this” or “I’ll never agree with this” “I like that” or “that’s awful”. Opinion after judgment after label. Your creative energy shrinks and contracts in the face of this type of critical energy.
Whenever you sit down to write, create a joyful space for yourself without judgment. Turn off your phone, the TV and the internet. Take a few deep breaths before you begin writing and set the intention that you will welcome whatever shows up for you in this writing session. Breathe into the space around your heart and tell your creative genius that you are now open to any gifts it wishes to bring you.
Let Go of Expectations
Give yourself permission to write like a beginner. In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind Shunryu Suzuki Roshi says, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” When we go into a space where we can write like we’re six years old again, the self-consciousness drops away from our writing. When we write as beginners, we give ourselves permission to make mistakes and for things to be sloppy.
As you’re writing, if you see something you don’t like or start judging yourself for the quality of the writing, pause and say to yourself “that’s interesting” and then move on. This helps you to make a note of any observations you might have about your writing, without blending self-critique into your creative process. When you try to completely ignore your ego, it usually only screams louder. By briefly acknowledging your self-judgments as they arise without being carried away by them, you acknowledge the ego without sacrificing your creative momentum to it.
Get to Know Yourself Outside of Writing
If you don’t know what your own unique essence as a person looks like, sounds like, or really emotionally feels like, you won’t be able to recognize your writing voice when it shows up. Some writers spend a long time writing like other people they admire, or in a way they think you should be writing, without realizing that their small, still voice within is begging to be heard.
Tune into your feelings and discover yourself as a writer. What makes you glow with happiness? What gets you so excited you jump out of bed in the morning? And if you never feel happiness or excitement, what’s standing in your way? As you walk down the street or go about your day, what are the things that make you pause and reconnect with yourself? The answers to all of these question will lead you back to what’s really contained in your writing voice.
Your writing voice is like your oldest friend. No matter how long it’s been, it always picks up the phone and calls eventually. Make sure you’re on the other end of that line, ready to answer, open to whatever it has to say.
Love the light that you hold within, and let it shine.
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