A friend lent me Paul Auster’s The Invention of Solitude. This book falls in the high-brow category of reading, which I sometimes enjoy because catch this:
One day there is life. Everything is as it was, as it will always be. And then, suddenly, it happens there is death. The suddenness of it leaves no room for thought, gives the mind no chance to seek out a word that might comfort it.
It took Auster only four sentences to transport me to last spring. I’d finished teaching, and there was a voicemail from my mom. Grandmother had died. And what Auster wrote about death is what I felt: the suddenness that leaves no room for thought. His words gave voice to that time for me.
My writing voice is not Auster’s, however. This confused me when I first started writing because I assumed I’d write like I read. It’s not that I presumed I’d write so well, but that I’d write in keeping. I don’t. I don’t write anywhere close to capital “L” literature because I’m not that girl. I curled up with a bowl of Star Wars shaped Kraft Mac & Cheese for dinner last week because it’s still one of my favorite meals. I make a fool of myself to compete for roses at Renaissance Festivals, and I dressed up like a cupcake and flash-mobbed business school classes on Halloween. I love a good beach read, too, and I have some romance novels queued up for holiday break, but I don’t write stories like those, either. All together, it’s a combination of can’t and won’t and ultimately why even try because I’ll delete anything in revision that sounds like a put-on instead of like me.
Is that okay? Is it okay not to write like I read, admire, and aspire? Sure, but it took me awhile to find my way to my writing voice. It’s also okay that I sounded liked others to start. We learn by copying, but at one point we need to push beyond the boundaries others have set. Austin Kleon in Steal Like an Artist puts it best:
You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes.
This takes time. This takes a lot of doing. It took me thousands of words (and less thousands of) years before I became aware of the key factors that shape my writing voice: my training, my beliefs, and my girldom. I’ll be talking more about these this week, but on Day 13 of NanNoWriMo think about what has influenced you as you are. I bet in the stories you keep returning to – the ones that mean something to you – there are some common themes. Grab hold of them, and we’ll start talking about what to do with them tomorrow.