Voices, Plural

by Big World Writing Club Moderator A2

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the concept of voice, as it relates to writing. How we “find” voice as writers? Do we “find” it or does it find us? Do we slip into our voices like a pair of gloves? When you’re writing multiple characters and building worlds, how do you make sure that your characters have distinct voices? As I finish up my collection of short stories, these are the things that run through my mind.

What I’ve been also thinking about is the notion of having various voices as a writer. My voice as a fiction writer is very different than my voice as a poet, which is different from my voice as an essayist or an academic writer. For years, I didn’t understand that having those two different voices is more than OK. It wasn’t until I read one of my favorite books, Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black by bell hooks that the concept of one writer, many voices clicked for me. hooks says:

For me, poetry was the place for the secret voice, for all that could not be directly stated or named, for all that would not be denied expression.

I can relate to the idea of poetry as being the “secret voice;” for me, my poetry is something that I rarely share, as it expresses a lot of my direct, unfiltered thought and emotion.

But hooks also challenges the notion of one voice being central to authenticity:

The black poet, as exemplified by Gwendolyn Brooks and later, Amiri Baraka, had many voices — with no single voice being identified as more or less authentic. The insistence on finding one voice, one definitive style of writing and reading one’s poetry, fit all too neatly with a static notion of self and identity that was pervasive in university settings.

These days, I struggle less with seeing my many writing voices as problematic or inauthentic, and more with how to give time and attention to different (and sometimes, competing) voices. Right now, I need to finish this fiction work, but what I really want to do is write some poetry.

I have decided to meet the voices in the middle and scribble down random poetry fragments into my notebook whenever the mood strikes.

How do you give time to your different voices?

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