Ann Lamott, in her book, “Bird by Bird", has a chapter called “Finding Your Voice”. She observes that after years of teaching writing students, there is one thing that is real and true – your own voice. “The writer’s job is to see what’s behind [the closed doors of your life], to see the bleak unspeakable stuff, and to turn the unspeakable into words …. You can’t do this without discovering your own true voice. … The truth of your experience can only come through in your own voice.” (pp. 198-199)
Many writers join my classes because they are ready to be seen and heard. They have decided they no longer want to stay hidden and writing in a group is their next best step into self-expression. The writing process I use in my groups – timed writing from prompts, followed by reading aloud – allows everyone to have their words received. Reading aloud supports each person to begin hearing their own voice.
Your writing style and your writing voice are made up of who you are and everything you have experienced in your lifetime. You can borrow another author’s writing style for a while, as you become more comfortable with putting pen to paper. However, as you continue playing and working with the timed writing process, there will come a time when you realize that you have your own particular way of expressing things.
Perhaps you are compelled to make up a word when there isn’t an existing one that works for your draft. You might be drawn to describe the early morning light in a forest, when being on the trail feels like entering a cathedral – like the one you attended as a small child. You will begin to tap into details and use expressions that are completely unique to your gaze.
Throughout most of her life, my mother did not have many opportunities to express her true self, to devote herself to the creative pursuits she was most interested in. Her hands were always busy with handiwork: knitting, crochet, embroidery, sewing. She excelled at these domestic arts – relegated to women’s work – and she was so much more than who she was allowed to be as a wife and mother. When she was in the early stages of dementia, she was finally able to live a life she had imagined for so long – that of an artist and stage performer. On the dementia ward, she was living her best life. Her "fantasy self" wasn't completely authentic, but it seems as though her authentic voice was hidden away and stifled in her normal life. With dementia, the restrictions to who she could be were removed.
I've always thought of writing (especially a memoir) as a way to tap into and uncover what really happened, what you really felt, how these things really impacted you. Writing is a way to connect to the truth of your experience with undivided attention: a courageous act.