Cutting through the Noise

Like many other writers, I spent my early years trying to sound like someone else. Preferably, someone famous as successful, because I didn't understand that I could never be as good a Lavyrle Spencer or Stephen King or Larry McMurtry or Frank Herbert as the original article.

Over time, I forgot about emulating others and quit hiding Colleen Thompson. I let that voice develop, for better or for worse. Though not every attempt was a hit, of course, those successes I did find gave me confidence that I could run with the authentic me, allowing it to color everything I wrote.

Give yourself a million words or so, and you can cut through fear and noise and finally hear the authentic way your thoughts sound. And if your voice proves sufficiently unique and appeals to enough people, perhaps you, like Mr. Vader here, will get the chance to milk it for a lot of years to come.


Jeanna said…
Colleen, I needed *these* words today!
Glad you found it helpful, Jeanna!
Mylène said…
So glad you posted this, Colleen. I have so many young writers ask me, "How do I find my voice?" and can only tell them, as you have, that you must write your way through to find it. I SO well remember emulating other writers at the beginning (not a bad exercise, since those writers had a lot to teach me). But it wasn't until I was about thirty that I finally sat down one day to write fiction and started writing and it was . . . me.

I recently had to go through this process all over again when I started writing creative non-fiction. I had no idea what my voice without the mask of fiction sounded like, and felt very naked and exposed and inexperienced (I still do, in a way). But the trip will be a shorter one this time, I think. This is because lessons learned about self and style in one genre do seem to translate into others. All of one's writing helps to find voice, and all of one's writing seems to participate in the same voice--simply inflected different ways.
Joni Rodgers said…
Okay, the Darth Vader thing is hilarious, and yes, wise words above. A major component of ghostwriting is the capture of my client's unique voice -- just like you'd capture a character's voice in a novel as consistently and authentically as possible -- but I'd like to think there's an undertone in each book that's uniquely me. If I do my job right, only the people who really know me will feel it.
I've always marveled at your ability to channel your ghostwriting clients. You really do a great job of reflecting their personalities as you work with them to tell their stories. There's still an underlying voice that's yours, and it's one I recognize, but I think you're right that someone would have to know you pretty well to see it.

Best of luck with the nonfiction, Mylene! Judging from what I've seen of it (your Red Room essay and posts here) you'll do great.
It's weird, but I think I got a lot of that out of the way when I was very young. And writing plays really helped me find the voices of my characters, and channel them (instead of me). But there's always a measure of myself behind each of them, one that I'm finding easier and easier to embrace.

It's funny, though, I still need the "mask of fiction" that you talk about, Mylene. If I ever did creative nonfiction, it would have to be the more investigative journalism style or something like what Joni does, because I just don't think I could write a memoir. I was a journalist before I was a playwright and that was a lot of fun, but I still never wanted to stick to the details.

Something else that is strange is that one of the main determinants for acceptance into a creative writing program is whether or not an applicant has his or her own voice. And yet as soon as the student gets there, we throw all kinds of literature at them and almost beg them to fit into a mold. It's why I strive in my workshops NOT to do that, and to help the students find their voices, even if it leads them away from fiction.

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