Straddling the Waters and recognising the value of voice.

© irene waters 2015

© irene waters 2015

Sometimes life seems to put you with a leg on either side of a chasm and it becomes hard to move in either direction as you straddle the abyss. My apologies for not replying to your comments ( I do appreciate them and will get there.) Unfortunately something had to give as I finally spread myself to thin and something was about to crack – that something being me.

I was invited to write a scholarly book chapter which I gladly accepted at the time, chuffed that I was one that had been invited. It is due at the end of this month for peer reviewing and I am nowhere near finished and have been struggling. Struggling to sound scholarly and the flow of the writing dried up, shrivelled and disjointed.

This week at a conference I ran into the editor and admitted my problem. Immediately she said – “Don’t worry. We want you to write you. We are starting off with theory, philosophy and different methodologies — the dry and boring but essential. You”, she said “Were chosen for your distinctive voice. You can put the personal on the theory and people will remember the method for you’ll show them how it works in practice.”

I was so relieved she said that. I’d been trying to get rid of my voice. Trying to sound scholarly instead of me, the reason I now know was the reason I was chosen. It is a lesson to all writers. When you have your own voice, even when that man in black who sits whispering in your ear is active telling you it is no good, don’t try and change it. You may never write like those you consider great but it is your voice that will make people want to read what you have to say and that self critic will never rest so learn to live with him.

I have thrown him off my shoulder (for a short time anyway) and have been happily writing my chapter since. It is not quite finished but certainly will be by the end of the month. When the voice is yours the writing flows unimpeded.

In case you aren’t certain what voice is, simply put, it is the tone or style of a narrative. When I read, I hear the words being spoken, giving me the tone, rhythm of speech, the vocabulary and emphasis used. Just as if someone were talking to me. This mental audio then allows me to visualise the narrator and other characters in the narrative. The voice can be persuasive, confess a sin, confide a secret, mourn a lover, or any other number of emotions it can raise in us as the reader. It is what leads us to form a relationship with the narrator, whether love or hate or anything in between. It is also what makes it a believable story or not.

If the writing is memoir or any other autobiographical work then the author takes ownership of the voice of the narrating ‘I’. My voice in my memoir works is the same in life as it is in text. In fiction the voice is attributed to the narrator of the story.

However it does become much more complicated because our works aren’t simply one voice. There are multiple. Most works both fiction and autobiographical are polyvocal but perhaps that will be the topic of another post.


About Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

I began my working career as a reluctant potato peeler whilst waiting to commence my training as a student nurse. On completion I worked mainly in intensive care/coronary care; finishing my hospital career as clinical nurse educator in intensive care. A life changing period as a resort owner/manager on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu was followed by recovery time as a farmer at Bucca Wauka. Having discovered I was no farmer and vowing never again to own an animal bigger than myself I took on the Barrington General Store. Here we also ran a five star restaurant. Working the shop of a day 7am - 6pm followed by the restaurant until late was surprisingly more stressful than Tanna. On the sale we decided to retire and renovate our house with the help of a builder friend. Now believing we knew everything about building we set to constructing our own house. Just finished a coal mine decided to set up in our backyard. Definitely time to retire we moved to Queensland. I had been writing a manuscript for some time. In the desire to complete this I enrolled in a post grad certificate in creative Industries which I completed 2013. I followed this by doing a Master of Arts by research graduating in 2017. Now I live to write and write to live.
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39 Responses to Straddling the Waters and recognising the value of voice.

  1. Excellent! I hear your voice and now I know you’re OK, just very busy. And yes, it is your voice i love to read, your own special, sensitive, thoughtful take on what’s going on in the world. Because you travel so much, I get exposed to cultures and history otherwise unfamiliar to me. Thanks for letting us know all is well, and you keep your own voice out there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Sharon. It was a good lesson for me to learn. I may have sent off this piece with big words that I had to continually look up to remind myself what they meant, sound very academic and then have it returned as it wasn’t at all what they wanted. I can’t tell you how big the sigh of relief was. Amazing I didn’t cause a cyclone. Looking forward to getting back to ?normal.


  2. M-R says:

    RIGHT ON, sister ! – I’m with you all the way ! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. TanGental says:

    a good lesson to learn, re-learn, re-re-learn…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. noelleg44 says:

    Hang in there, Irene! You do have a strong voice, and now you know what happens to your writing when you can’t use it. I’m so happy you’ve been given the freedom to use it as you will. What a great lesson for all of us.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree Noelle. Sometimes we lose sight of what is important. I didn’t when it came to writing the exegesis (which I am told I have taken a huge risk but my supervisor is prepared to let me submit as all the expected stuff is covered. Just not in a traditional fashion.) Why I went out on a limb with this I have no idea – I think when I listen to all these scholarly papers (this stemmed from a conference) I sound so layman I thought for a published book I should make an effort. Big mistake. Lesson well learnt and something we can all learn from.


  5. Charli Mills says:

    Such a good lesson! I had a similar one when I used to freelance magazine articles. I entered what I thought were my best pieces into a national communicator’s contest and was ripped apart for not sounding “journalistic” enough. The next assignment, I made sure I adhered to that advice of the judge. The editor contacted me and asked what was wrong! I explained the feedback I had received and she reminded me that I had been hired because of my voice, my style of writing. Lesson learned with much relief, like you felt. Alas, I still struggle to bring my voice into fiction where “showing” is a different craft. I know voice matters most, but mastering the output is also important. Another lesson. Good luck to you! Take your time to finish your chapter.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Yes it was a good lesson Charli. I learnt long ago (writing group critiques and competition rejections did it for me I guess) that not everybody will like your style of writing. That is okay. Now I have learnt that those that do like it appreciate the voice they hear.
      You may be struggling to bring your voice into fiction but it doesn’t come across to the reader Charli.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Sherri says:

    Hi Irene, so very glad to know the you have managed to silence the man in black and throw him off track, and may he stay away from now on. Wondeful that your writing is flowing once again with your voice, the one we want to read and the one we know and love you for.
    Great news to know that you will be finished by the end of the month. As you say, something had to crack, and so glad it wasn’t you! Receiving the encouragement to use your voice at the conference was just what you needed to hear.
    Regarding memoir, Mary Karr in her ‘The Art of Memoir’ states that in her mind, the best memoirs are those written just as we speak.
    Thank you for explaining just what ‘voice’ is and means, you put it very succinctly and as others have said here, a great lesson and reminder as we write on.
    Wishing you every success as you press on my friend, and here’s to celebrating the end result as your voice rings loud and true 🙂 Have a wonderful, productive weekend and see you soon 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Norah says:

    Great! Now I know why you’ve been absent – you were finding your voice! Love your title. Very clever. 🙂
    Isn’t it funny that you were asked to write something, and then thought they wanted you to write it unlike you. They could have got anyone to do that; but only you can write like you!
    Glad you are making good progress. Full steam ahead!

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Lisa Reiter says:

    You have such a voice Irene that I even hear it in my head and in an Aussie accent. This personal assessment of realising you were trying to get rid of your voice is a great reminder (and lesson to newbies) that we need to trust in being ourselves. Writing is hard enough without layering it with trying to be someone else at the same time. But damn that critical guy in my ear who loves to point to my phrases and say things like “too hysterical, they’ll never believe you” or plain “this is boring, are you sure anyone will read it?” I’m always trying to shut him up!
    Meanwhile, love the opening metaphor of straddling an abyss Lxx

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Your voice is amazing! I’d say more but it’s a crazy day here. Editor is spot on! Your voice is what makes you special!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Shareen. I wasn’t fishing for compliments but it certainly is lovely hearing them. That little critic on the shoulder can be rough at times and you’ve acted as a counter force. Thank you. Hope your day becomes a little less crazy. Cheers Irene

      Liked by 1 person

      • I never give compliments I don’t mean 😁. I have finally settled on something for myself in my writing. I do have multiple voices. I love MY voice. I also love the POV voices which I channel when I write a rant or a rave. What really clicked was subtle- in your words…I don’t know how or why but I realized it bothers me that I have not admitted it hurts me that people assume my rants (which are intended to be funny ) reflect my voice or even my mood. You made me want to write more as me rather than hiding . I am behind the persona I put on when I write those rants. I am not that person as a whole. It’s boys of me. It takes me weeks , even months to get to a rant predictive. It’s exhausting. I wood rather write a rave, personal essay opposed to a rant or open letter. I have been afraid to write. Wondering once again if it’s worth it . I have lots of texture. If I try to write from one emotion I fail. Your post triggered my faith in myself. It’s ok to have moments. After all my blog is called On The Verge. I forgot my purpose. You reminded me.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m glad that my words hit the spot with you and is going to release your writing, freeing both it and you up. I’d love to read your blog but the link leads me to an error page. You may have to redo the link but if you could give me a post url I’d love to visit. Don’t give up writing. With all that texture you have I’m sure your writing is very rich. Glad you have refound your purpose. Having just regained mine I know how it feels trying to be someone or a voice you’re not. Personal essay is probably my favourite style of writing but certainly any creative non-fiction form I feel comfortable in. Fiction, I struggle unless I fictionalise the true. I attempt a couple of fiction challenges most weeks simply to challenge myself to some creativity of thought. Writing non-fiction you don’t have to create the story the art is in the telling of it. I’m starting to ramble. Let me know your blog address please. Cheers Irene

        Liked by 1 person

      • WordPress has been wonky today.
        Hope that works. I am working on a few things right now. Thanks for sharing today😁

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for the link Shareen. You are linked to what is probably an old site of your “notso deep thoughts….” you might want to change it. Cheers Irene 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I will have to change that! That is my old site before I upgraded. Thank you!

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Ack! I *cringed* when I read this “I’d been trying to get rid of my voice.” So I am REALLY glad you followed that up with “don’t”. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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  13. Annecdotist says:

    What a lovely inspiring post, Irene. So many of us can identify with those nerves, feeling what we have good enough, but how wonderful it can be when you are freed up to speak from who you are and what you know. I’m sure that chapter is going to be fab!

    Liked by 1 person

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  15. I needed to read this.

    Liked by 1 person

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