• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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I Felt All Flushed With Fever Embarrassed by the Crowd


canaries-listeningI’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: I developed my voice on this blog and it carried forward into my book. For one year, I tried to write the Bridge Ladies as a kind of New Yorker essay. No first person writing at all. Everyone I shared it with told me (in polite terms) that is sucked. My husband kept saying, you have to use your blog voice. (My husband initially discouraged me from blogging because of certain impulse control problems I’m known for, eventually he saw that it was becoming something amazing in my life.) I kept resisting; I couldn’t see my “blog voice” as having anything to do with The BRidge Ladies. But when I finally shifted to first person, the pages started coming to life, my sense of humor got engaged, and more important, I was able to write more deeply than I had been.

What is voice? It’s one of the most important aspects in a piece of writing and yet it’s something of a chimera. You can’t teach it, you can’t describe it the way you can talk about craft, you can’t fuck it. You don’t have to write in first person; voice comes through in any pov, any tense, any style. Yet, how exactly is intelligence, humor, empathy, authority communicated? Can you add it after like a pinch of salt or does it have to emanate from the sentences from the get go? Is it in the DNA of your writing or can it be developed, manipulated, deployed? Is voice an extension of how you sound or is it developed independently through the language you use. What exactly do we mean when we say voice-driven prose?

How do you find your voice?































































14 Responses

  1. Whoa. Good post. Not that I have any answers, but I love thinking about voice. (Especially since I’ve been feeling a vague dissatisfaction with my WIP, and it occurred to me I might need to try first person.)

  2. I totally agree with your about voice but I think that autocorrect may have changed something. did you mean you can’t “fake” it?

  3. Oooh, nice one. I used to think my voice was the one thing I needed to develop and perfect in order to apply it to all of my wonderful creations. More recently, I have decided that there could be variation depending on the piece, and that I need to decide, at some point in the writing process, which voice works best. The process of deciding can at times be painful because there are options; I know that because I change registers in my day-job writing (I do mostly business writing for different clients, each with their own brand [gahhh], let alone style guide).

    Voice is the dog that prevents me from easily finishing off a short story I started a month/a year/four years ago. It changes, the rascal, yet I think it needs to. Why does this piece need to be written? What exactly is the flavor and texture of that undigested piece of pork (courtesy, Ed Grimley)? The answer is voice as far as an individual piece goes.

    But maybe it’s also a bigger thing: the thang that describes what I try to do regardless. Mix up the language, catch the reader off guard now and then, squeeze out any excess preciousness. That just comes from writing more, reading more and wondering more often how a certain writer could possibly have an audience what with all that garbage. It comes over time and from self-awareness, which comes with writing regularly. That part can be taught.

    Can I have a coffee yet? It’s before 7am and I slept like a fiend. Thanks for the early-morning prompt.

  4. Sorry, wrong wordpress i.d. It’s me, Dorli.

  5. Voice is personality. It’s the face of how you sound and sound of who you are. I love writing first person. Not a big surprise there. That’s what they pay me for.
    To me, voice is who you are as character angel, writer asshole or both.
    I’ve come to one conclusion regarding you Betsy, your husband is a pretty smart guy.

  6. “How do you find your voice?”

    I let it find me.

    Be still, be open, be welcoming, be where you are, pay attention, fear it not — and it will come.

  7. I listen then I write.
    And yes, like Tetman says, I let voice find me.

  8. I love this post, b/c out of all things writing, IMO, voice is the most interesting topic.

    How do you find your voice? I think the answer has to be slightly different for fiction vs memoir. Despite that, writers who have found their voice are able to reveal it even through multiple characters. Writing in your own unique voice is no different than how each of us sounds when talking. Clarification – if you and I had a conversation, I would select and use words in a way different from you. It’s actually rather intriguing if you think about it. What makes it intriguing is despite the fact the Oxford Dictionary cites 171,476, only 3000 words are used in 95% of a good chunk of written material. Yet somehow, you, I, whoever, takes those 3,000 commonly used words and…we write something uniquely ours. (like this comment)

    Voice is a writer’s vocabulary fingerprint, or maybe an intellectual imprint of the way we think.

    I guess. Time for more coffee.

  9. Dawn. A doe in the yard chomping down and chewing tall weeds, her coat vibrant rust red against the deep green leaves. The air is summer sweet, quiet and still. Morning has no shadows while waiting for the sun to rise.
    The voice paints a picture from the first lines.
    And I agree with Tetman and november about the voice finding me.

  10. It is the “voice
    caught in the dark cathedral
    of your skull
    your voice heard
    by an internal ear informed by internal abstracts
    and what you know by feeling,
    having felt.” –Thomas Lux

    Voice is honesty; it is instinct.
    It comes unsolicited.
    If you try too hard, it falters, sputters,
    and raises its disingenuous head.
    And you can’t fool the reader.

  11. Hell if I know, I just write. The trouble for me lately is keeping “my voice” out of my work emails.

  12. “How do you find your voice?”
    Lighly hikely, the very same way we find anything else — by searching for the thing, shit-deep in darkness, risking all.
    Or perhaps, with luck, by forgetting to look, then stumbling over the top of the fuck — and when stumbling, saying Ouch, if Ouch is truthful.

  13. Good question. Voice in writing reminds me of the sap in the stem creating all those thorns on its way to becoming a rose…or a fetus struggling out of the womb…or the yeast rising the bread. Voice is the life of the piece. I could call it spirit, creativity or the crossing of the vertical with the horizontal to generate a new power. To consider voice is to consider what of life is trying to get past the writer’s doormat and into the house.

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