Thursday, July 23, 2009

finding the voice

I could rant for days. But I won't. I do in my head, quite often. We all do, don't we? In traffic, at the television, at the news, at ridiculous products we see. At the colossal evil of transaction sorting, e.g. Bank of America.
I used to rant here, on this blog. When it was new, I wrote veritable essays. Even researched them. On the one hand, they were pretty good---a couple even got picked up by local magazines. On the other hand, ranting and researching took up an awful lot of time and energy.

But that's not why I stopped. Well, that's part of it. I asked more experienced bloggers, (i.e. the NGaiman) who told me that eventually the essays and rants would shape themselves to fit me better and I'd find my own voice.

The other reason I stopped ranting is because I started to understand that human experience can be very generic. In other words, I'm not special. I don't have anything to say that hasn't been experienced and explained before. Those hundreds of irritating cliches endure for a reason. The reason is that they fit.
We don't really get those little revelations until we've lived them, or until they're explained in terms that resonate, that ring our mental bells.

I stopped ordering and polishing and began to simply relay my discoveries as they happened. I never intended my blog to be exclusively for artists. I meant it to be for human beings like me, trying to figure out what the hell we're doing and why.

I don't know why I'm compelled to do this any more than I know why I'm compelled to make art. What I do know is that I'm compelled.

You are too. I read it in your comments, sometimes between the words. That said, let's talk about 'the voice.'

I may have decided that there isn't one voice. For instance, one of the most important lessons I've learned in the nearly twenty years I've been a professional artist is this:

Show up. Every day. Do the work.

Now, you've heard this from other sources. I was fortunate to hear it personally from both Ray Bradbury and Gene Wolfe. I won't go into this here (no worries---you'll hear it again---I cannot preach this sermon enough.) I relay this message at every lecture on every topic at every conference I participate in. It seems most effective to tell you outright that I know this to be true.
The secret to being a successful creator is to show up consistantly.

There---I said it again.

But other lessons will have to be spoken in the language of the art, because that works better for me. At times it seems best to allow Poppet to speak for me.

What are your thoughts on using fiction or other art forms (the truth hidden in the lie) to communicate personal revelations?
It seems to me that some subjects are more appropriately dealt with through this filter---that speaking openly of profound experiences somehow diminishes them.

Do you know when to speak outright and when to apply the filter? If so, how? And, is one voice more effective than the other?


Stacey said...

Interesting question. I wonder if there can ever really be a set criteria for when to use the storyteller's voice, and when the personal one. Nostalgia often means the storyteller for me. Issues I'm commenting on, the personal.

I suspect the effectiveness is more often about allowing feelings to come out, maybe losing inhibition and writing from the heart, and it doesn't matter which voice it is, as long as it's an authentic one. Naturally a firm grasp of the power of words can help one find that true voice. My biggest problem is to not allow my "handling" of language devolve into pretension.

Maybe on some level there is value in the "generic" rants, after all, we learn that others have experienced what we have, and though we might not always be "special," we are also not always alone. And if we can use words to connect, well... that's pretty special.

Krafty Like A Fox said...

I think my ultimate goal as a writer is to develop the skill to lead people from the truth and back around to it, so they happen upon it in their own heads. As you said, most lessons must be learned for oneself (otherwise there'd be a lot less heartbreak in the world). In trying to track the conversations that lead to those lessons, I like to think that I'm speaking directly and using the filter simultaneously.

So... I think the filter should be used when making art, and plain speaking should be used at all times, tempered with kindness.

Drinne said...

When I was younger I wrote poetry. I played with words. I loved the layering of meaning. I also wrote “humorous fiction” in the mode described back to me as “Teenage Female Woody Allen”. Then I was the editor of my school’s literary magazine, where we had a rule – all submissions were retyped by the Advisor and numbered so that we did not know who submitted them and then read aloud and critiqued before we decided to accept it. So I had the very odd experience of people reading and interpreting my work with no knowledge that I was in the room.

Here is what I learned.
• If I write it well, it will sound good even if I’m not the one reading it.
• People will miss things I consider obvious to the point of trite, and see things I never saw in the text and the meaning.
• Ultimately that’s cool.

At first it was discouraging. I thought I’d screwed up if they didn’t see the five other layers I put into into it.
There is an inverse lesson though. It became a game, can I write something that means one thing to me and hide the truth inside it while letting everyone else see something different? Can I make them see the opposite of what the poem/story/joke is about? Can I lead the reader away and hide in plain sight, mostly for my own amusement.

Or, like acting - can I find the kernel that makes it true and make it true for someone else but without them realizing it?

I don’t even think I write to myself without the filter. The intensity of the truth even when you don’t think you’re writing it will seep out anyway. That’s the danger – like dreaming but in print – I did not want to know. So it was better just to stop.

maqart said...

I have a photograph on my mantle that my husband found while clearing out an old house. It shows a 1912 high school graduating class, the boys in knickerbockers and the girls in fluffy white dresses and big hair bows. They all look terribly serious and very young- nary a smile among them. And behind the class, held by the two tallest boys, is a banner that reads "PROGRESS IS MADE BY WORK ALONE"

lisa said...

Stacey: that's a good point and it makes me realize I didn't take into account the filter of time.

Krafty: well spoken. and right, if the discovery can be made by the reader, that's the best of communication.

drinne: I suppose that we must employ our filters at times without even knowing it, to protect ourselves.

maquart: I'd like to see that! if you email it to, I'll post it here

Loraine said...

My filter has holes in it. I've never been great at figuring out exactly what to say and when- I'm much better in text than I am in person, though.

As meaningless as it seems to be a generic human, the best I've found I can do is hope for other's perspectives to shine a light on something I wouldn't have seen on my own. Because my own light seems rather dim at times. I like what Drinne said about feedback- I've experienced that as well.

I wish I had more earth- shattering, important, relevant things to say. But alas, I'm just another PEBCAC to the IT people, another ass in a chair, another pea in the same soup society's been gorging itself on forever in the hopes that it may someday taste different.

Anonymous said...

Lorraine: "my filter has holes in it" is pretty eloquent and profound.


Yes. You have a job. It's not who you are. You're not 'just' anything.

Carl V. Anderson said...

In speaking solely for myself, some of the most powerful messages, lessons, revelations and inspirations that have affected me and stayed with me were conveyed to me through the guise of it in book or film or a story told to me. That is part of the magic of words, especially--that they can be the carriers of the most profound truths. Life-altering truths. That is why I love books so very much. They are not just entertainment...though they serve that purpose and I am happy for that...sometimes they are agents of change in the very core of our being.

The one time when I think this fails is when the 'truth' that is trying to be conveyed is too contrived. If that is the case then I think it is best to just come out with what you are trying to say and be as genuine about it as you can. I'm convinced that powerful truths successfully conveyed in fiction are more due to the writer being in touch with their muse and their talent than because they tried really hard to couch a message in their fiction.