I barely started considering myself a writer last week. Ok not really, but it has taken me a while. Coming to terms with the fact that aspiring writer no longer suited me was interesting. Largely because it forced me to face the reality that for me success has long been tied up in monetary gain. That single thing has caused me to discount plenty of my accomplishments. Figuring they couldn’t be that worthwhile if no dollar amount was attached. If I think about the facts, they would show that I’ve been writing since I was a tinier me. What I didn’t have language for then, and am working on now, is that I wasn’t an aspiring writer. I was aspiring to be paid for my writing. But the presence of money doesn’t define me or anyone else.
In this post I want to talk about how I found my voice as a writer and how it has helped me solidify the confidence I needed to call myself a writer. Are you still searching for yours? Keep reading.
Every one has a point of view. Your life experiences shape that and give you a place from which you can tell stories. For me that has been being daughter to a single mom, living in a house full of relatives, attending Howard University, and much more. Those roads in my life have given me things to write about and are used to frame much of my thought process. As writers we hear that we need to find our voice, a statement that may seem confusing at first. The better way to explain this to people is to say, don’t write like those you’ve read before. Write like you speak, write what you know. Writers, especially Black writers, often feel like our stories aren’t worthy.
That lie is used to quiet us and keep us from sharing…
We are too afraid that our work won’t resonate with audiences that don’t look like us. Or that our work won’t be written in a way that is able to culture shift. But as Toni Morrison said in an interview in 1998 with Charlie Rose, “no one asks white writers when they’re going to write about Black people.” The point being that anyone can write about anyone, what is different is the lens through which you view the world. What I have discovered is that writing from my point of view, is how readers or watchers will relate to me. Even though our experiences are personal there is always someone who understands.
START WITH WHAT YOU KNOW
We each tell our tales in the way they need to be told, but when we attempt to curb that – we lose. And so does the reader. Finding your voice is about being comfortable in giving the details some shine with your spin. The advice given when it comes to writing is to write what you know. Don’t go searching for a story to tell, you’ve got one. No matter how many people grew up how I did or may have even gone through the things I did, my experience will be different. Our siblings will tell life from their eyes and they may have grow up in the same house as you! Instead of trying to create some sort of watered down take of the world, tap in.
For many years I was afraid or hesitant to really write about what I had gone through. Trying not to offend the participants in my story, I steered clear of giving all of the details. That does everyone a disservice, especially me because it doesn’t give room for me to get it out. Now I aim to tell my story or give my perspective while always giving respect to my life.
BE INSPIRED, BUT DON’T COPY
When you are influenced or inspired by a writer that’s awesome. It means they’ve done their job by creating art that moved you. It only becomes a problem when the inspiration and influence they’ve given turns into carbon copies in your own work. Great writers spend a lot of time reading, it’s a part of growing. You must be mindful not to allow another’s cadence or story to become your own. Think of it this way, so many rappers, musical storytellers if you will, rap about the same things. Hardships, hustling, overcoming; but they don’t all sound the same. Jay-Z and Big both rapped about New York and drug life but each recounted their upbringing through their voice. Their stories weren’t unique in that we had never heard them. The uniqueness came from them discovering their own way to relay it. Find your voice.
Novice writers tend to regurgitate their favorite works without recognizing it. But when a person comes along and can instantly point out your reference, you may want to do some editing.
PRACTICE MAKES BETTER
Notice I didn’t say perfect. Writing is not something that you aim to perfect but it is a constant practice. Currently I am practicing the art of scriptwriting because I have television shows I want to develop. When I take a look at old blogs I’ve written they have changed over time. They’ve matured become more well thought out. Going through a novel I began nearly ten years ago, I still want to tell the story, but how I do it must change. Because I have changed. As we grow our writing will too. That’s finding your voice. I want to get back to daily writing, completing prompts if you will so I can exercise the muscle more. One of my favorite things about school was writing papers. I know a lot of people dreaded it, but there was once a time when I was getting paid to do it.
I had honed in on a methodology and because of all of the practice I had, it came easily and quickly. It was one of the ways I discovered what my voice was. From writing on LiveJournal in the late 90s to being on the writing staff of a celebrity blog, then writing a web series; I’ve been able to figure out how to express my POV across a multitude of genres. That took practice. I’m certain I could look back at my work on Hello Beautiful and think, “yikes,” but I can say I’ve grown. Don’t be afraid to put out something even if it isn’t perfect. You’ll get there.
Writing isn’t a career that people can give you a roadmap for. The one thing they can say is, writers write. So do that, write something. Google prompts to practice. One of my favorite ways to get the brain flowing is through music. Listen to a song and write a scene or a monologue using that as your guide. What do you feel? What would someone say? When I look up after a while I’ve created something cool. I’ll show you an example. My husband was riffing on his guitar and as I sat this came to me:
EXT. LOCATION – AFTERNOON – CAR DRIVES ALONG OPEN ROAD.
NO CARS IN SIGHT. IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT OF THE VEHICLE WE SEE A MEDIUM BUILD, BLACK WOMAN, HER HAIR IN A PONYTAIL. IT WRAPS ITSELF IN LOOPS FROM THE WIND, SHE PULLS THE LAPEL ON HER LEATHER JACKET A BIT. CHECKS THE REARVIEW MIRROR AND PRESSES HER LIPS TOGETHER. ON THE RADIO WE HEAR THE SOUND OF A GUITAR IN THE BACKGROUND. IT’S BLUESY. YOU FEEL THIS DRIVE IS SERIOUS BUT YOU AREN’T SURE WHY.
EXT. FRONT OF HIGH RISE APARTMENT – NOAH sits in the car, waiting. Finally she turns to the back seat where we see a duffel bag. The guitar from earlier is louder now, intense. Suddenly NOAH breaks into an air drum breakdown as the song peaks. As she’s in the throes of the performance of her life, her trance is broken by a girl and a guy walking toward the building.
All this came from simply hearing a few chords on a guitar. I don’t know what it means or where the story could go, but that doesn’t matter. Sometimes it’s just about getting something down on paper. I encourage you to try something like on your own. I’d love to see what you come up with. The best thing about writing is it can go anywhere. There are no boundaries, let your imagination carry you to where you want to be. Let it direct your pen.
If this advice helped you, leave some love in the comments. I’d love to hear more about how you’re aiming to find your voice and what you’re working on right now. Writers have to stick together!