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This post appeared on the Catholic Writers Guild blog.
Do you spend time in conversation about the material you write? If not, you may be in danger of losing your voice.
Writing is, ultimately, a means of communication – a two-way street. Without an audience – in mind, or on hand – it can become flat and lifeless. Such writing will, if ever a reader picks it up, be hard for him to “reconstitute” into a living encounter with your ideas. The one-way nature of blogging (relieved, thankfully, by the occasional response) threatens to silence the writer’s voice.
Interestingly, the human voice is in similar danger. We tend to get “locked in” to a narrow vocal range as we grow up. We stop playing with our voices – making animal sounds, imitating the voices and accents around us, singing silly songs – and they atrophy to a degree. Some mental illnesses are even characterized by vocal patterns that are especially flat and mono-tonal. Men start avoiding their high, or “head” tones, and women avoid the deep, or “chest” tones, limiting their voices to a range that fits cultural expectations for masculinity and femininity.
As a writer, you must be intentional about preventing this deadening of your words. Exercise and expand your “vocal” range by
- Playing with words.
- Imitating the style of other writers.
- Writing for new and diverse audiences.
- Writing songs, poems and plays.
Perhaps even more important: keep up the audible practice of actually vocalizing whatever you are writing. Discuss it, teach it, argue about it, perform it! At the very least, read each piece aloud to yourself.
Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper, in The Abuse of Language, speaks of conversation as “the natural habitat of truth.” If you have lively discussions about your ideas, they will be vivified by new insights and associations, and clarified as you re-present them over and over again. Your lived experience of sounding your thoughts in the context of human interactions will help enrich your writing. Words with voice carry meaning more effectively into the minds and hearts of readers.
Take a break from writing to talk to someone about what you want to write. When you get back to the task, it will be easier and your writing will improve.
P.S. If your speaking voice is approaching a monotone, fight back! Sing, learn a new language, read aloud with energy and character voices, sing, recite poetry, join a community theater, sing!