Friday, February 15, 2008

Six voices fight until there’s only one left! Only one left! Only one left!*

The metaphor of "voice" in writing has long existed, owing to rhetoric's oratory origins. Surely, the sounds of our voices, like any sensory detail, shape our identities, but they also have an impact on how the message we are sending is being received. The metaphor does not make a neat and tidy transition into written composition;thus, it has splintered into many meanings. "Voice" may be used to refer to a writer's graphical style, his perspective on the world, an outward expression of his true "self," or even simply the recognized assertion of one's opinions.

In Chapter 4 of The Weblog Handbook, Rebecca Blood advocates that nascent bloggers will be best off in their ventures by discovering and employing their "authentic voices." In so doing, she is advancing the notion of voice as perspective: "the writer's unique fusion of interests, enthusiasms, and prejudices--her personality" (59). Simultaneously, Blood suggests some support of the notion of "voice" as a mystical expression of the "real writer": a self that will "emerge" as the writer continues to "honestly stretch . . . to meet the world" (72).

I appreciate and endorse the idea that everyone has a perspective, a point of view, that is (at least somewhat) different than everyone else's. I also think that at base writing is an attempt of a person to assert one's self into the world around her. However, I think it is dangerous to assume that this self, this "voice," will magically emerge. I believe the process is one of negotiation and craft; a writer's real mettle, whether in the blogosphere or on essay exams or even e-mails to loved ones, is forged in reaction to and in concert with the outside world. It is a struggle--a larger one for some than for others.

Blood is certainly an advocate of the continual practice and process of writing, but I do fear that her suggestion to write for "an audience of one" is probably dangerous if it is in fact possible. We are social beings, and the way we view the world and then the way we express that view are shaped by the people we interact with, listen to, and read. Our "selves" as audience members are amalgams of the type of audiences of the sorts of things we like to read and hear. So, I suspect that those who claim to write for themselves and end up finding a broader audience for their work are in fact sophisticated readers who have a rich, well-crafted, multi-faceted "audience of one" reviewing their work. But before burgeoning writers can write for their "audience of one," they must themselves become audience members of many, many other writers.

And, I suspect that as if by, ahem, magic, they will find their "voices" strengthen in the process. But it won't be a cakewalk.

Incidentally, if your writing truly had a "voice," would it have the tonal qualities like your actual voice, or do you imagine it as sounding like someone else?

Me, I like to think of my voice as a Groucho Marx sneer belted out by an early-'80s Steve Perry.

I'd never want to join an arena rock band that would have me as a member
Stretching to meet the world, indeed.

* Thank you, Mr. Show "Subway" sketch.

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