BE FEARLESS! A Writing (& Life) Lesson on Fear & Voice
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
|An inspirational quote from my debut novel, THE CHARM BRACELET|
Of the endless things I could teach and preach to writers, learning to overcome fear to channel your true voice tops the list.
Fear is devastating to all of us in life, but especially an author. Too often in our world today, we let fear consume us: It drives our daily lives typically more so than passion. We worry about money. Time. Health. Aging. Our Parents. Our Children. The future.
The same typically holds true in writing. In the beginning stages, we worry about all the things over which we have no control: Whether our writing is good enough, whether we'll make money at it, whether those we love and know – and even those we don't – will like our work.
Awful things happen from head to hands, from brain to fingers to laptop, when we let fear consume us as writers. When emerging authors begin a book, they are drive by that unique voice that runs in their heads – the one only they can hear, the one which drives all of us to tell our story. But before we fully channel that voice, it begins to be drowned out by the call of fear. Too often, we bow down to fear, and that voice becomes diluted, a faint echo of the one that originally sang to us.
I know because it's happened to me. I began my first book, America's Boy – a memoir about growing up different in the Missouri Ozarks but buoyed by the love of family – as a novel. I actually started it as a memoir but grew fearful of pretty much everything, including what my family and hometown would think. I spent a year writing it as fiction, until someone I loved accidentally read it (a nightmare for writers).
When I asked what they thought, the reply was, "If you had dropped this on the street, and I had picked it up, I would never have known you had written it. It sounds nothing like you."
I was stunned. But, in my heart, I knew they were right.
So I started anew. Fearless. I channeled my voice, the funny-sad-poignant-sentimental one that could make my ugly laugh and ugly cry in the course of one paragraph. I finished the book, I queried agents, I received three offers of representation, and that was five books ago.
"Your voice is one-of-a-kind," my literary agent said to me when I signed with her.
Voice is all we have as writers. If you ask any agent, editor, or publisher what he or she is looking for today in a writer or book, they typically will not say the next Harry Potter, Fault in Our Stars, Gone Girl, Jen Weiner or Stephen King: They will say the next great voice.
Voice is the only thing that sets a writer apart from another. I joke there is only so much that separates Sedaris from Shakespeare: We all utilize the same tool belt: Same words, same themes. We all tend to write about the same things, too: Love, faith, family, sex, work, pets, war, death, but it's how we tell those stories that makes us unique.
Anne Lamott is one of my favorite writers and teachers of writing. She explains voice this way to writers, and I do as well: If you were all a choir, and I gave you the lyrics to the same song, and stood up here and listened to you sing, from a distance, it would largely sound the same. You'd be singing the same words, hopefully together and in tune. But if I dropped a microphone over each of your heads, the song would sound totally different: The sound of your voice, the way you interpret those exact same words would be uniquely you. A writer must do just that, except silently, on paper.
But the drumbeat of fear silences too many emerging voices. I teach a number of writing workshops, where I help emerging and established authors on their craft and their manuscripts. I am proud to have helped numerous writers have their manuscripts published by major publishers. But I am more proud of the fact that I help souls overcome the fear that keeps them from not only pursuing their passion but also from channeling that unique voice that calls to them.
Write because you have to write, no matter what anyone else thinks. Tell that story in your head that yearns to be told, that begs to get out, no matter what anyone says or thinks.
Let your voice be heard, and I guarantee you'll be amazed at how many people will respond not only to your talent but also your fearlessness.