No one writes like Toni Morrison. Her characters, word choices, and flair for changing subjects in the middle of a thought was her narrative stamp. No one critiques race, gender and class like bell hooks. She makes you focus on the subject while you question your own viewpoint. And, then there is Pearl Cleage — playwright, essayist, novelist, activist — a straight up storyteller. Each woman I named flexes her own authentic storytelling voice. Close your eyes and listen to their words unfold on the page. Each writer has her own verbal twist, cadence and style. They bring themselves to the work unapologetically allowing the audience to experience the fullness of the work and the author.
This is my second nugget: Write with your own voice.
Hidden Authentic Gem
Many years ago while working on a ghostwriting job, my client shared that it was good that my writing voice was so bland because he could add things to the work and no one would know the difference. I think he called himself giving me a compliment. It wasn’t. It was a straight up dis that I’ve never forgotten. But, I’ve learned from it. No one wants to read bland writing. People want a uniquely told story with suspense, comedy, shock and awe. They want to ooh and ahh with the work and remember particular characters or a well-told line of dialogue. The audience wants to be so drawn in that they lose track of time and forget to eat.
When writers first start out, we mimic the voices of writers we read because it is their stories that inspire us to create in the first place. Eventually, though, we find our own rhythms. But as the years go on, if we don’t “hit it big,” then we may pick projects for the money. Face it. The artist life is cute when you’re younger, because you can stomach living meagerly until that big break comes. However, what if that “big break” takes a while or if what you think is the “big break” happens, but fizzles? What then?
I began the noble profession of ghostwriting and book editing because it allowed me the ability to flex my writing muscles and make a living. I didn’t always have to work another job to enjoy my craft. My clients had great stories to tell, they just needed help in telling them. Doing so gave me an opportunity to keep sharpening my skills. It also meant putting my writing voice aside so I could use my client’s voice. After all, my client’s name was on the book, not mine. After the work was finished, my clients mentioned me in the acknowledgement section. When I first started ghostwriting, that was enough. I got satisfaction from helping people tell their stories and earning a living for my words. Referrals kept me busy. I never questioned doing this type of work until that client hit me with his backhanded compliment.
Unleashed Infinite Potential
No writer wants his/her work to feel “vanilla.” The stories we read, watch and experience aren’t bland. All dance with the unique life flavors the writers infuse in the stories. Characters grip us, storylines intrigue us and dialogue either makes us laugh or cry. Writers should be passionate on the page. We must leave our own distinct stamp on the work that no other writer would ever think of doing, saying, or revealing.
Remember in the movie When Harry Met Sally when Sally fakes an orgasm at the restaurant table to prove a point to Harry and the customer behind her tells the waiter, “I’ll have what she’s having”? That movie was released in 1989, but I remember the line because it made me laugh. Or, maybe you’ve read the book Push by Sapphire. The first line from the book says, “I was left back when I was twelve because I had a baby for my fahver.” This is a memorable line, because I knew the book’s journey was going to hurt. As a I reader, I had to decide if I was ready to embark on that path. Both scenes stick out in my mind because of the way the writers flip the moment and the dialogue. The moments are incredibly vulnerable. As a reader, I am drawn to that type of nakedness. As a writer, I strive for it.
It is the in the nakedness when the storyteller allows readers/viewers to connect with their own humanity. That is the magic of writing. We leave our humanity on every page of the story. We share the humanness of the moment giving the audience something to feel. The only way this is truly accomplished is when we tell our stories through our own perspectives with our own voices. Our audience eagerly waits for our words. Oftentimes, our stories may be the journey a reader/viewer needs to understand his/her own life. Each story written should be a global invitation to experience our souls. If we don’t believe we are boring people, should our writing be boring, or as my former client said so long ago...bland? No. So, don’t leave yourself out of the writing. Bring yourself to the table. The world salivates for your tasty verbal flavors.