Monday, June 26, 2017

Voice in Memoir and Creative Nonfiction

What can possibly be more important than a writer cultivating an authentic voice? Nothing, really, for without voice our words remain a collection of floating pieces, thoughts and memories with no anchor. 

Who are we? Does our personality come through on the page through our language use and word choice? Can a reader say: "I know this voice. It is unique to this writer."

As one writer said after our Women’s Writing Circle "Voice Lessons" workshop this past weekend: “What I brought today was openness and anticipation. What I’m taking away is greater recognition of the importance of using my voice.”

The alchemy of creativity hums in a collaborative community of writers. It fosters confidence and clarity that voice is unique to the writer. In a rapidly changing world of turmoil, a writer’s authentic voice becomes ever more invaluable.

Tips on finding voice.
Listen to yourself because if you can't, you can't listen to others.
Dig deep into what has been silent.
Be uplifted by the creations of each other.
It is a gift to write because it wasn't that long ago there were (and still are) places where women were not allowed to do so.
Write what you are dedicated to, passionate about, and emotionally invested.
Accept what it feels like to stand in a happy place where you are validated and your voice loved. 
Perhaps, no genre better allows us to explore our voice than creative nonfiction (which includes memoir). Told in first person (‘I’) narrative, the genre offers the writer the opportunity to explore experiences and topics of significant interest, using literary devices common to the novel and the play.

In our workshop, we discussed the personal essay to honor and hone our voice. There’s a lot on the Internet about the personal essay, including this from the blog Find Your Creative Muse:

  • It is based on a personal experience in which you have gained significant meaning, insight, or learned a lesson. It can also be based on a milestone or life-altering event.
  • It is personal narrative. The writer tells the story by including dialogue, imagery, characterization, conflict, plot, and setting.
  • It is written in the first person. (“I” point-of-view).
  • It is an autobiographical story in which the writer describes an incident that resulted in some personal growth or development.
  • A personal essay is a glimpse of the writer’s life. The writer describes the personal experience using the scene-building technique, weaves a theme throughout the narrative, and makes an important point. There must be a lesson or meaning. The writer cannot just write an interesting story.
We borrowed quotes from Mary Pipher’s book Writing to Change the World as prompts for our free write. I’d like to share those for your use (with gratitude to Women’s Writing Circle author and member Flo Shore for compiling them):

Our work is about something much bigger and more important than we are. In the long run success means we secure a place in the pantheon of people who care about ideas.

Success is not about fame or ideas; it is having our ideas discussed by other people.

Metaphors are paths into something much older and deeper than we are. They are one of the most powerful ways to express the wholeness of our ideas.

Tolstoy’s definition of wealth was “the number of things we can do without.”

Long after buildings and aqueducts crumble writer’s words live on.

Writers are cultural brokers for the world of ideas.

Writers pay attention to both the internal and the external landscape.


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I thank the wonderful women who attended our "Voice Lessons" workshop. I thank them for their willingness to explore their lives, their memories and their voice ... and let me share mine, including my own personal essay on the Women's March on Washington.

As one woman wrote, “I walk away with the knowledge that there is no ‘right’ voice―there are multiple voices and multiple perspectives based on time and place in life.”

Special thanks to Flo and Jan for feeding the hungry afterwards with an excellent Mediterranean repast of humus, cheeses, olives, salad, grapes, and chocolate. Brava and job well done!

What about you? Can you share an experience, a memory that offered you a chance to let your voice ring out?
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