The Role of a Creative Voice

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Synopsis

Part of the job of a professional creator is to know when to let your creative voice speak up and when to shut it down.

It took me weeks to write the first few chapters of Imperfect Spirituality. Every word was hard. The transitions stilted. Each paragraph sounded like the monotone voice of some ancient scientist that nobody ever really listened too.

I was writing a book that even I didn’t want to read. Not fun. Not engaging. The writing was drab, and dry. So was I. Think gray tones across the board.

One night I asked my husband to read a few pages from that first chapter.

“Well?”

“It’s okay. Good information here,” he said. “But it just doesn’t sound anything like you. There is no personality here.”

A-HA

He was right. I was so consumed with doing it right, including all the research, wowing with my first book, that I’d filtered out anything that sounded, well, like me. The science was good. The information solid, but the book had no personality. No voice.

Finding Your Voice

Of course, it takes a whole lot of courage to put yourself on the page and then let it out, into the world. It’s not always comfortable nor is it technically easy. Finding your writing voice, for example, is a much different process than writing down words the way you say them.

But this is the work of creation right? Anybody can color in the lines, but most will not have the vision to take that coloring page and shape it into a mixed-medium collage. Most of us can throw together scrambled eggs, but without a recipe, (and even then it's unlikely) I could never figure how to meld those same ingredients into a crème fraiche, smoked salmon egg tart.

And we need the egg and crème fraiche tart people. That is the art.

The art is not in parroting what everyone else says. It’s finding a way to say it how you say it. To paint it with your flair. To lead with your unique experience. To create and share an aspect of self on the page or in the print or in the kitchen or woodshop or laboratory or in the corporation.

The artistic flair isn’t something you concoct, it’s something you release.

Scary, right?

As long as I was writing like a smarty-pants scientist I could keep some distance from the material – and the audience. I could present the facts and research without feeling exposed and vulnerable. This was safe, sure, but not at all fulfilling.

When I realized that fear was keeping me from being authentic on the page, I faced it. And started over, as myself. This time the writing flowed.

My Voice on the Page

In the end, instead of starting Chapter 1 with: “It can be difficult to keep your spirits up when life is filled with adversity, but psychologists say positive moods are important for our health.”

I wrote this: “I’m pretty sure Buddha never had to deal with a raisin up his kid’s nose. But I have. Raisins up the nose and other real-life moments are routine around here in my messy, chaotic, interesting life.”

No matter your medium – whether you are creating an innovative box design for your shoe company or a piece for a gallery show, whether you are running a household and writing in your spare time or creating web designs – each piece and project will reflect at least a little of you. So, use your voice wisely.  

Three Voice-y Things to Remember

Do not create it, let it loose. What? This is no strategy. Seriously. I want to find my unique way of communicating with the world NOW. I know, right?

This plagued me for years. I wanted to make it happen. But voice takes time. It emerges as we explore our work and our lives. This doesn’t mean your work will be without a unique style it just means that your truest voice will emerge over time with a distinction, depth, and clarity that can only come from doing the work. Give it time.

Be flexible. What we have to offer and how we present our work changes all the time. Sometimes day-to-day, hour to hour. Your voice should reflect that.

Often the audience drives this change. You probably don’t talk to your mom the same way you do your lover (?!). It’s likely you prepare meals differently if you’re cooking dinner for diplomats, or for a table of six-year-olds. You’ll think about your presentation differently if you are creating for a gallery show, or the living room of a modern home.

While unique aspects of your style and voice will follow you around from piece to piece, it’s your job to find appropriate ways to express your work to each different audience. Know your audience. Know your work. And find a voice flexible enough to speak for both.

Sometimes, you’ve got to shut it down. Much of what I write are magazine articles for a variety of different publications. These pieces sound different than my books, because each magazine has its own voice. So, when I’m hired to write for those guys, I sound, well, a little more like them. I shut down some of my attitude and tone. That’s part of the job. If you are going to make a living writing – and I do – you gotta know when to show up as yourself and when to write clear, solid, compelling pieces for the other guys and their audiences. 

When working with your creative voice, then, you’ve got to know when to let the swagger in and when to keep it quiet.

 

Follow Polly Campbell on Twitter - @PLCampbell

Tags: creativity tips, flow, personality, polly campbell, voice, writing, writing process

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