Yes, this is another tone and voice article. You’ve heard it before, you’ve read about it more than just once. A story about finally discovering your tone and voice as a writer. Blah, blah, blah, snooze, snore. Right?
Well, maybe not. A true story about to happen here y’all, so pay attention.
After writing and publishing my first tome, A Balance of Evil, I managed to score a series of book signings in the faraway country of San Antonio, Texas. Well, it was far away ’cause the drive took morin five hours — one way.
Anyway, at one of these book signings, the event coordinator asked if I would be willing to read passages of the book aloud to the hordes of people flocking into the store to purchase my book.
After a quick count of heads, I told the coordinator I had no problem reading to the five people sitting in the folding chairs in front of the podium. So I opened a copy, selected one of my most favorite darlings, and began to read.
Thank God the five, then four, then two people sitting in the chairs weren’t allowed to bring rotten produce into the store. As I struggled to read out loud, I remember wondering to myself how in the h*ll I could have written this, and I began to sweat and stammer even more — big mistake.
Not the stammering and sweating, well yes, the stammering and sweating, but reading my stuff aloud, which seemed much more painful than a tied tongue or failing deodorant.
After the reading debacle was over and I turned it over to the audience for questions, the one remaining gentleman, a rather elderly gent who squinted at me through a pair of coke-bottle thick glasses, asked, “so you’re the writer who wrote that huh?”
I responded in the affirmative, and as he rose to depart, he said, “sonny, maybe you should have used your outside voice when you wrote that. Most of us don’t think or talk that way.”
I stood there in full out embarrassment and even more reluctant agreement. As life has a way of doling out a plethora of life lessons, this became a much-valued learning experience. One that I still, to this day, haven’t forgotten.
I didn’t know how to write with my outside voice. The one I had used since the day my tongue learned to form words and when I first learned to say Supercalafragilisticexpealadotious.
We writers spin up all kinds of creative work in our heads. Somewhere in the grey matter folds of our brains, a glint of an idea sparks dry kindling, and soon enough, we have a bonfire of an idea roaring.
Then we connect that thought to our fingers and hammer it out on a keyboard or scribble it in our writing notebooks. It’s a beautiful thing, this creation process.
Like most of you, when I started oh so many centuries ago, I had neither an established tone nor voice. I didn’t know how to write with my outside voice. The one I had used since the day my tongue learned to form words, and when I first learned to say Supercalafragilisticexpealadotious.
Since the first neolithic grunts about hunting mastodons for dinner were issued, verbal communication between Humans has been the oft-practiced and accepted norm. What I soon discovered when I began to write was that communication through writing is an entirely different sabertooth tiger.
The old man at that book signing was right, of course. When I read passages of my first book aloud, I had no idea who was speaking to me. Yeah, the words were very familiar because I’d written them, but who was doing the talking? It didn’t sound at all like me, the way I’ve communicated all these years with my outside voice.
I didn’t know who the dude behind the words was, but that day at the reading, I realized it certainly wasn’t me. Worse, it didn’t sound anything like what I wanted it to sound, how I wanted to really convey the story to the reader.
And that’s when I immediately began reading aloud everything I wrote. Why? Well, because I had to discover how I talked, the real way my writing sounded when I read it aloud and compare it to the tone and voice in my head I wanted it to be.
My writing needed to align with my voice and tone I used with my outside voice when I was sad, glad, and mad. I needed to understand and train my old noggin to intuitively write that tone, to automatically write that voice I’d been using for years and years and years.
I needed to learn how to write with my outside voice.
After hundreds and thousands of words written down on the page, after years of telling stories and publishing books, I realized if I was ever going to get close to my perception of success, I had to learn. I needed to learn how to write with my outside voice.
It takes years of practice folks, years and years of writing and gauging your inner thoughts against your external words, but it can be done. Actually to become an authentic writer it must be done.
At first, my writing sounded just as stiff and jilted as it always had. It was ragged and messy. Hit and miss. Kind of like that intermittent cellular phone connection you have when you’re out in the boonies away from the nearest cell tower. Some days I would write something, and after reading it aloud, I’d beam with pride. Telling myself, yeap, that’s precisely what I heard in my head.
There were other times when it was like: uh, not so much. Sometimes my attempts to write with my outside voice were so wrong I’d scrap the entire thing, take another of a hundred cleansing breaths and start over.
But I learned, and after repeated attempts, I’m talking thousands upon thousands of written words, I finally managed to sync my outside voice with my inside thoughts.
It takes years of practice folks, years, and years of writing and gauging your inner thoughts against your external words, but it can be done. Actually, to become an authentic writer, it must be done.
I guess I’ll never go back to writing something and then publishing it without reading it aloud first. Although I feel pretty confident my brain intuitively creates using my outside voice now, it never hurts to listen to my words to make sure everything’s still in sync.
So keep writing, and try reading your work aloud. Who knows, maybe you’ll realize just like I did you aren’t writing how you talk, aren’t using that outside voice of yours to communicate.
Not only do our words matter, but our voices do as well.
Thanks So Much For Reading
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© P.G. Barnett, 2020. All Rights Reserved.