I am so happy I can barely focus on my own work. A writer I have known for eight years but never met or talked with in person finally showed me her voice. And what a voice!
I wish I could reproduce her work here but I don’t have her permission to and so I will try instead to describe why I feel like the cow that jumped over the moon (a ridiculous nursery rhyme, if ever there was, but oh so delightful in every way). Or perhaps not like the cow but ecstatic that something of wonder has occurred.
This writer and I, we’ve been talking back and forth about writing and voice for the past week or two. She couldn’t figure out how to give agents what they’re looking for as they continue to reject her manuscripts. She’s been writing for thirty-five years. At my request she sent me the first two pages of a manuscript that has been rejected. It was easy to see why: she was nowhere to be found. She was not present in her words–her voice was entirely absent. I told her (reluctantly), if I were an agent, I wouldn’t be able sell these pages as written to a traditional or even well-established independent publisher, because there was nothing in the writing yet to tell me who she is and why it would be important to offer her work to the world at large.
Voice is not a marketing gimmick that agents and publishers are suddenly looking for in a writer who hasn’t been published. The writer’s voice has always been central to great writing and loyal readership.
I suggested an exercise I’ve been practicing for myself and plan to bring to one of my upcoming webinars. I directed it towards her manuscript with my usual disclaimer, “If unhelpful ignore any and all.”
What came back in an email reply earlier today simply blew my mind. If I were able to share her two pages and also the short passage she wrote in her email–triggered by opening a box of spices that transported her back to a faraway country where she had lived until she came to America at the age of thirteen (so this writing was entirely unconnected to her manuscript story)–you would understand why her latest writing struck with the force of a gale wind.
It would be impossible to peg these two very different pieces of writing as having come from the same writer, and yet they did. So what does that say about how we write, and why?
In the one–her ms two pages–craft was there but not life. In the other was nothing but Life, brimful, in every sentence, every image, every word. I could taste and smell and see and feel its riotous colours, its cacophony of sounds and memories jostling one another yet coming together to make a seamless experience that carried me into her world.
Smells and sounds and images enter our senses so fast we’re often unaware in that moment that we’ve been forever transformed. That through our voice we transform our readers. We penetrate their senses.
I am transformed. I can never forget that paragraph of life in her email, filled with the rhythms and cadences that belong solely to her. Her voice, her body memory, her mind. Hers, and hers alone.
This is the power of voice. The rest, as I told her in my reply (meaning the stories she’s concocted so faraway from the truth of who she is), is piffle. Abandon them all at the Gate of Hades and write about Life.
She knows who she is. I am grateful we had a series of conversations that led to the revelation of Her.