Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

More on Voice


While reading to the creative writing students about voice this weekend, I found myself getting a little choked up. It’s embarrassing at the best of times to cry in public, but to well up and start snuffling while teaching is a bit much.

It was these words of Holly’s about fear that did it:

If your heart is beating fast and your palms are sweating and your mouth is dry, you’re writing from the part of yourself that has something to say that will be worth hearing. Persevere. I’ve never written anything that I’ve really loved that didn’t have me, during many portions of the manuscript, on the edge of my seat from nerves, certain that I couldn’t carry off what I was trying to do, certain that if I did I would so embarrass myself that I’d never be able to show my face in public again — and I kept writing anyway.

At the heart of everything that you’ve ever read that moved you, touched you, changed your life, there was a writer’s fear. And a writer’s determination to say what he had to say in spite of that fear.

So be afraid. Be very afraid. And then thank your fear for telling you that what you’re doing, you’re doing right.

Voice is born from a lot of words and a lot of work — but not just any words or any work will do. You have to bleed a little. You have to shiver a little. You have to love a lot — love your writing, love your failures, love your courage in going on in spite of them, love every small triumph that points toward eventual success. You already have a voice. It’s beautiful, it’s unique, it’s the voice of a best-seller. Your job is to lead it from the darkest of the dark places and the deepest of the deep waters into the light of day.

I know that fear. Only too well. When I first started blogging, I used to shake. When I first started writing, it was as terrifying for me as it is for a novice skier pushing off down a black slope. It was scary because I was putting myself on the line, because I was saying the things I’d always wanted to say, because I was finally self-identifying as a “writer”.

And I credit blogging with getting me there. All the posts I’ve written here, all the playing around with memes and lists and making friends and writing about writing, have helped me develop confidence  as a writer and a voice. It’s been my playground.

What I so wanted to impress on the creative writers at the weekend workshop is that our voices – the part that makes us all unique – are already right there. Voice is not something to fight or search for. It’s a matter of being oneself. There was an amazing moment during the workshop when the individual voices really shone out. We did an exercise on point of view and they had to rewrite Cinderella in third person from the point of view of one of the Ugly Sisters, or Snow White from the POV of one of the dwarves. Plot was a given. The outline was already there. The characters were fully formed. All the writers had to do was give them a voice. And they did it brilliantly. Even though nine of them chose to write Grumpy’s story, each Grumpy was fabulous and unique.

As Holly says, it’s just a matter of harnessing that voice and leading it out into the light of day.

No matter how damn scary that can be.

P.S. Although I’m deep in revisions, I’m joining my friend Melissa from The Book or Bust in her Month of Making Things Up. Let us know if you want to play.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

16 thoughts on “More on Voice

  1. I’m so impressed by your morning pages, Charlotte. And although I can’t do more than just revise, I went over to Melissa’s blog and signed up. What you’ve written about how voice is a matter of finding your own true self is a wonderful observation. Lucky students to have you! xo

  2. So true, Charlotte, about voice and fear. Blogging has been good for me to stand up in the world and say “hey, world, I’m a writer”… which feels odd and absurd, especially after I played it straight in Corporate jobs with benefits for so many years. But the blog has helped me hear what I sound like, and the comments especially help me think about what my words mean or don’t mean to whomever is reading. There is much more value to blogging than I ever thought, although I have to keep the time I spend on it in check. Hence the Month of Making Things Up! So glad you’re along for it. Good luck!

  3. If fear is the criteria, then I’m rocking. 😉

  4. I’m always a little giddy when I find someone else obsessed with morning pages. *high five* I snuck over her from Mel’s page. Wish I could join you wild women in the month of making stuff up, but timing is bad. And I love that passage from Holly. You may have just given me the gumption I need to tackle the next phase of my book…

  5. I want to come on the course too … Is there an online version?

  6. I can’t wait to read your book Charlotte. If your blog is anything to go by, I bet it will be great (no pressure)!

  7. Hi Charlotte,

    We are huge fans of Charlotte’s Web over at Glam Media! We’re one of the top 10 online media companies in the US and would love for you to help pilot our new Family Blogging Community, slated to launch in the coming months.

    If you’re interested in making valuable connections with Moms like you, please contact me about joining this community we’re building.


    Sandy Hayashi
    Community Partners Editor
    Glam Media

  8. I love that Charlotte. All the best Sean Lib

  9. Good post, with plenty of food for thought. But … ah, there’s also the other side of the coin: blogging can (and does) reveal a voice that nobody wishes to hear! It has certainly taught me I am not a writer – a valuable, albeit painful, exercise all the same.

    And, yes, everybody has an individual, readily-identifiable voice: they just have to put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard – and there it is, loud and clear, through the words.

  10. OK, this is why I love you!!! This post right here.

    One of the best things I have ever read about voice – and in fact, may I quote you next time I teach a food writing workshop?? Brilliant brilliant brilliant.

  11. You certainly may, Jeanne!

  12. Isn’t Grumpy the most interesting of the dwarves? Voice, or finding the voice for my two main characters is what I’m wrestling with most at the moment.

  13. Pingback: 2011 in First Lines « Charlotte's Web

  14. Somehow I missed this post the first time you wrote it. I’m glad it came up under your 2011 First Lines post. What you said here is brilliant. I think I am going to print it out and carry it with me, to remind me while I am rereading my first draft, to look where I’m honest in my writing – where I’m writing what’s true, for me. What a lovely and true post, Charlotte! We already have our voices, and it’s when we feel what we are writing, then our readers will too. Especially the parts that make us feel vulnerable and open, revealed.

  15. Although more than a year has gone by – and I’m now fully working and somewhat removed from creative writing society – I still think about that weekend a lot. The memory of this brief but very productive time means so much to me!
    I’m working on different ideas, but my discipline to actually write something is sadly lacking. Any tips for full-time workers on establishing a writing routine?

    If you ever come to Munich (again) – I’d love to meet you again.

    Greetings by the girl who studied Japan and should write about it.

  16. hi Chisa, thanks for stopping by – yes, you should be writing about Japan! I am also working full-time now, so finding writing time is hard. My strategy is to get up earlier than everyone else in the house every morning and write for an hour.

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