Finding a voice

One of the first tenets of writing I hear from so many writers is to find your voice. For years I wondered what that really meant. And then over time, maybe because I have gotten older and have had more life experience, I finally realized exactly what that meant. Okay, I know I’m a slow learner.

I believe life is a series of experiences that informs the way we see the world and how we think. I meditate in part so that I do not dig a rut in my brain and get stuck in the same thinking patterns behaviors and reactions. This is so that I can continue to be informed, or as some people put it learn. Presence in theory softens the brain, expands and enriches the experiences of life down to the minutiae. Another word I really have come to like, minutiae, precise details. I find that as I have gotten older, I have done my best to maintain softness, and malleability, oh another good word. I have cultivated an ability to appreciate the small things in life – everything from the taste of the first morning cup of coffee, to the first moment meeting a friend. Of course I enjoy the whole experience, but really isn’t experience just a series of combined moments. And if we can be awake to those moments, isn’t that what allows for the enjoyment and richness of life, rather than just the whole picture of that experience or the end game?

This begs the questions what does this have to do with finding a voice? Well if being present is being awake to moments and that in turn is the collection that is experience, this then informs what we want to say and how we want to say it within a context, which is never the same. We all have that voice inside. Unfortunately, I like many were unaware of it for a very long time. On rare occasions there are a fortunate few that tap into and express that voice in a myriad of ways from early on in their life. I have come to the conclusion that this is art. Art is nothing more than someone who has tapped into a voice.

A writer’s voice is expressed in words. If you pay attention when you read the written word, you can get a sense of their voice and in many cases feel the collection of life experiences. Other times it is a certain perspective in the way they view the world told through the characters. Others have a way to paint pictures with words evoking feelings and image, even though these are not words per se.

Painters have a voice. We see it in the paintings. At various times in a painter’s career you can get a sense of what they are trying to say. Some have internal conflicts that need to get flushed out, which is done through their art. There tends to be reoccurring themes during certain periods of an artists lifetime. In my opinion the great artists of the centuries allowed the collection of experiences and change of voice over time to inform the way in which they expressed themselves.

I see this in so many forms of art. An actor chooses roles, or as they are fond of saying, “the role chooses me.” During the arc of their career the roles usually change just as the voice of the painter changes over time informing their choices. Although I haves seen many actors try and hold on to that voice and choose similar and familiar roles, when life is asking for them to make the transition. The result is they become caricatures of themselves.

Musicians have a voice whether classical or rock and everything in between. The way in which they play is being attuned to the voice. Of course lyrics are the musician’s voice. But so is the instrument. You can feel a well tuned in musician playing their instrument. It is what makes the greats great! Of course anyone can play an instrument if they practice enough, the difference is having a connection to the voice inside wanting to find expression. Perhaps this is part of the equation of being talented. Not only that of course, hard work, persistence and a little luck from the universe.

Whatever form voice takes, staying in tune is fraught with challenges. How does one stay connected? Often times we see artists lose their way due to mental illness, fame, drugs, alcohol, other obstacles along the way or for none other than they lost their voice. Maybe the voice just needs a break and part of the process is to rediscover a new voice as it goes into hiding or an incubation period accumulating more of life experience before coming out when it’s ready. And when it does re-emerge the voice is brand new with new ideas and perspectives. Some look for the same voice, or force it to be the same. This does not usually work. You can see it, read it or hear it in all genres of art. Some call it cliché. Others call it a caricature of themselves. These are artists unwilling to allow for change and holding on to the past in hopes that it will carry them along.

I don’t know what it is, but for the longest time I have been interested in the creative process. I enjoy reading about artist’s creative process. It does not matter to me what form of art, just artists in general. Some are candid about discussing the process. Others are private, which I respect. It really is an individual process, and not everyone goes about it the same way.  I think initially I was interested to get a sense of whether or not there was some commonality in the process of how they go about creating so that I can incorporate that into what I do. I found my own way. When I started to write, I realized that like many writers, routine is important. Routine comes in many forms. Some are very strict in their routine and any deviation from that throws off their creative process. I wonder if this is really true, or they just hold on so tight that really all it is doing is creating suffering. And that suffering is what throws them off or allows them to create. Others are a little more matter of fact about their approach.

In my case, I have come to realize through trial and error, or maybe experimentation is a better word, that there are a few things I need to do for my process. At first I need time to warm up. I am doing that right now as I type this. I also like to have a cup of coffee near me.  And also I find I write best between the hours of 9 am and 11, so for two-hour stretches at a time at most, although recently I have begun writing in the afternoons. However, I do not write constantly. I have found I write for ten-minute spurts, wait for it to well up again and then start again. I do this over and over. Of course writing is not my main gig, so I need to learn to be flexible with my writing periods. Today, Saturday I am trying to write between 1:00 and 3:00 while my son is at soccer. Also at some point I will get up early, 5:30 meditate and then write from 6:00 until 7:30. A little less than two hours.

This leads me to the next point and like all art, it is about building momentum. What does this mean? Well the point is to write everyday. And I do not need to get stuck on two hours. Life is not so convenient to always allow for two-hour windows of writing time. I need to be flexible. The point is even if it is an hour or more, do it everyday. And like meditation, when the brain says I don’t want to do it, you take breath let the moment pass and just write. Or simply JUST DO IT.

I will end my warm up for today with one more point. I do not propose I know where this writing will lead me. Like the love story script I spent months writing in Washington Square park in NYC years ago, this could be something I just need to do to feed the creative part of my life and flesh or flush out ideas and whatever else happens to be floating around on the inside. Or this could be more than that. I just need to be open to the voice and enjoy the journey and moment-to-moment experience of writing. I do know I feel connected to my heart, something on the inside gets fired up and I feel alive, feel the love, the connectedness of it all. Ok, a part of me wants to judge that as cheesy, but it’s true and something I don’t want to deny. I do have a sense where we are going with it, but truly the destination remains to be seen.


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