Trouble Finding Your Voice? Try Memoir

I used to have a lot of questions, like “When should I add in detail, and how much detail is too much?” And “How can I know when to use free indirect discourse?” My writing teachers didn’t have good answers to these questions and neither did the writing textbooks I came across.

But then, at a mentor’s suggestion, I started writing a memoir about leaving the Mormon church and walking away from my family. (Handy Tip: when someone tells you that you’ve brought Satan into their home, that’s probably a good time to go.) And the more I wrote about the most painful moments of my life, the more often and more naturally I added asides, details, even stream of consciousness.

Voice is more central to these techniques than most writing textbooks admit. See, writing is not the same as thought, but–much thanks to the modernists–it strives to emulate thought and even speech. And the voice which with each one of us thinks is, I would argue, as unique as a thumbprint. Its rhythms and vocabulary and attitude are a reflection of personality, worldview, experience, education, and intelligence.

So, if you’re a writer struggling to sound different from all the writers you’ve read or simply stuck with the uneasy feeling that your prose isn’t really you, try it. Write a hundred pages about the secrets you’ve never told anyone, the grief that still hasn’t healed, the sins you’ve committed for which the shame has only sharpened. You’ll be talking to yourself about yourself, trying to make sense of the madness of your experience. And that’s where you’ll find it.

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