This past Friday, I led my first creative writing session/seminar/meeting. As the faculty advisor of the student club, I didn’t know exactly what my role was, until the students asked me questions regarding writer’s block.
Writer’s block: when nothing comes out of the brain or the soul or the heart (or all three), and therefore nothing shows up on the page. And, for me, writer’s block means I haven’t found the right voice, to tell whatever tale I am trying to write.
Meanwhile, I am reading the second book to Ursula LeGuin’s “Annals of the Western Shore” series. It’s titled Voices, and is about a highly literate, polytheistic diplomatic people who were conquered years ago by an oral-only, highly monotheistic, martial people. The conquered lost their voice, by way of their books being destroyed and the act of reading being banned. Those who resist underground try to preserve their identity, their voice.
The two coincide in my head: Human communication through words, through concrete, imperfect signs that have not only factual but also emotional and political power. When we are born, we are made for language, will create a language to communicate with another human being if there is not language around (e.g. twins). When we are very small, our voices are what our families’ are, what our societies tell us to speak with. With that voice.
But in becoming our own person, we find what is our own voice. Unique. Idiosynchratic. Individual. The human voice, whether spoken or written or signed, is a powerful thing.
And that is why a writer must find a voice that is true to that fact. For some writers, finding that voice — the narrative voice, the character’s voice — comes easy. For some, like myself, it does not. I write in fits and starts, finding that voice. I think I have found it at first, only to realize that I was mistaken five, ten, thirty pages in, when I get stuck in writer’s block. And more times than not, the block was because I hadn’t found the right voice yet.
I told my students that the best way to be a better writer is to be a better listener and observer. Be open the the world around them, be open to the people, the events of their past, their present. Observe. Listen. And then, be open to themselves as well. Observe. Listen. Sounds easy, one may say.