Saturday, June 4, 2011

Write like you speak: Your voice

"Grandma, you talk like a teacher!"
Yes, I do! When I started writing my memoir, Jasmine, far right in this picture, my grandchild, was just a pre-teen. I shared a couple of entries with her and her reaction saved me lots of re-write.  I was not trying to sound like a teacher, but that's how I tended to talk in and out of the classroom.

I was writing these pieces for my family, and that comment of Jasmine helped me refocus.

Use your own voice, the person you are with your family. You are writing for them.
Unless, of course, you are a famous....and your publisher has assured you that your memoir will be sold by the millions of copies to all your adoring fans. What do they expect?  Your famous persona.

For most of us, that expectation is not there. We are who we are and we only have to please those people for whom these memoir pieces are written.

Write like you speak.
Write so your family can recognize you.
Write so you see your soul in the words you choose.


  1. this is a very difficult one, rosaria, isn't it? for i'm not even sure of that voice and how it relates to who i am and how i process things. i was with my children the other day a the beach and i wondered on my lack of words, how often the me that i identify most with, is quiet with them. and again in a letter to my mother. i realized how often i am not present. i let my shoulders down and let the real me spill out. it is surprising who exactly is present and who is not. and so this is an extremely important question to ask even before we write - but as we live.


  2. Oh, I write like I speak ... it's not always good, but it's me.

  3. I think in writing. Read that statement as if I were saying, I think in Spanish. That's the way I mean it. Very often I find myself looking at a scene and describing it in my mind as if I were writing it. This trait concerns me. I'd rather be living the moment and then voicing it. Instead, I'm voicing it more than I'm living it.
    So, I write like my mind has been typing it, all day, and that may not be the most authentic voice. Can't seem to stop it, though. Does anybody else do this?

  4. When I read what I have written it always sounds like my own voice to me! But not necessarily the voice that is mine when I'm talking to those nearest and dearest. I write from a voice that feels as though it comes from some other more authentic part of me.

  5. My writing voice varies depending on what I write about. I suspect this is why I have such a hard time writing certain kinds of things - but the result is usually quite pleasing to me and to others. In real life I can be quite inarticulate, unless all the planets are lined up and particularly if I'm talking about something that I'm very interesting in. Voice is quite problematic, though. I was very interested in dianefaith's comment - I can see that she is bothered by what she does, but to me she is reacting to scenes as the writer she is. A kind of detached writer's analysis of life - not a bad thing!

  6. It comes down to this: for whom do you write? If your audience is your boss, then you have to address this, understand the needs he has, the opinion he has of you and your work, the expectations he has of the final product.

    A memoir is really just for your family, the present one and the future one. Your family will hold on to your writings for generations, discussing incidents and traits you authored.

    They will decipher the kind of person you were from how you write, and the tone you have. Friendly, caring, professional, authoritative, humble, haughty, flippant, flamboyant, imaginative...all these adjectives will be extrapolated from your voice, your tone, the phrases and vocabulary you use.

    Once you become a writer, you will be more attuned to other writers. You will appreciate the workmanship, the artistry, the smoothness, the fluency you see in others' writing and will attempt to improve yours by imitating a bit.

    Ultimately, relax, this task will not be evaluated in any way. Those who read you already know you.

    Just be yourself.

  7. This is it, isn't it!! Finding and staying true to your authentic voice is the secret to good writing, I think.

    I find that when I get stuck, when I am not sure where my writing is going, I lose my authenticity and I get stuck, words don't flow.

    When I am being authentic, the words flow. I can feel the difference.

    Now, my big question, what gets in the way of being authentic?

    Thoughtful post (and beautiful family!)

  8. Answering Marion:

    Fear gets in the way of our authenticity. When we worry about not being enough, not saying enough, pleasing everyone.

    It's just you and your soul you have to satisfy. If you like what you wrote, if it feels to you that it has the qualities you admire, then, you have been the person you are.

  9. You are addressing the writing of memoir, and of course the question of voice is essential for any writing. I struggle with this at times, when I am overly conscious of it. Often I will write a poem, then I will "listen" to it through the ears of certain loved ones and friends whom I respect and ask myself: Would s/he find it authentic? What this helps me do is to reflect on myself and my voice, and whether I have truly been real, and not affectatious.


  10. Ha ha. So hard not to put on the teacher voice when you've been using it in the classroom. I'm glad you found me so I can learn more about memoir writing. I'm planning to start a travel memoir soon.


  11. Travel memoirs are the best!
    They tend to be light and airy and simply entertaining.
    They are a great way to get started in first person narratives.
    Remember though, the reader is interested on how you experienced the Great Sights! Tell us yous emotional reaction.

    (As an aside, I wrote Unnamed Madonnas-right here on this blog-as a reaction to my own travel memoir narratives. I returned to my travel notes and wrote a story with the perspective of someone who had connections to that land.)