"Does my voice sound too twangy?” That’s the question I asked fellow writers last week in a writer’s group I attend monthly. As an author, I am always concerned about my writer’s voice, but this time - it was my actual speaking voice that had me apprehensive.
Two weeks ago, I attended a creative, non-fiction essay workshop in Belfast and someone from that group invited me to publish my work on a community radio station in the Downeast and Midcoast areas. I accepted the invitation but admitted to my new friend that I still speak with a Kansas inflection and may not be able to pull off that “NPR” tone. She assured me that all would be fine. “The way you speak is what will add to the depth of your stories,” she said.
My writing group friends echoed her sentiment. Despite their encouragement, I was still not convinced. To help soothe my concerns, the group recorded me as I read one of my essays. Their feedback? I didn’t sound anything like myself. “You start out in your natural speaking voice but then changed to a softer, less impassioned version of you.” I was instructed to go home and listen to the recording.
I did as they recommended and was surprised to discover that what they believed wasn’t my voice, I believed was and it is exactly how I hear myself. As a result of this discovery, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about individuality; the way we express our unique style and how we play that out within our communities.
Most of us wish to be liberated individuals, not succumbing to the “sheeple” way of life. However, we also don’t want to disassociate ourselves completely from the family and friends that complete us and are a part of something greater than ourselves.
I think the same is true of language and the way we speak. For example, for me to be a part of something greater, I spoke with an intonation and dialect as others around me. Not only did I speak that way to be a part of a whole, but as I learned during my days of linguistic study - I did that to be understood in an agreed upon language. This is true for everyone, not only for me.
So, in a sense - our voices and our language belong to everyone. It’s not just ours alone and it offers a bit of the familiar. This familiarity provides the springboard into our individuality - our unique voice.
The same can be said of my “NPR” radio voice, or the lack there of. The listeners of that community radio station turn on that program to hear the familiar. That doesn’t mean I should change my speaking voice but I might be careful to speak so I can be understood. I should do my best to refrain from speaking “tin” when I mean “ten” or “buuuuuk” when I mean “book”.
So, if you happen to ever be in a quandary over your individual voice (written, spoken or otherwise), I hope my little predicament and my little discovery helps you in some way.