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Some of my stories are published in:
A Cup of Comfort Devotional for Mothers and Daughters (Adams Media, 2009)
Chicken Soup: What I Learned from the Dog (2009)
Love is a Flame (Bethany House, 2010)
Extraordinary answers to Prayer (Guideposts, 2010)
Love is a Verb (Bethany House, 2011)
Big Dreams from Small Spaces (Group Publishing, 2012)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Finding My Voice

God blessed me with a wonderful singing voice.
By the time I was ten years old, I already had a mature sound: bell-like tones, accurate pitch, musicality, notes into the soprano stratosphere and flexibility like Lily Pons.
There was never any doubt what I would study in college.
I studied at Oberlin College Conservatory and went on to finish my Master of Music at the University of Michigan.
I never had trouble finding and developing a unique sound. People always told me my sound was distinctive and beautiful. (Most of them had no idea how hard I'd studied and practiced to develop my talent.)
For years I sang as my primary ministry at church.
Well, that was a while ago and my voice has matured to the point that when I hear myself sing (ouch), I kind of remind myself of a tomato that's sat in the fridge a mite too long. It's still tasty, but the loose skin and soft flesh shows signs of being past its prime.

But twelve years ago God called me to another ministry: writing.
My re-direction felt like this: imagine walking down a congested city street in Manhattan, horns blaring, pedestrians talking on their cell phones, street merchants loudly hawking their products. Then you turn a corner and instantly find yourself standing on a noiseless plateau overlooking the Grand Canyon.
That sudden, that dramatically different.
A different world.
Only, maybe not so different.
Because the noisy city street and the quiet, wind-swept Grand Canyon are both vivid sensory experiences.

Both the sound world (singing) and the sight world (reading) require skilled story-telling. 
And your story-telling must be distinctive to be remembered and cherished.

One of my pet peeves is reading a book with a generic style.
I've been to enough vocal student recitals where (it's usually sopranos) the voices all sound the same.

So how do you stand out?

 Lots and Lots of Writing
Finding your own unique story-telling voice isn't that hard. But it takes lots of writing before it begins to emerge.
I think it's because, at first -- just like the student singer --the writer is worrying about craft.
But when the elements of writing begin to sink in and become part of your automatic technique, then the writer relaxes and the unique voice is freed.

Lots and Lots of Reading
Singers listen to other singers. It helps them practice and begin to adopt certain style elements. I remember Christian vocalist, Sandi Patti saying that she went through certain style phases as she was developing her own sound. There was the Barbra Streisand phase, then the Karen Carpenter phase. If you listen to Sandi, you can hear bits and pieces of other famous singers in her voice.
Writers assimilate and adopt other writers' styles. Our "voice" is a product of the assimilation and amalgamations of parents' voices, siblings, friends, teachers, media, great (and not so great) books. We  can't help it. We're verbal creatures, and the more we hear and read, the more we unconsciously apply vocabulary, idioms, metaphors, etc. in our own communications. When I discovered JRR Tolkien's novels, I read them over and over. Now, when I write, I glimpse an occasional Tolkienese in my own sentences. That's okay, as long as his style doesn't hijack my own unique voice.

Find An Example
Discovering distinct authors voices by reading great novels is a great way to help develop your own voice.
The Bible also contains amazing examples of distinct voice. Try comparing the gorgeous style of Job to the no-nonsense style found in Leviticus. And the Apostle Paul's writing is completely distinct from that of James or Peter or John.

How about Jesus's parables? Concise, visual, relate-able. He's the Master story-teller.

Suggestion: try to write a "parable" each day for a month. Pattern them after Jesus's stories. Then go back and read your parables. I'll bet you'll see your distinct voice emerge more clearly by the end of the month.

Here's one of Jesus's concise parables:
"What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough." (Luke 13: 20, 21 NIV Bible)

If God has called you to write, then He will help you find your "voice."
Stay close to Him.
Study His Word.
Study writing.
Practice writing.
It'll come!

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