About Me

Monday, February 21, 2011

Trusting Your Voice

When we find our voice and trust it, we have that special thing that both differentiates our work and makes it solid. It will be like no other; it will be honest, and it will be among the best. ~ Annie King

Terresa, at the Chocolate Chip Waffle, has a great discussion going on at her site about the benefits of hard work, and the need to not give up, when your creative efforts do not meet your expectations, in a post titled, I Wish Someone Told Me, based on this quote by Ira Glass:

"Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.

A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through."

-Ira Glass

As Terresa's posts always do, the quote got me thinking, and this is part of my response:

"Sometimes, just saying to ourselves, I am good enough, is what makes it happen. At some point, we need to judge our own work by no other standard but our own: Does this say what I want it to say, and is this the way I want to say it?

The best poems, performances, and works of art arrive from that confident place when we are in harmony with our own inner voice; they come from the heart, and not necessarily through any prompt or synthesis. So my best advice to anyone, along with learning your craft, is to learn to trust yourself, and your voice will be your own.

Ira Glass says, 'We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have.' I think that special thing is the writer's or artist's own voice, and when we find our voice and trust it, we have that special thing that both differentiates our work and makes it solid. It will be like no other; it will be honest, and it will be among the best."

- Annie King

Another thing that I said in the comments is that I agree, the only way to get there is hard work. Those of us who are creative people have a certain mind set that makes us sensitive to the world and what it has to offer- the subtleties of color, shades of emotion, multiple points of view. Our sensitivities manifest themselves in works of art, expressed through everything from poetry to prose to paintings to songs to performances.

Are there times when you feel you are "in tune" with your inner self, and the resulting work, in that moment, is the best you can achieve, and you are satisfied? I have had such moments of satisfaction, where I have stopped saying, is it good enough, and I have said, it is good.

Is the entire body of my work good? No, but my novels are far from finished. I've written some successful poems and stories. Other poems and stories have their moments of success; it may only be a sentence, or a paragraph. I think if we can recognize those moments, we can keep on, and that all of our efforts are worth it.

Everyone here that I visit, I see that special authenticity in your writing, most of you consistently, and all of you much of the time. I'm trying something that Terresa often does with her posts. I am asking a question of the reader:

Do you find it to be true that there are times when your inner voice matches your achievement, and you are satisfied?

Do you find trusting your "own voice" gets you to that place where you want to be, with your work?

Do you have any advice for the rest of us, besides the hard work, of writing, writing, writing (or painting, or composing) - that gets you to that place where your "taste" matches your creation?

Feel free to respond to the quote, the questions, or the concepts in any way you choose. I have some great quotes from Carson McCullers about her creative process here, and repeated at Flowering Dream.


  1. Hi Annie!

    As you know, my creative process is more in the visual arts than the writing arts, but creativity knows no boundaries.

    I have found that 'time' is a tempering (or tampering) agent in the process. Recently I've been reworking my portfolio and have had to endure analyzing some of my old and newer works. Some that I thought were awful years ago, I now find are decent. And pieces that I created weeks ago, feeling really good about, are now hard to look at. Six months or a year from now could reverse those feelings.

    One of the lessons I derive from this phenomena is to just bully through the creative process and finalize the result—good, bad or ugly. Let it stand the test of time, or not. Basically, don't fall in love with the work, but don't detest it either. Just keep creating and when the work is done, set it aside without judgement. People with deadlines don't have that luxury—their editors or clients will judge it for them. That's another topic for another time.

    I don't think I answered your questions, but it's what came to mind and I'm not gonna judge it—good, bad or ugly.

  2. I am sure you are right, Annie. Confidence plays a great part in the creative act. As one who lacks it entirely, I can say I feel it would help a lot. I also believe that we are all can be dualistic about this, and have times of high confidence and times of deep self-doubt.

  3. Hi Annie,

    Great, stimulating post. You do them so well. I'd like to come back to this later but for now, if I could just say again, hard work, yes, but also persistence and faith in one self. Because I'm a perfectionist (though I'm not as bad as I was in my youth) it's hard to know when it's time to say, stop! This is your best, you've met your potential and so forth. Thank you for the links. I'm going to find a bit of time later, they sound really helpful. :)

  4. I think confidence is part of the answer but not all of it. I am fairly confident in my voice and feel that my voice is consistent. Most of the time it does exactly what I set out for it to do. However that doesn't mean it always transcends into art. In some ways my confidence in (or commitment to?) my voice may be holding me back from doing just that.

    In photography, where I am so completely in the beginner/novice stage, every once in a while a shot will do what I wanted it to do. I am beginning to see a visual voice develop. However there are also times when a shot does something I've never dreamed of; something I did not consciously try for. I think this freedom may be missing from my writing voice.

    Not sure if this answers your questions but thanks for the post. It got me thinking.

  5. Hi Thom,

    You answered them beautifully, and from the perspective of an accomplished professional. I like your advice, and I know that feeling of- the work is done. I like the concept of time being a tempering, or a tampering agent.

    In my case, I'm amazed sometimes when I go back and read some of my earliest fiction writing, and, except for my lack of point of view control in the early work, find it to be much richer in characterization and world building than I remember creating. Other times, I go back to poems I thought were good, and find them to be clunky.

    I agree, the important point is to finish the work. Evaluation can come later, with its pleasant or uncomfortable surprises.

  6. Hi Lori,

    I know you are right, and the self-doubt can get in the way. I guess, it's the times when we feel confident, though, that we can trust ourselves, and just let the work happen. I think, then, we surprise ourselves with a good result; even if it's just a learning process and the finished work is still in need of serious revision, kind of like fingerpainting- we learn something and have fun doing it.

    I think being confident enough to try, is what enables us to find our "voice," whatever it is, that makes our work different from everyone else's, and just as good in its own way, whether our style is deceptively simple, or ornate. These thoughts are new to me, so I'm still forming them.

  7. For me, what's been most helpful is putting in the hours. By that I mean setting up a writing schedule and sticking to it--no excuses. I find that when I write every day for at least an hour my "voice" becomes surer and I'm able to say what I want more effectively. I've had to learn and relearn this basic fact many, many times!

  8. Hi Joanne,

    Thanks for the compliment! It was Terresa's post that got me started. Without it, and the discussion there, I never would have come to these thoughts, at least not at this point in time; so I'm sure you will want to read her post and everyone's comments.

    I love the Carson McCuller's quotes- you've actually read and commented on them before, back in 2009. I sometimes go back to read them, and other author quotes, which is why I created Flowering Dream; and also because I like my old layout, and I wanted to keep a version of it.

    I agree- hard work, persistence, and faith- get us where we want to be. Plus, perhaps, the confidence to know when a work is finished- But that's the hard part, isn't it, with something as complex as a novel?

  9. Hi Brigindo,

    Thank you so much for adding your perspective. You bring up an important point- too much confidence, too much awareness, and too much "I" will just get in the way; in other words, to find that "inner voice" you forget the self (I know this makes no sense) and concentrate on the doing, on the craft, on the process.

    I write all the time about how I don't plan what I write. That, for me, is the way I get in touch with whoever I am when I'm writing. (I know this makes no sense, too.) But I know what you mean, tapping into the unconscious is everything.

    While writing, especially a first draft, if we are consciously trying to develop a "voice" it will not come to us (I think, though, we can learn to recognize it in revision, and improve upon its direction).

    I think my best writing is almost in a hypnotic state- I am in that story, in the mind of those characters. When I am writing a poem, I am in some state of mind I don't always access.

    And yes, the happy accident, in writing or photography, or art, I'm sure- can cause that transcendence from the merely competent and ordinary into something significant.

    I think the confidence I am referring to, includes the confidence to recognize when you've done something well, and not to discount the achievement. And also, just the confidence, that, yes, I can plow through, and finish this.

    I love this quote from you: "However there are also times when a shot does something I've never dreamed of; something I did not consciously try for."

  10. Hi Catherine,

    I'm sorry, my comments are out of order, because comments have been coming in, as I've been writing responses!

    I think it's great you stick to a schedule, and I really should start to discipline myself, if I'm serious about achieving what I want with my writing, which is to complete my first novel, and then to go on from there. I may always be one of those writers working on multiple projects, and that's okay, as long as I keep writing.

    I never thought about that- writing daily will keep at least some part of your mind in touch with your inner voice.

    What I generally do with fiction, after a writing "drought," is to re-read what's come before, which puts me back into the story, and more importantly, into a state of mind that gives me access to my characters and their story world, and the emotional components that led to the writing in the first place.

    I like your idea, and as I choose one of my novel starts and try to stick with it, I think I will pick a time of day to always work, so I don't continually lose the "thread."

  11. In response to "Do you find trusting your "own voice" gets you to that place where you want to be, with your work?"...


    It is hardest to hear that voice, I think...when I am very in tune with myself I can "hear" my thoughts so much better. I gauge it by how much I scribble down in my little book--I will write down bits and pieces of ideas, bunches of them at a time.

    Other times, if I feel scattered, or am not listening but am editing myself, I might not write down that idea because I think it is weak. The blank pages show when I am drained or not fully present.

  12. Thanks for linking to me, Annie, and I'm glad the Ira Glass quote got you thinking, it did me, too.

    I'm all for the belief in putting in the time, not waiting for the muse to strike but sitting down to it, daily, and writing through the bones (as Natalie Goldberg suggests in her book of the same title) to better stuff.

  13. Hi Hannah,

    Thank you for sharing about your writing process and the use of your journal, and how it is a gauge. I think that's true for me, too. I go through periods of time where I write in a journal a lot (or on scraps of paper)- and those are the entries that turn into poems. They are also the times where I am most in touch with my feelings. Other times are dry times, and I feel less of myself, not only in writing, but in the day to day.

    I think it's interesting that the self-editing before the words have even reached the page, gets in the way. I can identify with that, too. So, yes, trusting that voice. I'm glad you liked the idea. It's just stating what we do, when it all works. For me, with fiction, it's those times when you just let it all flow, and you create a world, and dialogue, and people, you never knew were in you.

  14. Hi Terresa,

    Thanks again for getting me started with the quote, and ideas in your post. I've been thinking about that sitting down to write every day. Yes, I need to do it, both to stay in touch with myself (my inner voice) and to stay in touch with my characters. The trouble is, once I sit down to write, in the middle of a piece of fiction, I want to keep writing. I don't see how I can possibly stop after an hour, or even two! I've often felt, in the middle of a novel, I could write for 14 hours every day. Including revision, there have been days I've done it, but there is this thing about working and having a family.