SLANT LETTER: The Power of Voice
For the ones who fear the volume is too loud + their voice is not enough
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I’ve been noticing it for a while now. Every time I walked into a bookstore, the book covers would be shouting at me.
The titles all seemed to be in large, bold font. Every letter standing tippy-toes tall in full-out CAPITALS. Every letter in skyscraper uppercase.
As an editor in the book publishing industry, I know all too well the work that goes into making a book stand out. Cover design is an art and a science and has a pretty hefty job expressing the author’s voice and effectively engaging not just any readers, but their readers.
I fight hard for my books to stand out on the shelf, because I so believe in what’s inside of them.
We shout when we want to be heard, of course. I have no value judgment on caps lock covers, nor on making ourselves heard and getting loud (there’s plenty to get good and loud about). But I do think it’s worth taking a closer look at the unspoken assumption that volume is interchangeable with voice.
I’m in many conversations right now with creatives who are finding it harder and harder to be heard. As the algorithms change (again), as the rejections roll in, as the static gets louder and it only gets harder to break through.
The lament here is one of volume—can anybody hear me?
Imagine with me for a moment that you attend a poetry reading at your local bookstore. There’s good coffee and standing room only and great vibes and then someone steps up to the mic and starts reciting the classic Wild Geese by Mary Oliver.
Except she’s yelling it like she’s just seen a mutant spider and is telling us all to run:
“YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE GOOD…”
If you’re anything like me you’re cringing already and not all too happy that Mary’s work has been done so wrong.
“YOU DO NOT HAVE TO WALK ON YOUR KNEES
FOR A HUNDRED MILES THROUGH THE DESERT, REPENTING…”
Alright, that’s enough of that. Why is this so painful?! Because it’s painful to hear a writer’s work read in the wrong voice.
Your writing voice is just as unique as your spoken voice—it’s comprised of a particular cadence, pacing, inflection. Your word choice and your composition. The rhythm and flow of your sentences, and most of all, your vision—your point of view as illuminated by the prism of your life experiences.
Your voice is your personhood brought to the page as only you can.
Years ago I was at a writers’ conference, and when the speaker made a joke rippling laughter through the audience, I immediately recognized a slight but particular undertone echo. The room was probably packed with a hundred people, but suddenly I knew my sister (who was attending with me) was there. It was the specific pattern of breath that I recognized immediately. She never even said a word. That’s the power of voice.
I hope you’re hearing the invitation here: to use that voice of yours and discover its multitudes through practice, practice, practice. This will always be yours, and I hope you find an ever-deepening joy in it.
And please—someone—get that girl from the poetry reading a hot cup of chamomile for her throat, with apologies to Mary.
Until next time,
Take heart. Write on. You got this.
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P.S. // A Blessing for Writers
SLANT LETTER is about both craft + soul care for the creative life. So for each issue, I want to speak this blessing for all of us anxious, ambitious, internet-exhausted writing folk.