Writing: Identity and voice

Writing in your own voice

To be able to write in your own voice, it helps to understand “who you are”. In most cases, we hardly know that. In most cases, when we write, we try to combine and imitate other writers we like and favor, we see as our example.

Finding “your own voice” is something most of us have to learn as we write. To dig into ourselves and reveal all that shaped us is not the first choice we make and in some cases not the most pleasant thing to do as we like to see ourselves as pleasant, sane people and sometimes (deliberately) hide things we rather would not see emerge to the surface.

Why find your “own voice”?

The majority of fiction that is written and published is an imitation of other work with some elements added and some elements modified. Sometimes done better, in most cases done worst. Being modified imitations, it is hard to find something “original” at a certain moment. “Everything has been done” and sometimes the only way to overcome that is to “do it even more and even stronger, faster, more impressive”.

To write something “original” from that as a starting point is close to impossible. There is no doubt that whatever you might come up with is already been done and used by at least one or two writers before, or will show up in some publication or film or TV some time after you used and wrote it.

In reality, your specific story is unique due to the things you can put into those stories. Your personal experiences. Your specific view on the world. Your approach to a specific theme or story-type.

Choosing your audience

Based on “who you are” and what you prefer to achieve, you can more deliberately choose who you like to- and (maybe even) should write for. You can select your specific genre more deliberately and the type of topics you like to use within your stories.

My personal experience

Due to this process I found that it is better for me to write for a very specific niche-within-a-niche than to try do something more easy going and/or more mainstream. To write other type of stories simply bores me at a certain point and already made me stop writing for almost a decade in the past.

I am still avoiding certain aspects of “me”, but getting closer each time I write something new. Writer blocks mostly occur when I write something not really part of my own core.

A simplified model of identity

You and your environment

You and your environment

In this simplified model there are three layers:

  1. Your social construct — The way you present yourself to the world around you.
  2. Your environment — The places you go, the places you live and lived.
  3. The world — The world at large, consisting of many places you never visited and populated by many people you never met.

At the core is “you”: the core personality that shape part of your actions, that defines for a great part what makes you happy, sad, exited, bored, engaged or disattached.

Influences

Influences

Influences

In this simplified model, influences work from one layer to another and are two-way.

Your inner core is influenced by your social construct and your inner core has influence on your social construct. Your social construct influences your environment and your environment has influence on your social construct. Your environment influences the world around you and the world around you has influence on your environment.

Basic questions

To make a start, I wrote down some basic questions. They help define a starting point. Not all questions are easy to answer and with some you might feel more resistance than with others. This is all OK.

Be sure to keep whatever you write and answer to yourself. Try to be as honest as possible.

  • Who are you?
  • Where were you born?
  • Where did you live?
  • What did you want to become in several stages of your life? What not?
  • What people where there?
  • How did all this influence you?
  • What do you like, dislike, not care about? Why?
  • What kind of people do you like, dislike, not care about? Why?
  • What places do you like, dislike, not care about? Why?
  • What are you hiding from others?
  • What are you proud to show?
  • What is your skin-color, are your sexual preferences/dislikes and your social status?
  • What are your parents/family’s skin-color, sexual preferences/dislikes and their social status?
  • How do people perceive all this?

Things that shape you

There once was a stream of thought in psychology that separated “nature” from “nurture”, where “nature” is the ‘person you are’ due to internal factors including genetics and certain deviations in your body and mind and ‘nurture’ is the ‘person you become’ due to the guidance and education in- and influences from your environment.

Both and more shape you. Both shape the people around you.

1: Internal factors

To simplify things I propose the following model.

  1. Your basic mind – Your basic mind is the mind in which “your thoughts start”. Each immediate response to a situation is considered your “basic mind”. What happens in your basic mind is not necessarily nice or accepted. Not is that basic mind written in stone. It is closest to your “true form”.
  2. Your basic preferences – Your basic preferences are the ones you feel first and most strongly. They come before the ones you think you should have due to the shape and morals of your environment. Like your basic mind, not all basic preferences are accepted or acceptable in your immediate environment.
  3. Your basic emotional states – This is how you respond to certain influences and in what intensity. Each situation can evoke different levels and combinations of these emotional states: anger, repulsion, love, affection, indifference, interest, and so on. In one case you can be mildly angry while in other cases that anger can have the shape of a blazing rage.
  4. Your basic grasp of things – Some people are quick thinkers. Others need time to process. Some people are extremely intelligent. Others need to make a real effort to solve even the simplest problems. Where your mind is not hindered by mental blockages.

2: External factors

  1. Judgement of you and your actions – Usually based on a mix of norms, values and in many cases used to manipulate you to do things in one way and not the other.
  2. Manipulation – This manipulation can have countless reasons and motivations, from keeping you from harm, to getting you to make the best out of yourself, to make you buy or do certain things that serve others to subjecting you to the power of others.
  3. Education and training – Education and training in general are aimed at increasing your knowledge and to help you use your own mind in better and more efficient ways. Part of education is handing you the tools to do your job better and to get a better grip on your life. Education itself can also be used as a means of bending your mind in one specific way. For instance to enable you to kill other people as is the case in a military training.
  4. Culture – Culture in this context is the mix of shared beliefs, shared norms and shared values of a population. Culture in general has a certain direction and a certain purpose. Culture can be a mix of local and regional norms and values and beliefs.
  5. Shared belief systems – Shared belief systems are anything from religions and religious streams to the idea that certain people should and can be treated in certain ways to the idea that improvement, growth and self-improvement are important things to strive for.

3: The thing in between

  1. Your personal belief systems – these belief systems are a mix of the shared belief systesm and your own personal overtuigingen. Even when the generic message is the same everywhere, the way you interpret it and choose to work with it, mix it with other elements and shape it in your own mind is your personal belief system.
  2. Your social masks – Your social masks are a behavioural mix of your inner basic responses with how you believe other people expect you to behave in certain social contexts: where each social context has another mask for you to use and present yourself behind.
  3. Your social filters – These are the filters behind your social masks. The filters block certain things (considered ‘not acceptable’) from emerging to the surface while letting other elements (considered ‘appropriate’) pass.
  4. Your adapted behaviour – Wherever you are, you adapt your behaviour to your surroundings. Whether to not get killed (waiting at the side of the road to let the traffic pass) to adapting to certain social ‘rules’ that evoke certain (wanted) responses from your surroundings (being accepted by others, being hired, not getting fired from your job). Part of this adaptdeb behaviour is your social masks and your social filters.
  5. Tension – The further the adapted behaviour is removed from your natural behaviour, the more tension will probably build up. This can be emerging as stress, anger or rebellion against the norms that you feel restrict you.
  6. Releasing your tension – There are many ways to release this tension. Drugs and alcohol are one. Self inflicting pain another. Escapism another. Physical activities another. Destruction yet another. In some cases “less acceptable ways” to release the tension become part of society in accepted or tolerated ways.

Closing

the more you find “who you are” and “what drives you / is relevant for you”, the more easy it will become (on the one side) to write stories you really care about and that will move other people more.

On the other hand, to discover yourself and do exactly this, might drive a rift between you and the people you might like to please as a person.

The “real” you is not always the you you like to be. Nor is “the real you” always the person other people like to read or meet.

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