Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Finding your voice: An ongoing process

This post from Victoria Marie Lees on narrative voice in memoir made me think about my own foray into first-person nonfiction. "Writers need to think who is telling the story," Ms. Lees writes.

It's something I didn't think about much during my early drafts of Loner in the Garret. I thought a lot about what I was saying and what the reader might want, but not so much about how I was saying it. One critiquer of this book said she wanted to see more of my humor. She wanted me to commit more, not to hold back, not to be so mild and diffident. To let my unique voice out.

This honestly hadn't occurred to me until I read her feedback--that the "I" who was speaking in my nonfiction book was an important character, just as in fiction. That a first-person narrator not only can, but probably should, have a personality.*

Last fall, I took a memoir workshop taught by Beth Kephart. At one point, we students exchanged our work with another person in the class. We were only doing short in-class exercises, so we weren't seeing much of one another's work--a couple of pages at most. And for that reason, I thought the person who gave me feedback was mistaken when her primary reaction to my writing was, "It's funny."

But then I thought about how I had re-drafted Loner in the Garret to let in more irreverence, to express more of what amuses me about writing and publishing (along with what frustrates, intimidates, and elates--so much about this gig is absurd). I thought of how people had told me that my YA novels, as dark as they can be at times, were relieved by an edge of humor. I know my fellow workshopper didn't mean that I was joke-a-minute hilarious, but she saw something in my work that I have thought about cultivating more, ever since.

What are you still learning about your own voice?

*After reading nonfiction by writers with such memorable first-person voices as Nora Ephron, David Sedaris, Dave Barry, Joan Didion, Anne Lamott, Anne Fadiman, Richard Rodriguez, Sarah Vowell, etc., etc., this should not have been a surprise. But hey, I can't always connect the dots myself, which is why I need critiquers in the first place.


  1. First I would like to say, thank you, Jennifer, for mentioning my blog post from Adventures in Writing here on your wonderful blog. I had addressed your pithy comment on my blog post before moving to your blog. The information you offer here for your readers is invaluable. You are very lucky to have such good critiquers. I would not mind exchanging critiques with you myself. Thank you again for sharing your advice with other writers.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, and thank you for inspiring this post!