The Sound of a Voice on Paper

My e-mail today held a Mother’s Day story sent by a writer friend. Something didn’t quite click when I read the story. Is this a flashback story? I wondered. The timing seems off, and ... this does not sound like her writing! This isn’t the way she puts things.

This experience sparks several thoughts, and the first relates to my perception that it did not sound like my friend’s writing. I know the sound of her voice on paper, also known as her Writer's Voice, and this voice wasn’t hers.

I’ve been thinking a lot about writer’s voice lately, and realized that our writing voice can be compared to an opera diva’s voice. When she first begins to sing, the diva sings naturally, like anyone else, though her gift for singing may soon become apparent. Many people have lovely voices, perhaps even the potential to become divas, but the vast majority of them are content to simply sing for worship or pleasure, and their tunes touch the hearts of all who hear.

In contrast, the diva spends years studying, practicing, and learning new ways of projecting and using her voice. Its glory eventually thrills audiences. But all the training and coaching serves only to remove rough edges and distractions from her voice, allowing her truest, purest sounds to emerge. She still sounds like herself — her best, most polished self.

Lifestory writers may go through a similar process. We all begin by jotting down simple stories or letters, some with more natural polish than others. Most people who are primarily interested in leaving a written record of their lives for their families will be content with single drafts or simple edits, and their families will be thrilled with their efforts.

Some of us desire to hone our craft. We read, study, and practice new ways of presenting those stories to polish our technique. Years later, our words may flow like silk ribbons along the page, but our stories will still sound like we wrote them. We may avoid grammatical errors and distractions, and include more colorful descriptions, but they are still our stories, told the way only we can tell them. The longer we write, the more consistent and recognizable this voice becomes.

I know my friend did not intend to pass this story off as her own work, but even if she had, I would not have been fooled, because I know her voice.

Beyond the matter of writer’s voice, this story raises a couple of points about sharing stories by e-mail:
  • Sharing stories via e-mail is lots of fun, and an easy way to delight your family and friends. Pasting them into the body of the e-mail is fine, though they will be easier to save for posterity if you attach them as a document.Be sure to include a title, and be extra sure to include your name. I encourage you to enter your name as Copyright 2007, Your Name, or © 2007, Your Name.
  • It’s fine to forward those cute anonymous stories that are caught in endless e-mail loops. But as a writer, you need to take extra care to make it clear you did not write the story yourself, or you may confuse people. My friend was in a hurry, and hit forward without adding a personal note or any sort of explanation. Simply listing “Author Unknown” at the bottom would removed any doubt.
Your own stories are unique and special because you wrote them. Give them the respect they deserve, and showcase them proudly, with your name at the top and/or bottom, and a copyright notice. Your work is protected by copyright whether you include the notice or not, but don't settle into complacency with that assurance. Don’t worry about seeming arrogant — think of it as a way of managing respect. Mentioning the copyright shows that you respect your own work and encourages others to do likewise.

I’ll be thrilled if someone eventually forwards one of my stories back to me from cyberspace, and I hope when that happens, my name is still attached. But if it isn’t, by that time I hope half the world will recognize the sound of my voice on paper.

Write on,

Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal

Countdown: 51 days until the release of The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing on July 1. Stay tuned for ordering details.


Tara said...

Excellent idea...I worry about sending a lot of my work to friends just for this same reason. Not that I think any of them would do anything on purpose, you just want to make sure that your work is treated in the highest regard. Thanks for the tip!

Ritergal said...

Your thoughts on whether you want the story to be forwarded can factor into your decision to send a story as an attachment or in the e-mail body text. Attachments are lots less likely to be forwarded!

JoJo said...

"The sound of a voice on paper," is a wonderful descriptive phase. Thanks for coining it and passing it along the food chain....Joie

QuoinMonkey said...

"Some of us desire to hone our craft. We read, study, and practice new ways of presenting those stories to polish our technique. Years later, our words may flow like silk ribbons along the page, but our stories will still sound like we wrote them."

This paragraph has a lot of truth to it. When we practice our writing, we are really learning to hone and polish it, yet let our original voice shine through. It takes a lot of work to get there.

I found this whole post to be full of wisdom. The other important point you made was about copyrighting and giving credit to stories and images. This is a looming issue around Internet publishing and intellectual property. Sometimes simple things can keep our integrity intact.