Finding My Voice as a Writer

And the truth of your experience can only come through in your own voice.
Anne Lamott
As an introvert, I’m more comfortable speaking before a large gathering than engaging one-on-one. For me, opening up is reserved for only a trusted few. Listening is more my mode of being, something that seems to be a lost art. In my professional life before writing, I facilitated clients in listening under the words for the meaning. Amazing connections were made when deep listening led to hidden understandings, opening a whole new world between people who’d known each other for decades. But that’s another topic.
Unstructured, open-ended groups are a challenge for me, and, as I’ve learned, for many introverts. We have difficulty breaking into free-for-all conversations to share our viewpoint. If the group is structured around a topic with turns being taken to make room for everyone’s perspective, we do much better.
As a good kid, I mostly obeyed the prevailing custom to which my parents adhered, “Children are to be seen and not heard?” Expressing myself in writing came easier. I read an earlier draft of my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace, to two friends of almost forty years. They replied several times, “I didn’t know that happened.” I am able to write about things that are difficult to talk about.
These are some of the challenges I faced in finding my writing voice, something I’d read is difficult for all writers and very important. I didn’t fully understand what that meant—to write in my own voice—so I just kept writing and wondering. 
 
Then, in August of 2013, I attended a weekend Memoir Lab at Omega Institute led by Marge Piercy and Ira Wood. There were over forty students in the lab and we all had an opportunity to read a piece of our work before the whole group for feedback. A few read twice. Unbeknownst to me, the experience of hearing so many diverse voices along with the feedback they received about their strengths and weaknesses provided an opening for me to find my voice.
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At the end of the lab, I went back to my room with ideas popping I wanted to get down before they were lost. I pulled out my computer, and began revising my first chapter. Suddenly, as I was writing, I stopped in amazement. I was writing differently than ever before. I had found my voice. It was a very exciting moment.
Writing helps us make sense of our lives and find meaning in it. As I study the craft of memoir, I learn that good writing finds a unique way of expressing this. What I discovered about my voice as a writer in that Omega dorm room is my unique way of sharing my internal process with my readers.
In addition to being an introvert, I am a contemplative. I ponder my life experiences, sorting through the chaotic world of feelings and sometimes insane thoughts inside. In the process, I discover growth edges and am guided to valuable life lessons. It’s a messy process and in the end, so very rewarding. And it is a true reflection of how I am in the world.
What surprised and delighted me is the emergence of a touch of irreverence in my voice. Under my calm, serious exterior lies a courageous hint of daring. It makes me smile.  
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Memoir: A Path of Transformation

I want to write, but more than that, I want to bring out all kinds of things that lie buried in my heart.
Anne Frank
In 1999, after a long painful period in my life with both my children, we experienced being gifted with Grace. A twenty-two year search for the cause of our painful circumstances yielded nothing that made a difference. Then, quite miraculously, the answer arrived…in a hospital…in a most unexpected way. When the story was being relayed to a nurse (really an angel disguised as a nurse), she looked at me and said several times, “You need to write a book about this.”
Keeping a journal for most of my adult life has been my way of praying to The Mystery (what I prefer to call the Divine). In my journal, I write to understand my life, wrestling with the big questions of life, and, like Anne Frank, to bring out what is buried in my heart.
  • Who am I? Who am I being in my life?
  • What’s the purpose of my life? Am I living my purpose?
  • What values are most important to me and am I living in alignment with them?
  • What are my ideals and am I being true to them?
  • Does my life matter and, if so, in what way?
  • Am I living in a way that serves the greater good?
  • Are some people designated as special…chosen to receive joyful blessings?
  • What is the meaning of the pain in my life? Is it punishment? How am I to think about it?
  • What are the lessons I am here to learn? Am I learning them?
  • Can I trust You, The Mystery, to be a benevolent force? Are you for me?
  • If so, how am I being supported in the midst of all this pain?
At the moment of commitment, the entire Universe conspires to assist you.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 

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It took ten years after that first encouragement to find the maturity to begin writing A Long Awakening to Grace in earnest. I’d been writing at it for years. And then these past four years, my memoir has been writing me. 

Two years ago, I found a writing partner in the Spirituality Forum meeting at our local senior citizens center. We were both writing our memoirs and decided to meet every two weeks to read and critique each other’s work. Reading to Nita was an act of courage because she has not experienced the kind of challenges in her life I’ve had in mine. She never once judged me, even as I revealed shameful secrets. She told me, “I feel as though I’ve been chosen to hear your story.” I agreed, believing it was Divine guidance that brought us together. With her support, several drafts have been revised and now one is in the process of being polished. Thank you Universe!!
I struggled to find an ending because in some ways the circumstances in my story continue. And then a miracle emerged. In the process of writing and sharing my story with Nita, I began to perceive my life in a whole new way. Remaining vestiges of victim dropped away. Looking back at my younger self through more mature eyes, admiration for my determination to grow and my strength in persevering appeared. Listening with an open-heart as I read to Nita, compassion for what I was going through and forgiveness for my weaknesses surfaced.
And then one day a Grace-filled awakening came to pass. Gratitude for my pain flowed from my pen as I wrote in my journal. My eyes were opened to my difficult life being the context for my sacred journey and, as improbable as it seemed, to my challenging children being my spiritual teachers. Their trials gave me many opportunities to surrender and to learn to love in heart-wrenching circumstances. The ending, or in actuality the continuing, gifted me with an experience of the transformative power of memoir.
A memoir may always be retrospective, but the past is not where its action takes place.
Nuala O’Faolain