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 Awakeningto 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.
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.