Every writer has a voice but me

The more I explore personal essays, the more I fear using the present tense that is a hallmark of many essays.

I sit by the bank of the river.  The birds call to me, come swim, jump in.  I want to tell them the water is too cold.  They mock me and I feel tears start.  This is the day my childhood ends.

Okay, I made that up, but just to share an example.  I’m worried about imitating that style and not using my own writing voice.  I know how I write, especially my blog, where I am most free, having no editorial demands.  I use triplets a lot – I list things in threes.  I think that’s a hallmark of my writing and I hope it’s a good thing and not contrived or just dumm.  This Southern Sin essay is what’s really blowing my mind, especially because my goal is to win the contest.  I don’t want it to be stilted and sound phony.  Ironically, although I blog like hell (or used to) writing a personal essay seems so daunting.  I think I’m approaching it the wrong way.  I think I need to just do a boatload of reporting and then let her rip.

How will I know if my writing, my voice, is genuine?  I started reading this essay in the New Yorker this morning and I thought shoot, I could do this.  I just don’t know if I could do it so it sounds like Ruth wrote it, not some MFA student.  It sounds corny, but in a way I need to be in touch with who I am – like I’m listening to Peter Gabriel right now, and it’s making me think of 20 years ago, when I hung out with that crowd I hung out with (amateur musicians, guys I crushed, drinkin’, etc.).  So if I can know that part of me that is moved by Peter Gabriel, maybe I can genuinely be the person who writes it.  Whoa, that sounds crazy.  I think I have the music too loud.

Let’s try this…

There is a whistle-like instrument floating behind the melody.  Is it a real instrument?  It doesn’t matter because it makes the atmosphere of the song so dreamy. 

When I first heard the song, in 1993, I was newly divorced from a mean, mean man.  The song was among those that are emblems of my life back then.  My pals who had a mostly amateur band and who totally loved Peter Gabriel.  “Kiss That Frog” – it was so funny to us.

That was gobbledygook off the top of my head, but the change in tense felt right, not phony.  Maybe I need to keep doing this until it feels right.  Like musical scales.  I can be a writer, a good writer.  I just need to practice all the time.

I got the Goucher residency schedule in today’s email.  So excited!!!!!  I still haven’t decided if I’m flying or driving out there.  My husband is opposed to me driving because it’s dangerous, and he has a point.  The airfare is just so damn high!  And if I had a car I would have more freedom to visit people and try to get to taraweeh when the schedule permits.

Oh, so of course now I know who my “cohort” will be – the other five students who will be Suzannah Lessard’s mentees.  Just gauging by Google searches, looks like the experience level varies.  One of the people in my group is someone I had contacted about the program.  We have communicated by email and it will be nice to meet her.

I just need to keep writing.  I believe I will gain confidence if I do.


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