Writer’s Question

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As a writer, do you agree with Allen Ginsberg?

“To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.”

(Quote from Writer’s Digest, graphic clip art briandeutsch.blogspot.com)

16 Comments on “Writer’s Question

  1. I think that quote describes is a big part of developing one’s writing voice. You have to write what you want to write, not what you think other people want you to write. One also needs to practice until the mechanics come naturally. It’s hard to develop a voice if the work is full of awkward phrasing and passive constructions.

    In my observation, the most common developmental opportunity for intermediate writers is getting rid of passivity (which is the manifestation of “telling”).

  2. It’s an interesting thought, especially coming from someone who recited so much of his poetry. ‘Howl’ in particular seems so intensely personal, and from what I’ve heard(/read) him and others say about his writing of it, it was not just a reflection of self-creation, but a process of it too. I’ve heard he “never intended to read it” at various times, but who knows.

    I definitely agree with an interpretation of this, though. For a very long time – long before I’d written much of anything at all – “having my voice heard” meant a very specific set of circumstances regarding my position in life, my esteem among readers, my fame – all wildly narcissistic fantasies. This Hemingwayesque fantasy was, ultimately, much more important to me than the actual writing. Letting go of (most of) all that, I’ve been able to redirect all that wasted energy towards the writing itself. It’s still really important to me that people like what I’m writing – I’m a storyteller, after all – but I know now that the responsibility for that is on the writing and not on some ridiculous image I might have of myself. So I’m still conscious of an audience, of “having my voice heard,” but I want it to be because the story’s that good and so I work for that.

    • Thanks, Ian, glad to hear from you. I’ve been writing all of my life, I began keeping a journal in fourth grade – and feel my ability to write has kept me sane, young, creative, happy, and always learning. I, too, am a storyteller and want to be heard. But, I do believe that writing, as the expression of a thought is heard in one way or another.

    • Your comment reminds me of something that a friend of mine recently posted on her blog. She said that the act of writing itself can’t be about the ego — it has to be about the words themselves. They are what matter.

      I think when we get to that point, where we let go of our ego and concentrate on the words, we start to find our voices.

      • Really well said, Michelle.

        Another correlate to that, which I’ve heard for a long time but only recently started believing (because I only recently started practicing it), is to write as simply as possible – to not go after style and to not spend too much time trying to write a certain way and to not try to sound like anyone – and that your style will come from that. The idea, I think, is that left to their own devices, language and perspective are far more varied and nuanced and powerful and interesting than our conscious, ego-driven attempts at controlling them could ever be.

      • Sorry I’m just now getting back to you on this! It’s been a busy few days for me. Excellent point. It’s interesting that you say that, actually, because I was made aware of my ‘style’ through other people who pointed it out to me. Now, because I’m aware of it, it sometimes prevents me from writing easily because ego does get in the way, and I do start trying to control the use of language. So I can understand how writing as simply as possible may enable us to let go.

  3. “To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.”…this quote poses a conundrum. On the one hand, it would be nice to be so selfless that one can howl in the forest and not worry about whether it makes a sound. But I’ve found in my personal experiences, it is by demanding that my voice be heard I’ve found my voice.

    By this, I mean that for too long I was content to stay silent and on the sidelines and allow the dominant/power culture to speak (and think) for me. Now that I’ve put away childish things I see that to deny the need for my voice to be heard is false humility. But I’ve also realized the need for every voice to be heard. So, when I fight for my voice to be heard I’m fighting for my brothers and sisters voices also.

    Hope this makes sense, Skywalker.

  4. I thought about this quote long and hard. To give my answer to your question I have to delve back into the theories of art and writing I learned at university.
    Ginsberg (fabulous and influential as he was) was a Modernist poet. He was writing around the time Jackson Pollock was painting his abstract expressionist works. Both were influenced by the Modernist ideas of their time. A dominant theme of Modernism was the concept of the individual creative genius toiling away on unique creations that were often misunderstood by the masses. I think the Ginsberg quote mirrors this concept.
    Postmodernist theorists like Roland Barthes argued against this idea. Barthes talks about ‘the death of the author’ – of how the reader brings their own ideas and life experience to everything they read and thus interpret an author’s words in their own way. The author becomes a facilitator who leads readers to find their own meanings in the text.
    Blogging on the internet is a great example of how Barthes’ theories play out in practice. In my own blog writing I sometimes find the comments and insights of others lead me to further writing and to creative explorations in areas I hadn’t previously considered.
    As so many people have commented here – being a story teller kind of implies you are telling stories to an audience. Going and telling stories to the trees (or howling at the forest as Ian Pritchard wrote) is probably very gratifying for the ego of the misunderstood creative genius but doesn’t get you very far if you are writing to communicate to other people.
    As for style, I find my varies depending on what I’m writing – the style of my haibun and haiku is very different from the style of my short fiction. My longer fiction has a different style again. Maybe there is an over-arching ‘style’ or ‘voice’ that others can identify but I can’t pinpoint myself.
    Great question btw – I hope my answer is not too long. I couldn’t figure out how to condense it further.

    • Thanks, Suzanne for taking the time to share your knowledge and thoughts. You make a good ending to a very interesting and enlightening discussion. I’ve enjoyed this so much I’m thinking of doing a weekly question.

      • That would be great. I miss having these kind of discussions. Sometimes I wish I was still studying.

  5. Hello, Skywalker. I’m so pleased to have found your blog!

    “To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.”

    A howling YES to this statement. Voice, for me, seems to come thru daily practice and also setting. Sometimes, if I get out of the way, a poem will pop out my voice immediately, but often it’s on the third or fourth revision that I’m fully unleashed.

    Also, depending on where I’m writing my voice takes on the tones, the essence of the place. I lived in Mexico for a while and it was often in Spanish, more brilliantly colored and reflected the sun and sea. Here in Alaska, my voice is drier, spruce-ier, gravelly, like a raven’s caw and less pretentious.

    So, I’m writing more out of place, I guess, and not for an audience, which is interesting because writers are often asked to identify their target audience.

    • Susan, Thanks for joining in the conversation. Please continue to contribute. So, where are you in Alaska? I lived in southern New Mexico for almost a couple of years, and in Texas. I love Spanish even though I’m far from fluent.

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