Let Your Voice be Heard

BY Olga Kwak

Have you ever been told you’re “too emotional” or “you talk too much” or “you need to calm down”? If so, I’m here to encourage you to let your voice be heard.

Write your heart out and don’t hold anything back. This is not the time to stay quiet. The world, especially now, needs to read your words and hear your voice.

It’s not easy to speak up. And when you do, you take a risk. Elizabeth Renzetti, in a November 26, Globe and Mail article, wrote about several prominent female politicians who receive hate-filled emails and anonymous threats on a daily basis. As she says: “None of us who are alive and female and dare to have an opinion is surprised.”

But it’s vital that we not allow fear to strangle our voice. Even if we are not in the public eye, we may have experienced backlash from sharing our writing. This may have convinced us that our way of looking at things is not as valid as other people’s.

Don’t believe it. Your voice, the one that comes from deep within and that shapes what you write and gives you a distinct take on life, that voice needs to be heard and there will be readers out there who connect with your uniqueness.

Think about a writer whose books sweep you off your feet and keep you reading until four in the morning. That author’s voice speaks to you. It’s like a friendship of sorts, the relationship you develop with certain writers. You look forward to meeting them on the page and when the book is finished, you feel sad and a little lost.

I’m enamoured with Colum McCann at the moment. I am constantly copying his sentences into my notebook so I can reread and savour. From, Thirteen Ways of Looking: A lovely thing to see the sun fully disappear, a fine red aspirin swallowed by the city.” Think of your voice as, “…style, plus theme, plus personal observation, plus passion, plus belief, plus desire.” That is author Holly Lisle’s definition. She goes on to describe your true voice as living:

     “…in the deep waters and the dark places of your soul, and it will only venture out when you make sure you’ve given it space to move and room to breathe.”

What does she mean exactly?

Practice writing what scares you. Lauren Kirshner says, “anything you’re staying away from is draining energy.” Give yourself the freedom to say what matters most to you.

Sarai Walker, author of Dietland, says that when she stopped holding back, her writing had a new energy. In an article for theguardian.com/books, Sarai talks about writing a short story partly inspired by personal experience, about a fat young woman who works at a magazine for teen girls in New York and feels like an outcast. At that time Walker felt incredible shame about her fatness, but she’d never written about it before. She said that writing the story was scary but exhilirating.

Have you ever felt that adrenaline rush when writing? When your words have their own momentum and they march into sentences and paragraphs smartly without coercion and as you keep writing you think that there is nothing you would rather be doing. That’s your voice speaking loudly and clearly.

But it’s difficult to maintain that pace. It requires fearlessness to expose yourself on the page.

Practice helps. The more you write, the easier it is to be fearless. And there are ways to trick yourself into writing candidly.

At our last Sister Writes session this fall, we talked about writing an email and sending it to ourselves. Emails get to the point quickly and writing them doesn’t carry the same baggage that we can drag to a session with our notebooks or a blank piece of paper. The email could open the door to a subject you’ve been avoiding.

Holly Lisle suggests “pushing your own buttons.” You can do this by writing from inside the head of someone ( a Trump supporter perhaps?) who sees the world differently than you do. Allow yourself to be convinced of the rightness of their point of view. This is a great exercise in writing empathetically about characters that are unlikeable. It’s still your voice on the page, but it’s being filtered through another character’s personality.

Margaret Drabble, talking about the difference between fiction and memoir, says that fictional characters, “acquire their own voice which comes from our minds down through our hands, but along the way they carry a trace of our voice.”

Creating several characters, each with their own world view, can seem a daunting task. The first step is to write the back story for each character. Put down everything you know about this person you’ve created: likes, dislikes, astrological sign, hobbies, how they dress, favourite foods, what they like to do for fun, what they fear most. You probably won’t share all of this information with your reader, but you need to know these things in order to write confidently about your character.

You’ll also want to know about their internal dialogue. What do they say to themselves? Do they worry about every little thing? Do they blow off criticism, confident in their own skin?

Spend some time getting to know your characters and they will appear realistic and believable. And each character will have a unique voice in your story.

When I think of the voices in books I love, they seem to sing together like a choir, harmonious but separate, each with their own cadence and rhythm. Writing can be like singing. Both arts require a letting go, a willingness to let your voice come from deep within and be heard.

I still struggle with allowing my true voice out onto the page. That voice that doesn’t soften the edges of my sentences or brush away the angry words and the hurt. That voice, wrote this paragraph about my Dad:

     My first phone call to my Dad in his new home in the secure unit of the long- term care facility, lasts less than a minute. Agitation coats each of his words. He repeats my name, strings a sentence together that makes no sense, then drops the receiver. All I can hear is the thrum, thrum, thrum of another resident’s voice as she says “oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no”, over and over again. Before I hang up I hear the nurse calling to my Dad, “James, this way, James,” but that’s not his name, it’s Jim, J -I -M, Jim.


     Ready to let your voice be heard? Try these ten minute timed free writes; keep your hand moving for the entire time. Here are 3 prompts:

  1. What is the one thing that can quickly work you into a panic?
  2. You have your own show in Las Vegas. Describe your act.
  3. What do you think you are missing that prevents you from living life to the fullest?

Til next time, keep writing.