What the hell is a writing voice, anyway?

I’m not a boring asshole, but you might think I’m one if you read my writing.

Look at that sentence. “I’m” is used twice, the same overused structure is recycled once again, and the word “asshole” is used to congratulate myself for being a boring asshole. It’s a dick sentence and meta. I hate meta.

All of this is to say, “Hi, I’m Hal and I don’t know how to start a post about my writing voice.”

Jesus, a false start? On the internet? What a fucking asshole.

I’ve been thinking about my writing voice a lot lately. I don’t seem to know what a writing voice is or where a writing voice comes from, aside from sheer practice, so I try to get a lot of sheer practice. I’m not quite sure what makes practice “sheer,” but I’m pretty damn sure I’m getting plenty of perpendicular practice that will pay off. Everyone talks about it like some kind of amulet that every good writer needs, the holy piece contained within the phylactery.

The voice seems to come from different places in different states of mind. Sometimes, the voice comes from within me, words flowing out and blessing the page like the mythical fountain of youth.

Sometimes, the voice sorta sticks in the back of my throat and comes out in globs as though I’m coughing up phlegm. On re-reads, these pages end up looking about as gross as that metaphor I gave in the prior sentence and need heavy edits – perhaps even days of rest – to get rid of the green stuff (what IS that stuff?). It ends up looking a lot like this paragraph.

Sometimes, the voice is by rote: Who, what, where, when, why, how? Paint by numbers, fill in the blank, Bob motherfucking Ross.

Sometimes, the voice has to be dragged out and I end up feeling like it’s my first day on the job at the coal mines and the parakeet is already fucking dead. Those are the days where I throw my pen down in anger, slam my computer shut, throw my typewriter down the stairs, and carefully place my xBox keyboard back into its carrying pouch. I’m fucking done.

What I’m trying to say is that my writing voice is not yet consistent, from what I can tell, nor does it seem to be holy and neatly contained. There are certain times – like now – where I’m really having a lot of fun just writing down some shit. Any ol’ shit. No one will read this, I think to myself, so I can write whatever I want. I can be like Eddie Murphy in Raw and put on a goddamn curse show on my page: Cunt fuck shit snot dick bugger and balls.

Other times, something more serious bubbles up. It’s a buttoned-up voice, one not quite ready for the New Yorker (monocles fall out at the thought of it) or the New York Times (copy editors would need to be rehired), but hey! The New York Daily News is within reach, pal! No matter that the newspaper was just sold for a dollar – aside from the fact that your salary may only end up being about two bits a year – that’s the big leagues, baby! as Dick Vitale might say.

Then there are the times where thinking about the page makes me want to quit. Even writing that sentence didn’t feel good. The voice becomes sallow, the prose becomes dry. The voice has some rasp on it, but not in the grizzled wisdom way like Tom Waits or Bob Dylan; more in the style of the guy you think is asking you for a buck but is mostly just wheezing out a few desperate sounds.

This post has no point. It’s just a bunch of fucking around. If you’re still reading it or writing it, I’m not sure why you aren’t doing something else like washing the dishes, listening to the hottest new podcast, or calling your grandmother who would really, really like to hear from you now and then because hey, she’s getting old and life is too short to worry about some juju like a writing voice.

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