To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard—Allen Ginsberg
We have voices, all of us. Some shout loudly their political voices, some express themselves in actions and behaviors. Some of us honor and nurture our creative voices. Others prefer to remain silent, keeping their voices to themselves.
Must a voice be heard?
Much like the proverbial tree falling in the woods with nobody to hear it, we might ask if voices unheard are voices at all. Must these words be heard to become a voice?
The poet Allen Ginsberg thinks not. In fact, he implies that audience stifles one’s voice. You find your own unique voice only when you stop trying to be heard.
On the other hand, many who offer advice to budding authors encourage them to be heard as widely and loudly as possible. They insist that writers need a platform. The best way to a successful writing career, they contend, relies on loyal readers who follow every word you produce. Building an online platform of core readers assures sales, and publishers (editors too) need to have assurances that sales will follow if they take a chance on you. Therapeutic writing doesn’t pay anyone’s bills.
A reluctant mercenary
I hesitate at this mercenarial line of thinking. I want to resist the necessity of assuring sales through a robust platform. Promoting one’s work certainly can become a distraction; as Delilah S. Dawson points out, “self-promotion as an author doesn’t work” (although she posted the next day some suggestions about “the sunny side of author self-promotion”). The best answer to being heard, she concludes, is to “write better books.”
I certainly work hard on writing better books, but that’s no guarantee of being heard. I seek ways for my better writing to find readers as I hold out for a middle way. Is there a place for writers somewhere between therapeutic and mercenary? Can I write my best self in a way that sustains a readership, small as it may be?
My best self never seems to appear in words I write when I’m trying to be heard or thinking about platform. For me, worrying about what readers want tends to dam up the river of creative ideas. The words cease to be my own and instead belong to an idealized phantom of the imagination. In the poetic wisdom of Allen Ginsberg, I lose my voice in worry over having it heard.
A place between
Yet, every writer needs readers. Writing remains first and foremost an act of communication, a relationship of distances mediated in literacy. My voice seeks the ears that will hear it. Is there an in-between place, a space that is neither platform nor isolation, where writers find readers who will appreciate authentic voices?
I think there is such a place. But it’s not where the writing happens. Producing the text occurs in an intimate place far from earshot of appreciative readers. In the quiet of the writing space, I produce the voice for readers later to hear. They find the written voice well after the writing is done in a place distant from its articulation.
The space of articulation remains my private reserve. It is here that my voice finds itself in the moments when I forget about being heard. In these treasured instants, the dam breaks and words surge easily with ideas, imagery, and metaphors that fit seamlessly together in sentences and paragraphs, forming whole essays that say exactly what I intend. By overcoming anxiety about the judgments of imaginary readers, my writing becomes effortless, an occasion of creative flow. Imaginative floods wash over my pen and cleanse my authorial soul. I become awake to the words.
My best writing, it seems, comes when no one is watching. No niche market, no ideal reader, no platforms, just myself and my words. I retreat into the intimate place of creativity, alone with only myself as reader. There will be ample time later to find other readers, but here I am enough.
Do you hear what I’m saying? ♨