Voice


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I lost my voice.

It happened once before.

The last time it happened was when I was editing book after book.

I would immerse myself in my authors' voices and make corrections and suggestions in their voices. My job wasn't to make them sound more like me or like some house style. My job was to get the most out of them in their own authentic voice.

After a few years of doing that, I found I'd lost my voice.

So I quit.

Quitting that gig was complicated.

There were so many things about the job and the company that I loved.

Much of it had changed - but as the company grew, much of it had had to change.

It was no longer the right place for me. I was no longer the right person for them. And besides - I'd lost my voice.

So I quit.

It took almost two years for me to find my voice again. Two years of writing and publishing and presenting.

I learned a ton about writing from my time editing books and from my time before that editing articles for magazines and websites.

There's a great article from a Random House Editor named Anna Pitoniak where she explains What Being an editor taught me about writing.

Since quitting, I was writing fluidly and fast. My words were running down the page with my hair flying in the wind behind me. I was writing all the time. People knew what I meant and, more importantly, people knew what I meant to say.

That isn't to say I couldn't be better.

Like Anna Pitoniak, being an editor taught me that most pieces begin two late.

Often I could go back and delete the first paragraphs.

I had to write them to get myself into the piece but they do nothing for the reader except delay the interesting parts of the story.

I learned that it's important that the reader understand what I mean.

That sounds obvious - but the writer has so much context and meaning in their head that they don't put on the page so the reader never understands what it is that the writer is trying to say.

Sometimes a reader will send me a note about a typo or a passage that they had trouble parsing or a piece that didn't seem to go in the direction they expected.

I often look to see if there's a change I can make to make the piece read better.

If they didn't understand what I was saying, it might be my fault for not being clear. It might be their fault for not reading clearly.

In the end, it doesn't matter whose fault it is. If I can make it easier for them to read the piece and get the point, then I'll usually do so.

And that brings me to the second time I lost my voice.

I wrote a piece and a friend sent me a message of something that he found confusing. He suggested I move something in a later paragraph up near the beginning.

I saw his point and I made the change.

His suggestion was not the reason I lost my voice.

He made a good suggestion that I was free to take or not take.

It was a good suggestion. I took it.

What shook me was what happened when I made a similar suggestion to another friend.

They got angry.

They felt I was talking down too them as a writer to a writer.

I tried to explain that I was just giving them feedback as a reader to a writer.

This made it worse.

The fact that this other writer knew me and, I thought, had the context for my comment didn't help.

Rather than accept my apology that I had not expressed myself well and meant no disrespect, they were certain that I had expressed myself adequately and was mansplaining and not respecting their credentials as a writer.

Perhaps they were right.

I don't know.

I know what my intent was - but if that wasn't what was on the page...

And so I lost my voice.

I wasn't confident that I could communicate with people who knew me - let alone people who didn't.

I didn't write for months.

And then, one night I was listening to AppleTV and a song came on and Kim visited me as clear as day.

I don't mean she really visited me.

But I had an image of her that was so real I felt her in my arms.

I wrote about it.

Forget that I didn't have the voice to do so. This was important.

A friend of mine read it and pointed out a sentence that was confusing.

In the middle of this highly personal piece - he had a correction to make.

I read his comment. He was right. I made the change.

At that moment my voice came back.

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