One of the things I’ve perhaps studied the most as a writer, and I mean as a craftsperson perfecting their art, is what I want to call the mode of speaking. It’s a bit of what most people mean when they talk about “voice,” a bit of word choice, and a bit of style. In long form, it is the way of writing in order to speak directly to your audience. I would call it “accessibility” or “general appeal” except I know I’m not trying to figure out a more broad way of writing things out. What I’m trying to do is find a more narrow one.
One of things you learn in any good writing methodology class as a English Literature major is that there is an inherent rule in all writing. No matter what you do, there will always be at least one layer between what you’ve created and the person experiencing it. I will never be able to take an idea out of my head and put it in someone else’s head without it undergoing some level of change. This isn’t really a failing of writing or writers, but a limitation that a writer must keep in mind as they work.
As is true of all forms of expression, the audience to your expression will be interpreting it based on their experiences and may see in it things you didn’t intend. You can’t truly control it, but you can attempt to direct it. Once you’ve worked out the basic kinks of your creative work so that you’re not relying entirely on luck when it comes to quality, one direction you might choose to focus your growth on is directing people’s reactions to your writing. In college, I focused on being clear, concise, and colloquial (Chris’s Three C’s, I called it), so anyone reading my papers could appreciate the information I was sharing without needing to be well-versed in the same topics or interested enough to get past a bunch of industry slang and sludge.
I like writing something approachable. In the years since then, I’ve worked on is finding ways to relay my ideas in ways that at least removes unintended implications or subtext. A lot of that work has been learning to challenge my own biases, to be aware of the metaphors I’m using, and to learn how word choice can influence interpretation.
To be honest, the way choosing different words can completely shift the meaning of a sentence has always been an interest of mine. My brother was a master of presenting things in palatable ways and spinning conversations on their heads, so that he could go from being in trouble to being a concerned sibling who is worried about the well-being of a younger child. I lacked the ability to counter him in those moments, which form some of my most frustrating memories. That was compounded in high school because I went from being home schooled to being in a boys-only school full of teenagers with little mercy or regard for their classmates. It was the height of the “burn” years and I had front row seats to the way people would twist each other’s words to get one up on each other.
That interest and my general ability to absorb information, combined with my education in writing methodology and passion for writing as a means of self-expression, has left me with a knack for being able to speak to my audience once I get to know them. Or, at the very least, speak in a very firm, intentional way. I rarely misspeak these days, though I still stick my foot in my mouth more often than I’d like since challenging unconscious biases is a lifelong endeavor. When it comes to writing, though, I’m much better at writing exactly what I mean to.
I’ve been reflecting on it a lot, as I write these blog posts, run various D&D games, write letters, develop poems, and try to work on novels in what time remains after all of those things. I’ve even noticed when this mode of speaking idea has come into play in unexpected ways. I recently wrote a letter to my parents that encapsulates the ways I feel about some things I’ve been thinking about and I was caught off guard by how easy it was to write everything in what I could immediately recognize as my “handling my parents” mode of speaking. It was something I developed so long ago that I was twenty-five before I realized that voice existed at all. This realization prompted me to take a bit of time to reflect on what I was actually saying in my letter by using that mode of speaking rather than the one I identify as my default.
I was able to go back and rewrite the letter in a mode of speaking that I believe will have a greater impact than even my default one. My parents are the audience I know best, after all, so it makes sense that I could figure out a way to write everything in a way that feels like it will carry more weight and heft than any other mode of speaking could. But it has left me reflecting on the ways I convey information in other situations, in other moments. I don’t think I ever really had a conscious mode of speaking deliberately chosen for this blog, but I think I have one for some of the types of writing that goes up here, like yesterday’s post and some of the recent poetry I’ve shared.
I definitely have a different one when I’m running my tabletop games, one for each game that I’ve tailored to each audience, though not as consciously as I would have liked. Over the next few weeks, as I write and work, I’m going to be reflecting on this and trying to narrow things down so that I can be sure I’m acting intentionally. Not because I want to control how other people react to what I create, but because I want to be in control of what I’m saying. You’re still free to react however you like, I’d never try to take that from you, but I want to be sure of what I’m saying at all times. After all, if I’m going to exercise my voice I should make sure I’m using it well.