We writers can learn from others – effective use of verbs, similes, foreshadowing, characterization and other literary arts. But to truly develop our talents and perfect our craft, we must find our unique voices.
Before ghostwriting speeches or articles, I often sit with and listen to the people whose voices I will capture. As much as possible, the words I write are ones they would use to iterate their ideas. The personalities the pieces evoke are theirs, not mine.
I thought of this as I turned the last page of The Book Thief. Throughout it, I savored not only the well-told story, but Markus Zusak’s artistry in its telling. I want to master the language as well as he does, to be able to choose and position words – sometimes in unexpected ways – to paint rich visuals, moods, and characters with a pen’s stroke, rather than a broad brush.
Even as I thought this, I realized his way is not my way. His voice is not mine. Originals – in music, literature, film, dance or any of the arts – are celebrated, in part, because they are unique and authentic. Inevitably, soon after they burst on the public consciousness, there’s a rush of pale knock-offs that ride the well-worn coattails of success. These “in-the-style-of” artists eventually are relegated to footnotes in their fields.
I might never have a breakaway success, but I will not be a footnote. Finding my unique voice is a slow process, but when it emerges, it will be strong. And it will be authentic.