A Letter to Young Writers

The only true voice a writer can speak in—honestly and truly—is hers or his own.  This might seem obvious, when in actuality, most people—the vast majority—never learn to “speak” on paper, in black and white words with their own authentic tone, rhythm, and word choices they employ in day to day contact with friends, family, business associates, etcetera.

Almost everyone pretends to be someone they are not when writing. Generally, you try to sound either more intelligent than you are to be impressive, or less intelligent to be amusing. For most people, the audience determines the voice of the writing. This is what happens in journalism and advertising. Writing to try and sell a product or present a story as objective and informative. It is not necessarily dishonest to do so. And can be artful, as well as highly lucrative to accomplish, especially in marketing and advertising.

However, as a writer who aspires to create stories that will live for a long time, be memorable, and affecting to readers for my own amusement, the most difficult thing to do is sound true, and on paper, truly be, who I actually am, all the time, with every single word I choose, and every last thought I write down. If I can do that, my name might one day be listed among the literary heroes I’ve have immolated, mimicked, and copied in the effort to figure out how they did it.

The best advice I can offer is, don’t think about it too much. The natural inclination is to become self-conscious when you write. Critical voices begin to howl in your gut, to laugh in your face, and jeer in your ears at your very best efforts to be yourself. Don’t listen if you can help it. It can take decades to purposely go deaf, at least it did in my case.

What you are reading here sounds like me, because it is.

Don’t pretend to be Southern if you’re a Yankee. Don’t pretend to be dumb because your audience is. And especially don’t contrive to sound more intelligent than you know you are.

Be honest.

Tell the truth. That’s all there is.