I was a teacher for thirty years. It was my job, my passion, my hobby. It became who I was.
Teachers talk about their “Teacher voice”. This is loud (but not yelling) way that teachers get thirty kids to listen to them. It can be stern, or disapproving. It is usually just matter-of- fact. But it is never FUN. It is never meant to make folks feel at ease or get them to laugh. It is an information delivery system.
Mine was good, too. I speak fluent Teacher.
Writers also talk about their Voice. It is their point of view, their style, their way of choosing words to make readers feel a certain way. It needs to be easy to read, entertaining, quirky. FUN.
Unfortunately for me, my Teacher voice seems to be getting in the way of my Writer voice. After months of studious revision, I still write with a very strong Teacher accent.
On the way to the Japanese Garden yesterday, Jasper asked me to remind him about Sacajawea, whose statue we passed. “But don’t say it like a teacher,” he said.
First, I determined not to be offended. This is a perfect “out of the mouths of babes” moment. I needed to learn from it.
Then I saw that if I couldn’t use my Teacher voice, I needed to use another voice, any other voice. You can’t speak without a Voice! So I borrowed a New York/ New Jersey gangster voice, jiggling my shoulders like James Cagney to help it along.
“Okay, see, there’s this President, see, Thomas Jefferson. Nice guy, writes well, even doh he owns slaves. He sends these two guys, Lewis and Clark, haulin’ clear across the country. Go! He says. These poor slobs had No Idea where they were going!” I went on to tell a shortened version of the story, just enough to make Jasper laugh and let him remember what he knew about Sacajawea.
Ironically, the main character of my story is a little girl who has become mute due to trauma. She has literally lost her voice.
How can I find my own voice to tell this story? How could I possibly write my story, in someone else’s voice?