How is it that even today, two thousand years later, we can still hear that voice? The character of his voice brings the message. It is urgent. I need to hear it every year at Advent.
It got me to thinking about how important distinct voices are.
When I read something interesting I hate to say goodbye to it. I tell myself: “I have to remember this.” It could be because a narrative was engaging or an op-ed piece was particularly well-thought-out. What I really enjoy is writing that finds the gold within the ore of life and extracts it for me. Some paintings move me this way but more oftern it is a really good writer.
Richard Rhodes has a short piece in today’s Wall Street Journal (I love Saturday’s Review section because there is no financial news in it.). He tells us how he feels about writing in a distinct voice.
For Rhodes constructing poetry is like watchmaking, non-fiction writing feels like woodworking and fiction is more like throwing clay.
His theme is that writing, to be good writing, has to be edited, though not necessarily by anyone other than the author. The first edition has to be related to “voice.” Who is speaking? Our writing shouldn’t be simply a transcription of ideas which we hear on our heads, half-formed usually. Often it’s someone else’s voice which simply appears from out of our memory but which is notthe author’s voice.
School papers, emails, brochure writing need different forms of writing, different sounds and, often, dialects of the language of everyday conversation. You edit your self-talk into a voice that your reader can understand clearly. The point of writing is the reader. The reader has to find an “anchor” in the writing that settles the reader into a particular point of view through the voice you have chosen to use.
My college professor, Elias Chaisson, used to stare down our class with stuff like: “Sloppy writing is born of sloppy thinking.” That’s another way of saying, “Write with a voice that your reader can recognize in a world of competing noise.”
John the Baptist’s voice I recognize.
I want, also, to remember the voice of Richard Rhodes. I’d like to listen to him again.
Richard Rhodes, Wall Street Journal, 11/10/2011. p. C12.