On Voice and Genre

Part of my journey is a writer is a constant striving to find a cadence that rings true — meaning that it rings me— across genres. Every form of communication has its own conventions, but good writing is good writing, right?

Good writing is two things: clear and honest. The way I see it, clarity is the craft part, and honesty is the hard part: the unique grappling of an individual human mind with deeper meaning.

At his talk, James Hannaham said that when he begins a new novel, it itself teaches him how to write it. Rather than telling the story in his Voice ™, he sculpts the voice to match the story. I take that to mean that with enough effort and exploration, each truth —in the deeper, figurative sense —will teach you how to write it.

So the artistic process becomes a lot easier and a lot harder, right? You can argue that the Truth that inspires art often finds you: the news article you can’t quite shake from your mind, the conversation you overheard at the train station, the way the afternoon sun hit the asphalt on that one street. But that’s the easy part. The hard part is a Promethean process. How, exactly, do you convey the ways in which that story rends your heart today?

The hope is that you’ll convey that struggle in language clear enough to transcend the ego and reach someone else. And if not, tomorrow holds new truths and new, evolved selves that will combine to make new iterations of the artistic process.

I’m a bit of genre nomad; I have always assumed that the content dictates the genre— not the other way around. I think that the same creative impulse can be “translated,” across genres. It might take different forms, in a poem, in a short story, in an essay and the process of translating across genres might help us understand the subject better. It might also make room for the subject to teach us how to it wants to be written.

David has said that submitting work for publication is at least in part about teaching readers and editors how to read you. To say: “This is the artistic lens through which I see the world,” is not necessarily the same as to say, “This is my Voice.”

Just as a person can mutter, whisper, or scream, a writer’s voice can change. What doesn’t change is the hardy commitment, the self that says, day in and day out: today, this truth rends my heart in the following ways. Let me try to explain.

 

 

Yohanca Delgado is a staff editor at Café Américain and a first-year candidate in American University’s Creative Writing MFA program. This text was inspired by an assignment for Seminar on Translation (David Keplinger).

 

 

 

 

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