When You Can’t Find Your Voice

I’ve been struggling a lot with my writing voice lately. By struggling, what I mean is that I feel as though my voice is buried in rubble. It’s close enough for me to see but covered in too much debris for me to reach. And by lately, I mean it’s been happening a few years now.

So, yeah. Not so recent a thing, it turns out — and something I’ve yet to figure out how to solve. This is especially difficult for me because I’ve always had strong writer instincts. I could always tell when my work needed more edits or polish, and on the flip side, I had no problem marking something as complete. But those days have disappeared, and I’m not sure if or when they’ll return.

I know this can happen to any writer, at any time, and be triggered by anything. For me, it’s come after a few years of intense professional writing that taught me how to deliver an objectively-written news or corporate article but has all but erased my own voice.

There’s a scene from my favorite show, Aaron Sorkin’s “West Wing,” in which the White House Communications Director, Toby Ziegler, talks about his own writer’s block. (You can see the episode here — the clip takes place around minute 39.) He says:

“I don’t understand what’s happening. There’s no blood going to it. I’ve never had to locate it before. I don’t even know where to look.”

That’s exactly how I feel. I sharpened my writing skills at a startup that allowed me to write in my own voice. The experience taught me that you could write with authority without burying your personality or, importantly, your personal experiences. In fact, I found that people reading our blog trusted us more because we were so transparent about our own stories. Getting into that type of writing was as natural for me as breathing, and getting trained out of it has left me suffocating.

How do you teach yourself to breathe again when you never had to think about it before?

Now that I’m looking for something I’ve never had to locate, it feels like I’m driving without my glasses. I have a basic idea of where I’m going, but everything is fuzzy. It’s scary — to have the ability to see but not see clearly. I have to resort to memory for the street signs because I can’t read them without my glasses no matter how close I get. And it’s frustrating. Will I get my vision back again? How?

I write this to lend voice to something I know a lot of writers go through. I wish I had solutions, but sometimes just knowing others have gone through it is powerful enough.

The first time I saw the aforementioned episode on “West Wing” since losing my voice, I had a lightbulb moment. Finally, someone had put into words the feelings that had been plaguing me. This thing I’m going through is a thing, and that means it can be defeated. Other writers deal with it, and they get through it. It’s an occupational hazard, so to speak.

And so I keep pushing through, in the hope that I’ll be able to find my voice again.

Photo by Nils Stahl on Unsplash