Where does a writing voice come from?


 Can voice be taught?  That is the question!

For weeks, I’ve been attempting to help navigate my twelve-year-old son with his assigned middle school writings.  This has not been an easy endeavor.  Evidently, It seems there is a new writing buzzword in our local schools: voice.  Students need to have their own unique, vibrant and creative voice, while actively engaging their readers.  That sounds great in theory, but in reality is this an easy concept to teach, let alone assess and grade based on a rubric checklist of conforming standards?

In the years past, my son did an okay job writing, getting by with putting together complete sentences–minus grammar and spelling errors.   If he had a writing style before, it was(still is) sparse, reticent and painfully to the point.  So when he writes, that is his voice, too–making the material seem obtuse and nowhere near engaging.   Alas, but that is his own writing voice.

In comparison, his slightly younger sister has brought home papers recently that exalt with praise of her “excellent voice.”   She wrote a small homework assignment on pork last week effortlessly, as my son and I banged our heads together for over an hour trying to add “voice” to his assignment.  In just a couple of paragraphs, she had an energized commentary that was both funny and persuasively moving(enough so that I felt a pang of guilt for sneaking bacon into her soup the previous night).

So, I’ve been thinking about the “writing voice” lately.   Can I even accurately articulate its meaning to my children?   What are the differences that might influence, or enhance a writing voice?  Regarding my children I’ve concluded the following:

  1.  My daughter loves reading, my son does not.
  2.  She does not fear(or care much) what others think of her, whereas my son does.
  3.  They have totally different personalities!

“I’d rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not.”
― Kurt Cobain

Hmmm, number two intrigues me.  I’ve been told that I have an “OK” writing voice.   But I don’t know how “OK” that voice would be if I’d not made it to that point in life where I cared more about expressing my own thoughts, than what others might think of those words(thoughts).  Perhaps voice becomes most potent when we let go of the fear of saying something wrong, and we speak with an authentic essence of self .  But, again, how can that be taught?  How can you teach someone to let go and be expressive without fear, especially young writers, and most especially young writers that don’t really want to be writers?

I believe a writing voice to be a fragile and subjective thing, that can’t quite be described, explained or captured by others.  My fear in trying to objectively grade subjective material, like a student’s writing voice, is that eventually a paradox is created, one where  we no longer seek a genuine and unique voice, but one that conforms to pre-determined, standardized criteria.  Thoughts!?!

Side Notes:

  • After three attempts of my son rewriting an English paper, while I figuratively baited, hooked and pulled personable responses out of him, the paper was finally accepted and highly scored, and surely contained a voice.
  • I started this blog post in draft form yesterday afternoon.  Ironically, and much to my chagrin, not long after, my first grader brought home her first graded writing rubric of the year.  She scored a 2/4 for her writing voice(yes, you need a voice in kindergarten and first grade nowadays).  And that is perfectly OK, so I’m not worried, at her tender age, spelling and punctuation take precedence.

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