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.

Today I can have a pumpkin frapp, or latte…

IMG_8327Today is fall.  I know we all know this fact, except for those that can profit from the gratuitous and preemptive, pre-extension of holidays.   For the last many weeks, commercially, Halloween, fall and even Christmas have been figuratively pushed down my throat.  Stressed by the almost never-ending list of back-to-school requirements, requests and requisitions of my time:  my mind has mutated this premature “let’s-get-ready-for-the-holidays” mindset into a beast that waits, attempting to insert itself into my already hustled back-to-school month.

So, I vented my rebellious indignation against this unwanted pressure in the only way I could think of:  boycotting.   Did Starbucks notice that I had sworn to not order a pumpkin Frappuccino or latte until fall?  No.  And, a local department store did not take down their Christmas decorations because I openly gawked in incredulous dismay.  For goodness sake,  it was very early September and I was shopping for back-to-school socks!   And yeah, just days ago, that was me shaking my head as I entered the local grocery store–the door was flanked with pumpkins on one side and watermelons on the other.   I bought the watermelon.   After all, I was still wearing flip-flops and it was still technically summer.   My right to enjoy a season or event in its proper time frame is being taken away–it’s being taken away from everyone.

Sometimes it feels like I’m running a marathon, making it to the last mile of the race and the welcome banner is being taken down–and a new race has already started without me.  The week before school and for a few weeks after, days are packed with deadlines, never-ending packets of paperwork, new schedules and myriad of other changes or commitments or demands that need tending to ASAP.   I want to be present for that reality and not be distracted by the impending onslaught of the next busy race.   I mean really, photos of pumpkin “frapps” proudly posted around Facebook the day before my kids even started the school year.

You might be asking, “what the heck does any of this have to do with a writing blog?”  Because I have been struggling, that’s why.   I have not worked on my current novel in over a month.  There I said it.  I feel a mix of shame and regret to admit that, but it is true nonetheless.   I could produce a hugely long list of things I did complete, or have almost completed, but I won’t.  Perhaps venting against the commercial industry is merely a self-soothing way to lessen my guilt at allowing my writing to fall victim to a busy month–or maybe not.

So now it is IMG_8282officially fall.  I can sense a return of “normalcy”(if that even exists).  My kids’ schedules & my volunteering days are plotted, their afterschool events aligned and routine(mostly),  the long back-to-school nights have come and gone, almost all of the paperwork avalanche has been completed and returned to school.  Now, I can return to writing and hopefully get back into a fitness routine, and organize the unorganized  remnants of summer,  but first I must tackle the laundry(yes, this is what just a few days of falling behind looks like)!!!  Oh, and my writing space, yet that is another blog posting  all together!


Human Trafficking…

I submitted the poem that I’ve recently been working on to the Library of Virginia’s “Dark Side” creative-writing contest. It’s titled “Shame” and is the seventh entry from the top. (Check it out!)

A few months back, my book club’s theme for the month was: human trafficking. Of course, I’d been hearing of trafficking in news more lately, as most people have, I’m sure. It’s the latest crusade among many celebrities. However, I didn’t fully appreciate the depths of those words, “Human Trafficking” and what it could mean until I read several books on the topic, and then pursued further information. I was bereaved at what I came to know.

This insidious beast, some call it slavery, snatches up the youth, either in a literal kidnapping or beguiling its victim into servitude. The use of humans for the benefit of others is truly not a new concept, but perhaps we have evolved enough as beings to recognize the audacity in allowing it to continue. Without a doubt, it will not be an easy battle. However, awareness is the beginning, and that is happening!

My poem represents only one facet of many faces of trafficking. I wanted to show that what appears to be volition in choice, could actually be the tragedy of circumstance, and ironically–lack of choices. And, ultimately without the malicious need for bodies, there would not be the profiting of the precious supply. The shame is in the circumstances, the failure of a parent’s protection and the society that looks the other way when the equally culpable “Johns” purchase a young soul.

“And thereon every child I met, who has been violated and abused I made sure the child understood that he/she is the one who is wronged and being a victim is not something one should be ashamed of.”
~Sunitha Krishnan http://sunithakrishnan.blogspot.com/

Below are the three books discussed during my book club that month. If pressed to choose one of the three to read, I’d recommend A Walk Across the Sun. It is fiction, threaded into a compelling, quick read that pulls you into the book and keeps you there, while exposing you to the various heartbreaking, real-life scenarios and aspects of trafficking.


To Know Them as They Grow

To Know Them as They Grow.

Wow, what a beautiful message! I think everyone struggles with being present in the moment, but how especially vulnerable the moment is when a child’s heart is involved.

Adding words into your child’s daily life…

A couple of years back, I decided to add a “word board” to our already cluttered kitchen wall, sort of a visual prompt to gaze upon over a bowl of morning cereal. Although, I was still reading aloud nightly to my children(and still do!), it wasn’t enough to combat the increasing infiltration of electronics that were insidiously creeping not only into our home, but the school as well. So, with a discarded, glass-less frame and a purchased roll of dry-erase backing, I made the board you see here for less than five bucks.


I began by adding or updating two or three words weekly. It wasn’t long before I was adding meaningful quotes, mantras or Scripture in an attempt to foster kindness, empathy and other attributes amongst my children. (For a short time I added a Spanish word-of-the-week, but this didn’t go over so well.)Their level of philosophical contemplation and discussion is not mind-blowing, but it is often engaging and sometimes near the mark. Regardless, they are thinking!

Honestly, my kids seem indifferent to the board, but have come to expect it to be updated regularly, and do go along with me sporadically asking for an explanation to a word’s implication, or the underlining thought behind a quote. Of course, they do not recall the meaning of every word that has been presented(I don’t expect this), but many words, especially those words that we’ve made everyday connections with, have become part of their vocabulary. And that, makes it so worth it!

What’s the all-time favorite word-board word? Insolent: it is heard quite often 😉