Where does a writing voice come from?

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Can voice be taught? That is the question!

For weeks, I’ve been attempting to help my twelve-year-old son with his assigned middle-school writings. This has not been an easy endeavor. “He lacks voice.” So I’m told. Evidently, there’s a new writing buzzword in our local schools: voice. Students need to have their own unique, vibrant, and creative voice to engage their reader/teacher. This sounds great in concept, but in reality, is this an easy skill to teach? Let alone assess and grade based on a rubric checklist full of conforming standards?

In the past years, my son did an okay job writing, getting by with putting together complete sentences that were error-free. If he had a writing style before, it was (still is) sparse, reticent, and painfully to the point. He’s a quiet person. That’s his voice, too. Maybe to the teacher, the material seems obtuse and nowhere near engaging, but, alas, that is his own, unique writing voice.

In comparison, his slightly younger sister brought home papers exalted in praise of her “excellent voice.” She wrote a short homework assignment on pork last week effortlessly, while 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, my daughter 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). But that’s her personality too. It wasn’t taught, but rather, organically filtered into her writing.

So, I’ve been thinking about writing voice lately. Can I even articulate its meaning to my kids? What are the differences that might influence, or enhance voice? Regarding my children, I’ve observed 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!
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“I’d rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not.”
― Kurt Cobain

Hmmm, number two intrigues me. Perhaps voice becomes most potent when we let go of the fear of saying something wrong. 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 write?

I believe writing voice to be a fragile and subjective thing, that can’t quite be described, explained, or forced. My fear in schools objectively grading subjective material, like a student’s writing voice, is that eventually a paradox is created. One where being genuine to self and expressing a unique voice is graded against conforming, standardized criteria. Thoughts!?!

 

Side Notes:

  • My son rewrote his English paper three times, while I baited, hooked, and pulled personable responses out of him. The paper was finally accepted and highly scored—hopefully containing enough voice.
  • Not long after drafting this post, my first-grader brought home her first writing assignment of the year. The graded rubric scored her a 2/4 for writing voice. (Yes, you need voice in kindergarten and first grade nowadays). And that is perfectly okay, because I read it and graded the story with hugs and kisses to the moon and back.
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Today I can have a pumpkin latte . . .

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It’s officially fall. We all know this, except for those that profit from the gratuitous, pre-extension of holidays. For many weeks, commercially, Halloween, fall, and even Christmas, have been pre-emptively pushed down my throat. Stressed by the never-ending list of back-to-school requirements and requests, my mind has mutated this pre-mature “let’s get ready for the holidays” mindset into a beast that waits, ready to insert itself into my busy back-to-school month.

So, I vented my indignation against this unwanted pressure in the only way I could think of: boycotting. Did Starbucks notice that I had sworn off anything pumpkin flavored until true fall? No. And the local department store did not take down their Christmas decorations because I openly gawked in dismay. (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, entering the grocery store. Its doors flanked with pumpkins on one side and watermelons on the other. I bought the watermelon out of rebellion. After all, I was still wearing summer flip-flops. My right to enjoy a season or holiday in its proper time frame is being taken away.

Sometimes it feels like I’m running a race and just as I near the end banner, it’s being taken down and replaced for the next race. One that has already started without me. The week before school, and for a couple weeks after, days are packed with deadlines, never-ending packets of paperwork, new schedules/commitments, and a myriad of other changes that need tending to ASAP. I need to be present and focused for that onslaught, not distracted by the next busy race. I mean really, pumpkin spice is in everything food now, starting as early as July.

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’m diverting my frustrations toward the poor pumpkins that represent so much hurry. And, 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’s true nonetheless. I could produce a long list of things I did complete, or have almost completed, but won’t. Perhaps venting against the commercial industry is merely a self-soothing way to lessen my guilt while allowing my writing to fall victim to a busy month. Eh, but still.

IMG_8282So now, it is officially fall. I can sense a return to “normalcy” in the household (if that even exists). My kids’ schedules & my volunteering days are plotted. Their afterschool events are aligned, the long back-to-school nights have come and gone, and the avalanche of back-to-school paperwork has been completed and returned. Now, I can return to writing. But first, I must tackle the laundry (this is what just a few days of falling behind looks like)!!! Oh, and my writing space—that is another blog posting all together though! IMG_8612

 

 

Human Trafficking

A few months back, my book club’s theme for the month was Human Trafficking. I’d been hearing more of trafficking in the news lately, as most people have. 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 on a microscopic level, until I read several books on the topic. I’m bereft at what I’ve come to know.

This insidious beast, some call it slavery, snatches up the youth, either in a literal kidnapping or beguiling its victims into servitude. The use of humans for the benefit of others is not a new concept. Perhaps, I’m overwhelmed that we as a society, have yet to evolve enough as beings to recognize the audacity in allowing slavery, in any form, to continue. Without a doubt, this will not be an easy battle. However, awareness is the beginning, and that is happening!

I wrote a poem, “Shame.” It represents only one facet of trafficking; for it hides many faces. In my poem/story, I wanted to show that what appears to be a choice, could actually be the tragedy of circumstance, and ironically—lack of choices. And, ultimately, the message is: without the malicious need for bodies, there would not be profiting made from the supply of human beings. The shame is in the circumstances, the failure of protection, and the eye of society that looks the other way when 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 book club that month. If pressed to choose one of the three to read, I’d recommend A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison. It is fiction, threaded into a compelling, quick read that pulls you into the story and keeps you there, while exposing the various heartbreaking, real-life scenarios and aspects of trafficking. Please learn more, and be aware!

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https://www.dhs.gov/topic/human-trafficking

https://humantraffickinghotline.org/

https://www.unodc.org/unodc/human-trafficking/

https://polarisproject.org/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/taking-a-photo-of-your-hotel-room-could-help-save-a-trafficking-victims-life_us_57714091e4b0f168323a1ed7

 

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 think about how especially vulnerable the moment is when a child’s heart is involved. ❤

Add 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. A nice visual to gaze upon over a bowl of morning cereal, reminding the kids of school. Although, I still read aloud nightly to my children, it’s not enough to combat the increasing infiltration of electronics insidiously creeping into our home—and the school as well. So, with a discarded, glass-less frame and some purchased dry-erase backing, I made the board you see here for less than five bucks.

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I began by adding, or updating, two or three words weekly. It wasn’t long before I was scribbling meaningful quotes, mantras, or scripture as well. I want to foster kindness, empathy and other attributes amongst my children, and I believe words have the power to do that. (For a short time, I added a Spanish word-of-the-week, but this didn’t go over so well.) While the weekly “word board” talk about philosophical meaning and/or the definition discussion isn’t mind-blowing, it is often engaging and usually near the mark. Regardless, they are thinking!

Honestly, my kids now seem acceptingly indifferent to the board, and have come to expect it to be updated regularly. Of course, they don’t recall the meaning of every word that’s been presented, but many words, especially those that we’ve made everyday connections to, have become part of their vocabulary. And that, makes it so worth it!

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