Edgerton: Write in Your Own Voice

Voice_08252014Les Edgerton.  2003.  Finding Your Voice:  How to Put Personality in Your Writing.  Cincinnati:  Writer’s Digest Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Let me see.  If you did not know the subject of a book called—Finding Your Voice—what possibilities come to mind?  Perhaps, a doctor’s guide to throat surgery recovery? Or, maybe, lost in the opera house, confessions of a prima donna? Or, better, a citizen’s guide to responsive government…?  Clearly, a bit of context is helpful.

Confession time.  Although I am a writer myself, I read Les Edgerton’s Finding Your Voice:  How to Put Personality in Your Writing, in part, to learn about writing and, in part, to see what he would say about personality.  It is more than a bit ironic that a fiction writer would write about developing an authentic style (voice) in writing.  Much like actors have trouble figuring out who they are—which mask is the real me?—fiction writers must live into the characters they create if readers are going to take them seriously.  It is therefore not surprising that Edgerton finds tension between the authentic style of the writer and the requirements of the story (223).  A chameleon writer might alternatively be considered extremely versatile or simply inauthentic—depending on the amount of experience writing that we are talking about.

Edgerton does not so much promote a particular method as assist the reader in discovering their authentic voice.  This task could be daunting in an age of relativistic morality where the idea of personality—a surface attribute—has been substituted for the older notion of innate character [1].  In a sense, Edgerton deconstructs the wantabe writer like a cook peels an onion—underneath do we find a core personality or just another mask?  Strip away da rules of your English teacher (10); forget about the Critic Nag Dude and beige voice (11); abandon old writing books (15); take reviews (15); go easy on the synonyms (18).  Most interesting is his notion that we must also abandon the voices in our head, so to speak, of favorite writers, previous editors, and cultural stereotypes.  This writer’s exorcism goes on and on (48).  Still, we are encouraged to find a voice that at least conforms to the expectations of the genre that we are writing for.

It is interesting to watch the voice evolve in Edgerton’s own writing.  Early in the book, he assumes an edgy voice—the ex-con, insecurely trying to relate to the reader. By chapter 6 he assumes the more confident voice of a writing instructor.  Later in the book the insecure voice shows up again in the form of name-dropping of other writers and books that might be interesting.  Personally, I preferred the self-confident writing instructor who is not afraid to give me the advice that I need.

What advice did I seek?  Edgerton writes:

Make yourself your intended reader.  By writing to you as your reader, you get closer than at any other time to getting your real voice on the page.  You write naturally (78).

Yes.  Thanks.  That will do fine.


[1] I am borrowing a bit from David F. Wells. 1998.  Losing Our Virtue:  Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

Edgerton: Write in Your Own Voice

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com



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