At first glance you will think post is about some form of Writers’ Block. You may think that I am going to describe a time when I sat down at my computer and couldn’t think of a single things to write. This has never happened to me. I have too many stories in my head.
This post is about me losing my actual voice and the effect it has had on being a writer.
Last summer I had a hoarse voice. I expected it to get better within a week or so but it didn’t. I put up with it for a few further weeks enjoying the sympathy I got from friends and family and thought I’d wake up one day back to normal with my regular voice. It didn’t happen.
I went to the doctors. She sent me to see a specialist and a quick scan was organised and I was told that thankfully it wasn’t anything ‘bad’ but that my left vocal chord was not working. They could give no reason for this and called it ‘idiopathic’ which means that they didn’t know what caused it. It could be a virus and if so might take eighteen months to go away (if it did). Meanwhile I could get some speech therapy to help.
The manifestation of this problem was a voice with less volume. It meant that I seemed out of breath and husky and struggled to make myself heard. Initially I tried all sorts of remedies. I stopped the inhaler I used for asthma. I gargled loads. I ‘saved’ my voice. I whispered. Nothing worked.
I make my living by writing. So fortunately my voice isn’t an issue here. Is it?
I’ve always been one to argue on the importance of talking about books. For me talking about books and writers is a crucial way of promoting books and reading in general. A chat about a writer or a book makes me go and look up their books and try one. But the act of talking, itself, is a way of making sense of the world and what we might like to do or read or not read. So a discussion on books is a way of my sorting out in my head what it is I like and don’t like. So the ability to talk unfettered is an important part of the reading process.
Equally, for me, talking is a crucial part of the writing process. Having ideas about stories and talking them through with friends or family (or editors) is one of the ways in which I build my stories. Discussing a plot development is a way of trying it out outside my head. My character will do this or maybe it would be better if she does that… Walking the dogs and running through a possible plotline with my husband or my sister or my mum is a way of making that story real, testing its convinceability meter (spellcheck went mad here).
We learn through talk. My twenty years teaching showed me that. I am still learning as a writer.
But when the act of talking is an effort sometimes you don’t bother. When I’m explaining and my husband says What? Pardon? Several times I tend to give up. When I say things and it’s quite clear that people haven’t heard me I think, why bother? Not good. I remember watching Musharaf, the boy with the stutter on Educating Yorkshire, and understanding why people might give up trying.
There is another problem. I have always been happy to do school visit and of course my first concern was that I wouldn’t be able to stand in front of a large crowd and give a one hour talk. The funny that was that didn’t turn out to be the problem. The school provided a microphone. After an initial apology for my scratchy voice I was able to give my usual talk. The problem came with the ‘social’ aspect to the visit. Meeting teenagers and trying to talk to them. They are usually incredibly shy anyway and don’t come very close. In the past I would talk to them about what they were reading and what kind of books they liked, just chit chat. But now I found I couldn’t do it because they couldn’t hear me.
I am now (after eight months) used to my voice. I am persevering with the speech therapy. In my struggle to pronounce words I am beginning to end them succinctly (if at a low volume) and my husband says I am beginning to sound ‘posh’. That would be a funny outcome for this cockney girl. To end up sounding like a BBC reader!
So, if you see me out and about don’t be put off by my little voice. Ask me about my stories and, with some difficulty, I will tell you what I’m working on.