Dina Friedman's Monthly Writing Advice

Vol. 1 # 4, September 2001 - Finding Your Own Voice

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This past month, I learned a valuable lesson about writing from my daughter, a pianist. She was attending a highly competitive two-week chamber music program, her first prolonged sleep-away experience. We were nervous when we went to visit her for the mid-session concert, but she seemed happy enough, though, as always, worried about how her performance would turn out. Alana recognized that she was in a "different league" of musicians, and confessed that she was having conflicts with the flute player in her ensemble. "But they're playing the piece too fast!" she argued. "And they're ignoring the molto crescendo at the end!"

I dismissed her remarks as typical of her highly perfectionist personality, and after the concert, I told Alana that I thought the piece went fine. The musicians blended well. There was good movement, and no mistakes. But she was quiet, subdued. She felt the piece had not been played to its potential. Sure, it was competently done, but it was unexciting. She had interpreted the piece differently, but the other members of the ensemble had not agreed with her interpretation.

The following week, at the final concert , Alana played a piano trio, and as the instrument with the largest voice, she had more control over the interpretation. This time she glowed after the performance, and I was glad that the program ended on such a happy note.

So what does this have to do with writing?

Writers, on the whole, are not ensemble players, but sometimes they forget that it's up to them to find their own voice. When asking for feedback, beware of trying to please others. Ask yourself, "does this information help me with MY vision of MY own work," or am I merely succumbing to someone else's vision or interpretation? A good reader will help you "midwife" your own voice more fully without imposing his or her own voice in the process. This is not to say that their feedback isn't valid. The flute player's interpretation of Alana's first ensemble piece is just as credible as her own, but when Alana played the piece that way, she felt as if she had lost her own voice. A necessary lesson for ensemble players, and, in the reverse, a necessary lesson for writers.

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Dina Friedman, mailto:dina@frugalfun.com ,
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Dina Friedman, M.S.W., has worked with individuals and groups on issues for thirteen years. A published fiction writer, poet, playwright, and journalist and winner of several awards and honors, she coordinates academic writing workshops for Mount Holyoke College. She has taught rhetoric, English Comp, and creative writing at the University of Massachusetts, Holyoke Community College, and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

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