By Delia Latham
“I’m losing my voice,” my friend croaked, and I cringed in sympathy. What was left of her normally pleasant voice sounded painful at best.
“Maybe you shouldn’t be trying to talk,” I suggested. In all honesty, her croaking attempts at conversation grated on my nerves and set up an empathetic ache in my own throat. I handed her a notebook and pen. “Here, use this. Save your voice.”
Of course she didn’t listen. Her refusal to do so cost me an hour or two of auditory torture. And within two days, my vocally challenged pal couldn’t speak a word. For several days, she silently consumed juices and acid reflux medications. Yep, turned out, her recurrent problem with reflux was the culprit all along—the nasty stuff had damaged her vocal cords.
Laryngitis (weak voice or voice loss) usually lasts less than a few weeks and is caused by something minor, like a cold. Sometimes, however, something more serious brings it on, and it sticks around a good, long while. For instance, vocal strain (most often caused by yelling or overuse of the voice) can cause serious damage. Professional singers, who use and abuse their voices on a regular basis, are prone to laryngitis, as are impressionists, who strain their own voices by forcing them to take on the vocal attributes of others.
Writers often suffer a similar malady, losing their voice by using it to imitate an author (or authors) they like and admire. Eventually, their own literary personality is lost because they learn to be such incredible copycats of other voices—leaving them without one of their own.
The culprit? Writer’s reflux. Whereas acid reflux burns the esophageal tissue, writer’s reflux damages literary muscles. We mentally consume and digest the works of other authors. This is not a bad thing—one cannot write without reading. The trouble starts when we begin to rework the ideas, words, and voice of that other author. The result is not pretty: It’s writer’s reflux, a condition in which writers regurgitate what they’ve read into their own manuscripts, often not even quite realizing they’ve done so. Enamored of someone else’s way of saying things, they refuse to process their own ideas, come up with their own turns of phrase, seek out their own style of writing. This weakens and deteriorates the creative “muscles,” damages writing ability and eventually causes complete loss of voice.
Result: Literary Laryngitis.
We all learn by reading other authors. To some degree, we all mold ourselves in the image of our favorite literary talents, just as a child imitates the handwriting samples provided him by his teacher. This is natural and to be expected. But at some point that child begins to add his own flourishes to the script, starts to form letters according to his own taste and imagination. Eventually he develops a unique signature that is his alone.
What we need then, as writers, is our own literary “signature.” A writing style that is unmistakably ours. A way of saying things that clearly identifies our work as belonging to us.
A unique voice. An unmistakable signature. May I suggest a fingerprint? One of a kind. Unmistakable. No chance whatsoever of duplication.
On the flipside, sometimes we just need to take a break. Overusing a voice also causes damage that can lead to laryngitis. Give it a break. Dive into a good book. Watch a good movie. Take a walk. (Study a few books and articles on developing voice.) Make these little detours the self-prescribed “chicken soup for the writer’s soul” that puts you on the road to recovery.
Before you know it, your voice will be back—and entirely your own.
Born and raised in a place called Weedpatch, Delia Latham moved from California to Oklahoma in 2008, making her a self-proclaimed California Okie. She loves to read and write in her simple country home, and gets a kick out of watching her husband play Farmer John. The author enjoys multiple roles as Christian wife, mother, grandmother, sister and friend, but especially loves being a princess daughter to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. She loves to hear from her readers. Find out more about this author and her inspirational romance novels on her website or send an e-mail to delia AT delialatham DOT net.