Friday, April 27, 2012

How stupidity can lead you to your own voice

I'm one of those writers who has a personality on the page, the kind you get all mad at because my style of writing can occasionally overcome the actual content in the story. Mind you, I never ever write something without putting my best effort into it, but I get a lot of credit for the way I use my words.

I enjoy saying things like "homeskillet" and "heavens to Betsy." In real life I say "Oh for heaven's sake!" on an hourly basis. This is my style in life and it is my style in writing. I have been told that how I talk is exactly how I write, that there is no filter between me and my written words.

Not everybody knows how to do this, so I will tell you how.

The secret is, I am dumb and impatient.

The other day my boss emailed the English department a form for us to fill out with statistics and jargon and lots of complicated details about how we plan to improve learning in our classrooms. I read this form like twice and did not understand a goddamn word. My brain does not function that way. I can bullshit by copying what other people write, but I am completely faking it. I often have no clue what the hell I'm talking about. This is how I survived Astronomy class.

Of course, with this particular document, I might have asked for help or read it another two times, but I am impatient. Instead I deleted the email, and prepared to say to my boss, "Look, dude, I don't know what this bullshit means, but I can tell you what I'm doing in the classroom and why." Fortunately he never called me in to talk about it, probably because he's met me and he knows how this conversation will go.

When I was in band, I sucked at sight reading. I am too impatient to look at all those black notes and figure out what they mean, so I'd just start to wander off with my flute and make up my own music. It sounded pretty good, way better than the sound I squeaked out when I tried to play Mozart. I shake my fist at Mozart. I do not have the patience to, like, practice or whatever.

You can see where this is going.

I am dumb and impatient, so I don't even bother trying to figure out what anyone else wants me to say. I just say what's in my brain and figure they'll all just deal. Miraculously, so far everyone has.

It's weird. Somehow what would get other people in trouble has been my greatest advantage, much to the chagrin of one particular coworker who always does what he's told and doesn't understand why I never get lectured. I'm fucking charming, that's why. Or everyone's afraid I will punch them in the face.

So I guess if you want to learn how to harness your own voice, act dumb and impatient. Just forget about how you're supposed to sound and say, "fuck it" and let your brain loose on the page. You're telling a story to someone who really wants to be entertained. You're explaining something to someone who may be dumb and impatient, like me. So if you can put yourself in dumb and impatient mode, and you can rip out that filter and let those thoughts fly directly to your fingers, you too can have a distinct voice.

And the most important thing is, just accept that you're dumb. Don't try to sound smart. Remember that you can always go back and use bigger words later. Right now just let yourself sound stupid. Embrace that shit. Be the best idiot you can be.

It's also possible I'm completely full of shit and am too dumb to know better.

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