Finding Your Voice in an Echo Chamber

My experience as an English Education major leads me to the notion that everything I do is centered on the idea of communication. There is an ongoing relationship that exists between all writers and readers. As a prospective educator who wants to teach the mode of communication known as writing to you, my students, I must be aware of this dynamic and more specifically how I communicate using this mode. I reflect on my past in an attempt to understand how I learned, un-learned, and am now attempting to re-learn the art of writing.

While searching the basement for remnants of my childhood, I discovered old journals that I wrote in as a child. Their covers varied from one with Curious George dancing around, to pre-teen caricatures of girls painting their nails, to abstract brush strokes of Monet. I attempted to work as a chronologist with these random journals, each filled only halfway with no coherent flow or proof that I had any understanding of how journaling worked. Broken statements and scattered ideas filled countless disorganized pages.

The sentences were short and lacked adjectives. They were blunt and to the point. As a child, I said what I had to say and skipped the superfluous, unnecessary garnishing of the language. As the journals progressed, I seemed to grow more aware that I was journaling. I complained and was angsty in all the entries, speaking to an outside “you”, begging and pleading for answers to questions that didn’t really make sense. I repeated, “why me?” as if I thought I was the most tortured soul in all of literature. I kept a private log of every minute experience. I tangled emotions with strange, long words that were used completely incorrectly in context, but sounded pretty intelligent, for a kid anyway. If the context of these entries had applied logic added to their enhanced vocabulary maybe the journals would have passed for an adult and not a pre-tween.

I remember in early middle school constantly revising my writing in an attempt to extricate all of the “yous”. “You” and “I” were forbidden in the classroom context of writing. My teachers repeated how it was “unprofessional” and “not appropriate”. I obeyed, red-penning my identity out of my own paper, leaving awkward, hypothetical “ones” to take my place. This new, uncomfortable writing style went against the knowledge I had naturally developed about writing from my early journaling. There was no “you”, but even worse there was no I. I truly believe my attempt to make up for this distanced writing style was compensated by adding careful strings of prepositions. In some way they put a little bit of me back into the writing. My signature became my lengthy sentences and my teachers rewarded and acknowledged my “accelerated” writing style.  However, not everyone was thrilled with my new-found writing voice.

In high school, my scientist of a father would critique my essays. Countless hours were spent analyzing every word I typed in trying to understand what I was attempting to communicate. I had ideas, but they were big and I struggled to create a functional syntax that would justly express those ideas effectively. He hacked through the adjectives that I clung to. I needed them if I wanted to be the most literate writer in class. I truly believed these words and complex sentence structures made me more intelligent. Instead they brought tension between the two extreme writing styles that existed in my house: my “subject verb object” father or my own exploration of fabricating words together to make the most meaningful expression necessary.

But both methods failed my voice. One was too simple and didn’t delve enough into critical thinking. It reported and recapped events without providing any further thought. The other was so out there that it sounded intelligent and eloquent, but the point of it couldn’t be anchored to any concrete subject material. The ideas were lost in a passive, inactive voice that failed to communicate.

College became the place where I was first called out on my weak writing. Dr. Downes sat with me in her office to discuss a journal reflection I wrote for her class. She crossed out all of the pretty adjectives and lengthy prepositions trying to weed out the point of my sentence. The student that I was felt violated by this professor scrawling and scratching my latest linguistic masterpiece. But, Downes became the pioneer educator in confronting my passive writing voice. She explained how my style was embellished and hard to decipher. She had confidence I was saying something, but she just did not know what that something was. I questioned how I had gotten this far in my educational career without having an educator confront me before. I doubted my writing hesitating with every word I attempted to put down on paper.

She pointed out how again and again, I chose the weakest verb in the English language, is, to be the sole glue to all of my sentences. Everything is or was or should be this, but nothing in my writing, including me, ever broke past the “is”. Looking back on my writing through the years, it is now so clear that somewhere between personal journaling and school assignments, a switch from careless to careful occurred.

I am. The very statement wreaks passivity. The irony arises in the notion that the very essence of existence is both passive and active. There can be nothing more active than being; yet at the same time, simply being is the most passive way to carry out existence. How could I develop a voice when the structure of language halted me with every utterance? I was painfully aware and hated the realization that I am passive in every aspect, even down to my gender. I tag my ideas, leaving safe wiggle room for error. Writing all those adjectives, did not to garnish the written language, it did protect me as the distant writer. All this time, I thought I had ownership, but all I had was a bubble of written protection guarding myself. If you’re too passive then your writing is critiqued, not you. To be an active writer is to be accountable for what you say. There is risk in statements. As a prospective educator and a writer, I need to incorporate activity in my own voice so you, my future students don’t get trapped in this same cycle.

Active voice gives authorship to the writer, to you. Too often in school, students are not learning to write, but are learning to research and carefully construct other’s words into a cohesive sentences. Students aren’t thinking but are tagging their own writing insecurities with scholarly research as a safety net for them to fall back on. I’m not discrediting research, but I am questioning if students are learning how to write by simply stringing together other professional’s theories and thesis statements. This practice, so often taught, is dangerous to the development of an authentic voice.

With this style, I learned how to write from silently stealing pieces from the writers I read. I actively committed an intertextual theft with every composition I crafted. I turned the same phrase and claimed authorship without understanding my own parroting tendencies. I hid behind these other assorted writer’s styles. I ran on and on echoing voices that weren’t mine in an attempt to be fundamentally understood. How could anyone understand a voice that lacks authenticity? I found an absolute necessity in recovering that child who wrote her own nonsensical scribbles in blank journaling books. I had to rebuild where she left off but with the awareness I now have.

I need to change my perspective or approach to writing in order to claim authority in my own writing. Writing is another form of communication. I think of it as a way to practice spoken language. An objective perspective of your personal writing development leads to a better understanding of where you stand with your own authorship and developing your own voice. It is never too late or too early to be critical of your writing in the pursuit of finding your own voice in the vast echo chamber.

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