Urban excursions and literary voice.

by Todd Foley

There’s something strikingly beautiful in a change of scenery.

My wife found a killer coupon for an upscale salon in downtown Vancouver [we’re suckers for deals, remember?], so I joined her for an outing and sat myself down in an industrial-meets-nature park in the Yaletown neighborhood.

Yaletown is considered the New York of Vancouver – makes sense, seeing as it’s a prime location for filming movies set in the Big Apple. Such a different atmosphere from what I’m used to day in and day out. I love our quiet life in the suburbs, but I always enjoy excursions into the city. It just feels like a whole new world down here [cue Aladdin music].

I passed the time in the park reading Surfacing by Margaret Atwood, a novel I got as a Christmas gift. She’s one of those highly-acclaimed authors whose work I’ve never read.

Honest moment #1: I hated it when I first started.

All I saw were awkward fragments and comma splices. “But she’s such a renown novelist,” I told myself. “I have to like it – otherwise, that means I have poor taste in literature!” Silly logic, I know, but it resonated with me. Stubborn American that I am, I kept reading, determined to make sense of the words.

Soon enough, I found myself immersed in Atwood’s stunning prose, diving into the narrating character’s psyche and seeing a complex world through her eyes. I often had to force myself to put the book down at night so I could sleep.

This breakthrough occurred when I finally “got” Atwood’s voice. It was drastically different from the minimalist-esque writing I’m normally drawn to, but, similar to my love of urban excursions, I found it remarkably refreshing. A whole new literary adventure. More than anything, both the city and Atwood’s voice affirmed what I knew to be familiar and attractive: quiet neighborhoods and bones-bare writing.

Honest moment #2: I struggled significantly to find my own voice as a writer. Constantly reworking sentences so that the words would reflect those of my favorite authors – yet it always felt “not me.” I had to get comfortable in my own skin and realize that I had something unique to say. It was a journey to reach this point, but it was worth all the headaches because I finally achieved my own voice and style.

“Believe in your own identity and your own opinions. Proceed with confidence, generating it, if necessary, by pure willpower. Writing is an act of ego and you might as well admit it. Use its energy to keep yourself going.” -William Zinsser

SIDE NOTE: Jeff Goins, one of the best bloggers out there, wrote a fantastic post about finding your voice.

Who are some of your favorite authors when it comes to voice? What books would you recommend?