Finding A Voice

It doesn't have to be yours. Perhaps it shouldn't be. But finding and developing a voice is crucial when you're a writer.

This week, George Saunders came to my campus to do a reading and lecture. Both were very informative about his writing process and his process of becoming a writer.

Saunders admitted that he was, "not very well educated as an author."His background is in geophysical engineering and he happened to fall into writing around the time he turned 30.

He also worked jobs in slaughterhouses and other unwriterly pursuits. So for his entire writing life he's been working with a flawed set of tools. That's what sets him apart from other writers. He said the most important thing for young writers to do was to go somewhere they can learn a special language.

He recommended working in a factory, law firm, or (surprisingly) an ad agency. He said the tropes you pick up in these places can be the foundation of your writing voice. He beckoned us all to "go out into the world." To experience things. To feed our writing with real life.

One of the (many) problems with advertising is that it insists on talking to itself. Creatives largely try to show off how hip they are through their work, irrespective of whether or not the audience is going to like it. The language in ad agencies is the same as the stuff we see on TV.

Too bad that's not the majority of America. It would do us all some good to get out of the agency and just talk to people. Maybe spend a day on the weekend doing something completely not advertising. I'm thrashing a little bit here but I just haven't been able to get over this advice.

There will be more posts about Saunders to come. His advice is as good as any I've received while in school.

Additionally, Saunders said he always has four things out on his desk at any time. That way he doesn't have to ever confront a blank page. I thought this was a pretty cool approach and plan to try it in the future.