Finding Your Authentic Voice // Trina O'Gorman

Finding Your Authentic Voice // Trina O'Gorman

As a college writing professor, I have seen many young writers struggling to find their own voice. Voice, in academic writing, depends on the audience, authority, and the mood one is trying to convey or invoke. Often writers, especially less experienced ones, find it difficult to find the confidence needed to write in a voice that is truly their own and also succeeds in doing what they want it to do on the page. Finding the words is often challenging enough, but then finding the right ones, the ones that really carry your message forth in a way that represents your thinking and your heart and soul — can be a challenge. Doing that requires some amount of confidence and some amount of vulnerability. It is empowering, but it also leaves us more open to being affected by the criticisms we are likely to receive, the criticisms stinging more because using one’s authentic voice is so much more real and pure and raw.

But writing in one’s notebook should feel different, right? There is no audience but you, the writer. You should feel free to write whatever you want to write. Who’s going to read it? Who’s to judge? Who’s to question your motives or your thoughts or your feelings or your morality? It should be the most liberating and easiest kind of writing that there is. And yet, it can be challenging to find one’s authentic voice, one’s authentic and true self, even in the pages of one’s own notebook.

So many of us have learned, from a young age, that not all of our thoughts and ideas or even parts of ourselves are accepted or considered “appropriate.” In order to be accepted by the people who matter to us or to avoid trouble or be considered “good” by parents, teachers, friends, the community, and so forth, we adjust our behavior to meet certain rules and expectations. We lose something, but we also develop a conscience and a moral compass, which, on some level, everyone needs because we have to function cooperatively with others in many settings. 

But far too often, we lose too much of ourselves. We self-edit and self-adjust and self-monitor so much, in order to meet the expectations of others, that we forget who we are and struggle to know ourselves. And when we write, we find that so many of the external critics and voices, who have found a place in our consciousness, become the audience, even though we are an audience of one. We feel that all of these eyes and ears are on us, and we just want to be accepted and good enough still. Additionally, there is the real concern of privacy, of real prying eyes getting a look at what we’ve written.

But here’s the thing, each of us has the right to acknowledge our authentic selves. We have a right to be unapologetically ourselves. This is not to say that we must abandon our concern for others. Most often, writing in one’s notebook is a private matter that does not impact others or should not impact others, except in that it impacts you, and usually in positive ways which can change the way you are in the world. And that can change all that we touch.

So, how do we do this? How do we find our authentic selves and quiet all of those interfering editors and critics? There are a number of things we can do.

I have kept a notebook for some 40 years, but even I sometimes have to write my way to me, to my authentic voice. At first, when I put pen to paper, the critics are there. They make judgments and restrict me in some way. But it is a matter of self-care and self-love to keep going and keep writing. The more I write and the longer I write, the more deeply I can often go. And in there, in the deep places, is where I will find my authentic self and my voice.

I will often reread what I’ve written, as hard as that can be to do. It’s hard because that’s the point at which we hear and face ourselves, often the selves we did not know or acknowledge. When I read what I’ve written, I will challenge myself by asking some tough questions. Is that really what I wanted to write? Is that really what I think or thought? I will revisit topics and write some more — metacognition and meta-writing, thinking about my thinking and writing about my writing.

Sometimes throughout life, we find ourselves without voice or behaving in ways that are not in keeping with what we truly believe deep down inside. We are aware of the internal conflict, but for whatever reason feel unable to speak or act in a way that is true to ourselves. We may feel oppressed or silenced. Take every opportunity to speak to your silenced self or selves. Write unsent letters to her or him, write dialogues with her or him. Try to find ways to give those silenced selves voice.

Sometimes it seems that we likely, as infants, start out as authentic, and then the world shapes us into something that is quite different, and we comply to survive. Then we spend some part of our lives trying to find ourselves again because what is surviving if we cannot be. Embrace the journey, for it is a worthwhile one.
Written by: 
Trina O'Gorman


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