Tuesday, February 3, 2009

How to Create Writing Voice? Natalie Goldberg Says to Ask, What Brings You to Your Knees? What Do You Love with Your Whole Heart?


In her book, Thunder and Lightning, free-writing expert Natalie Goldberg describes a writing exercise she created after reading Borrowed Time by Paul Monette. Borrowed Time is a memoir of Monette's experience with AIDS.

When one of her students commented that AIDS gave Monette his voice as a writer, Goldberg realized that voice is created when "something crosses our lives, brings us to our knees."

His partner's diagnosis of AIDS brought Monette to his knees, and Goldberg writes, "All this cut across his throat and released his voice."

So Goldberg asked her class two questions: What has brought you to your knees? What do you love with your whole heart?

How do we mature as writers, develop our voice? Goldberg proposes that some combination of deep love and aching loss brings us to this place where we deliver story in some unique way. We become different, not only in what we say but how we choose to say it. What we omit, what we focus on.

What loss has come into your life? Make a list. See how it has shaped you.

Now list any gifts that came from these losses. What do you love with your whole heart, without reservation?

If you haven't read Goldberg's Thunder and Lightning, get a copy. If you want to explore the origins of your own creative voice, try these two questions this week. Watch how your writing changes.