What’s a writer without a voice?
I’ve been writing for more than half of my life and thinking up stories for even longer. It’s nothing special for writers to have a backstory like that, but I wonder if the same could be said about the way I’ve been silencing myself. The voice I’ve been meaning to gain through being an author to speak my mind and share my truths, I struggle to actually use it. Why the hell is that?
// This is part two of Pseudonyms, privacy, and having a voice. Read part 1 here.
Writing is a peculiar hobby/occupation. It can bear so many meanings, purposes, and take on so many forms. It allows for great introspection, exploring situations, or simply venting. It can be art, it could be a lesson, it could be so much. Many authors would like to share what it means to them with the world, show their creations like proud parents by publishing it. Publishing your work however, exposes you and your work to critical eyes. People have their own views and opinions about what they think your work is and means. When so many authors pour their heart and soul in their writing, reviews can feel VERY personal to an author.
When you publish a book that speaks of your personal experiences you put yourself in a vulnerable position. When your experiences don’t align with “mainstream” life, there will be fewer people who will really understand your story. And when those experiences shed a light on social injustices because they are a part of your life, there WILL be people who take offense and get aggressive.
And that’s where the silencing starts for me. I’m no longer used to having a voice, because I’ve been bullied out of using one, and then things remained that way for a very long time.
“A book written without voice is generic, indistinguishable, and that’s what I’ve been trying to be all my life, out of fear.”
Funny thing is, I used to be the kid who wore her heart on her sleeve. I spoke before thinking. Just put everything out there. But being like that makes you easy to take advantage of. Makes you an easy target. You say the wrong thing, say embarrassing things, say things that piss people off. That’s how during my childhood I learned to keep my mouth shut and lock my heart away. Or rather, my voice.
As an author, you learn to use your “writer’s voice”. It’s putting a bit of your personality into your writing. Giving the words a flavor. Having a voice in real life is similar to that, in that it shows the world around you who you are. This is me. This is what’s going on inside of me. This is how I feel. A book written without voice is generic, indistinguishable, and that’s what I’ve been trying to be all my life, out of fear. I don’t want to be like that anymore. That’s why I’ve been searching for my voice. Trying to figure out what I sound like.
But like every road to self-discovery and personal growth, I’ve stumbled upon some road blocks. When you have lived a life hiding from critique and scrutiny and have been scared out of showing yourself, starting again opens up wounds you forgot you had, and they start to bleed again. You’ve put all your points in evading scrutiny, you have absolutely zero in dealing with critique. You have no defenses and you crack easily.
It takes time to grow thicker skin. Time during which I also took a moment to see the environment I’d put myself in because if you think you’re your only defense, you’re wrong. Your community forms your first line of defense. Or rather, it should be.
“But I was always the odd one out, I often wasn’t aware of the rules, and I used to be so tone deaf, my voice was unwanted. To the community, I was ruining their song, their choir. I needed to be silenced.”
What many people don’t realize is that you need support to use your voice safely, because when yours breaks the harmony of the song people have been singing, you get a very angry choir. That’s where community comes in. How I see it, a community is a group of people you belong to, share kinship with, who have your back. When someone fucks up, their community steps up, reels them back in. When someone is threatened, they’ll fight for you. When life gives you lemons, they help you make lemonade.
Of course, not every community is the same. There are millions of communities, with different sizes, different customs, some online, others offline. But communities are important. People tend to need companionship or they’ll suffer in loneliness. And that’s where I’ve been struggling for most of my life. To find a community to have my back. To have a community to support, protect and amplify my voice when needed.
But, belonging to a community comes with rules. Lots of them are unwritten. You share a culture. When the community is mainstream, it fits in with the dominant culture(s) of your country. It comes so naturally to so many people that you hardly realize you’re in one, until you’re barred. You don’t notice you fit it, you notice when you don’t. And that’s what happened to me. I never felt I belonged anywhere. I was always the odd one out, I often wasn’t aware of the rules, and I used to be so tone deaf, my voice was unwanted. To the community, I was ruining their song, their choir. To them, I needed to be silenced.
Which is why I thought a pseudonym would protect me. If no one knew it was me, I couldn’t set my credit back to zero for speaking my mind.
That’s what it was like growing up as a Black girl in a predominantly white country. I didn’t fit in and being undiagnosed Autistic with ADD did not help at all. When finding a community is natural to people, no one things to teach a person how to find one. You just drift along the edges of your community, half in, half out, because you don’t fit in but you have nowhere else to go. That’s what I’ve been doing all my life. Floating in limbo.
When you’re only partially accepted into a community, you need to keep proving to people you’re in every single day. One mistake and it sets you right back to the start. Or worse, they will see you as a threat and deal accordingly. This, in particular, has been holding me back, because you see it frequently here in the Netherlands. Speak up against something which is seen as normal by the dominant culture and you get ostracized. I’ve seen people get sacked, receive death threats, ostracized, jailed, and more for speaking up against racism in this country. Which is super ironic since we’re known to be so tolerant and how everything can be discussed (we can’t. people really don’t talk about things like racism). What I see is people actively being silenced by media and police sanctions for daring to speak up against systemic racism in this country, because people don’t want to believe it exists.
Now I know, I write fantasy, but there are things I write about which no matter the genre, they bring up issues out of real life. There will be stories where I’ll write about racism I’ve experienced or about gender politics because these things matter to me. As much as I’ll use the positives, I’ll also use the negatives from my life to build stories, because that’s what authors do. Part of showing who you are is also showing the hardships you face because of them. People want to share their experiences. They tell people about their kids next milestone, but they also share the sleepless nights they had with those they trust. But when you’re Black in a predominantly white country, all people accept is the good. They like hearing about your foods, your country, but once you tell them about racial profiling, about being called racial slurs, about racism, people turn away. They get angry. They start blaming you for being hurt.
Living like that, it’s hard to really have a voice, to be yourself. Which is why I thought a pseudonym would protect me. If no one knew it was me, I couldn’t set my credit back to zero for speaking my mind. I hoped I wouldn’t have to fear death threats and glares from people I thought were my friends. But it also means I have no support. There’s no one to back me up when shit fits the fan.
“Even if I only write speculative fiction filled with dragons and magic, there will be truths in them too. Little pieces of me. I have things to say and there are people who want to hear it.”
And that’s why I’ve been silencing myself because the alternative to feeling like a social pariah is BEING one. But clearly, the way I’ve been going about this all hasn’t been as helpful as I thought it would. For years I hardly knew myself because I’d locked myself away. I was so unhappy. Depressed in fact. That’s why I became an author. To find my voice, find myself and just be happy.
Thing is, I didn’t really know how, but now I think I do. By using it. By sharing my thoughts, my experiences, my stories. Even if I only write speculative fiction filled with dragons and magic, there will be truths in them too. Little pieces of me. I have things to say and there are people who want to hear it. I know that like myself, there are people just waiting to hear on a song that fits their voice and want to join in.
Of course there will people who’ll disagree, who’ll hate, who’ll want to fight me back into silence. Truth be told, I’m still terrified, but I feel like I need to do this. Using a pseudonym won’t be all the protection I need, but it will be a nice start. There’ll be sacrifices to make down this road, but at least I won’t be sacrificing my own voice anymore. And as people will read my words, there will be people who relate to them. Who need these words like I always had. People can disagree all they want, but there will be people like me, who’ll feel empowered that they’re not alone. And maybe one day, we’ll start a community of our own. Maybe we’ll find an existing one we actually fit in, belong to. And we’ll feel a little safer. And you know what? I’m not as alone as I may feel sometimes. I have my boyfriend, my closest friends, and my family. Maybe that’s a sort of community too? I guess what I needed was a little bravery.