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Me at 17

Me at 17

I mentioned several months ago that I had resurrected a short story I wrote in college and was editing it. I shared a draft of the revised story recently with my critique group.

One of my partners commented after our meeting, “You know, Theresa, it’s amazing how much your voice at seventeen sounds like you today.”

At first I was flummoxed. You mean, all my years of education, my decades of writing in one form or another, had not improved how I wrote?

I took one class in creative writing in college; otherwise, I spent those years learning how to write like an economist. I spent my law school years unlearning the social scientist passive voice and learning to write like a lawyer. During my many years of legal practice I became more and more argumentative in my tone. Then I worked a decade in Human Resources learning to engage employees when I communicated. And for the last several years I have returned to the world of creative writing, crafting novels and essays and short stories.

Through all of this, my voice had not changed? How depressing.

Haven’t I learned anything about dialogue? I’d always thought my years sitting through depositions trained me to hear how people really talked.

Haven’t I learned anything about characterization? I’ve spent decades watching how people react to changing circumstances, physically and mentally and emotionally.

Haven’t I learned anything about plot? The mark of a good trial attorney is the ability to tell a good story to judge and jury.

Me today (or not too long ago)

But then I thought about it some more.

I am who I am. Wasn’t that the lesson I said I learned so quickly when I went off to college forty years ago this fall? I say what I say, and I write how I write.

So I came to accept what my writing colleague said: My voice is my voice.

And now I must use it.

Is your writing voice consistent with how it was when you began? If not, how and why have you changed?