If you’ve ever seriously read Ernest Hemingway (beyond the mandatory “Old Man and the Sea” assignment in high school) you’ll have to smile at that clip from Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.” Allen’s script and actor Corey Stoll’s performance pull off something that many others have tried and failed to do. They manage to capture the essence of Hemingway’s “voice” – his one-of-a-kind style.
It’s funny to imagine Hemingway talking the way he writes, but, of course, that’s part of what a true and natural style/voice is – everything flows seamlessly together.
Many writers (myself included) begin practicing the craft with a strong influence from someone like Hemingway and follow the normal, but misguided, course of trying to write like them. We soon find out this doesn’t work, because once person’s voice cannot be another’s. It doesn’t work that way.
It’s good to study and learn from a great writer’s style, (or painter’s, musician’s, architect’s, teacher’s, etc.), but it’s pointless to try and copy it. Style is non-transferrable. A speaking voice may be impersonated, but not the inner voice of self expression.
We are each born with our own unique style, our own personal voice, as particular to us as our fingerprints. It’s what distinguishes us in what we do, and in how we express ourselves; and it is certainly not limited to writing or any art form. It carries over into all of life.
The curious thing is, we are born with this inner voice, yet we often struggle to “find” it. In truth, I don’t think we have to “find” something we already have. We really just need to recognize it and then set it free.
In his classic book, “On Writing Well,” William Zinsser describes the common condition afflicting would-be writers who:
“…don’t just write what comes naturally. They sit down to commit and act of literature and the self who emerges on paper is far stiffer than the person who sat down to write. The problem is to find the real man or woman behind the tension. Ultimately the product that any writer has to sell is not the subject being written about but who he or she is.”
Who he or she is, or who you or I are, is what it’s all about.
Again, I think this “voice” problem is not only limited to writing, and the solution – freeing your voice – is not only the key to better writing, but to better living.
To write, to speak, to do anything worth doing, to live to the fullest and be your best, you must free your voice. Your voice is who you are, and you are your voice. The king of all quotable quotes, Shakespeare, put it this way: “To thine own self be true.”
Free your voice.
In whatever you do, be who you really are. It’s not only what’s best for you, it’s your gift to the rest of us.