How to find your voice

Posted on November 15, 2012
Filed under Just for writers, Poems to inspire | 6 Comments | Email This Post

And there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own.” — Mary Oliver

In my workshops for new writers, we often discuss the importance of finding or developing a “voice.” As William Zinsser points out, it’s as simple (or as difficult) as this: Your voice is who you are.

Early on, most of us hear a cacophony of inner critics and advisers inside our heads — former teachers, co-workers, neighbors, spiritual directors, family members, and friends. Which makes it hard to distinguish between what others expect of us and what’s in our own hearts.

Mary Oliver’s “The Journey” gives us clues along the way. It’s one of my favorite tributes to the authentic life — and it brings shivers of recognition each time I read it aloud in class. –CL

By Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations;
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.

— Reprinted from New and Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press); 1992

— Top photo by Cindy La Ferle; taken at the Grand Rapids Museum during ArtPrize 2011. —


6 Responses to “How to find your voice”

  1. Lynne on November 16th, 2012 10:04 am

    I am printing that poem and will read it daily. Thank you – you truly do inspire 🙂

  2. Cindy on November 16th, 2012 3:06 pm

    Thank you, Lynne — you inspire too!

  3. Momma on November 16th, 2012 11:33 am

    Truly something to think about and definitely pursue if you want to succeed. I don’t know if my inner voice is wise enough to proceed!

  4. Cindy on November 16th, 2012 3:05 pm

    “Momma” — Trust your voice! I am sure yours is wise enough to succeed. Believe!

  5. Cindy's Coffeehouse on November 23rd, 2012 4:29 pm

    I printed off that poem!

  6. Cindy on November 23rd, 2012 5:42 pm

    Glad you enjoyed it, Cindy!

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