Links and Resources from this Episode:
- Voice First: A Writer’s Manifesto by Sonya Huber
- Craft in the Real World by Matthew Salesses
- Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
- Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays from a Nervous System by Sonya Huber
- Lina and Louise both took a workshop with the author Sonya Huber at the HippoCamp Conference https://hippocampusmagazine.com/conference/
- Rachel quoted Walt Whitman, “I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
- Revision Love course
- The Book of Delights by Ross Gay
- Toni Morrison quote in the chapter “detail is the seed of voice” is a chapter in Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir edited by William Zinsser
- Wendy read a quote from Virginia Wolfe that appears on page 179 of Voice First, “Style is a very simple matter: it is all rhythm.”
- Bodywork by Melissa Febos
- In|Appropriate by Paisley Rekdal
- Our next craft book club reading is Craft and Conscience by Kavita Das. We’re reading in May and June and our conversation will be held in June.
Transcript for Episode 72
Rachel Thompson, Jennifer, Michelle, Meli Walker, Lina Lau, Louise Julig, Wendy Atwell
Rachel Thompson: 00:01
Welcome luminous writers to the Write, Publish and Shine podcast. I’m your host, author and literary magazine editor Rachel Thompson. This podcast explores how to write and share your brilliant writing with the world. In each episode, we delve into specifics on how to polish and prepare your writing for publication and the journey from emerging writer to published author.
In this episode it is our Book Club Conversation. We talk about Voice First: A Writer’s Manifesto by Sonya Huber. It is my pleasure to introduce you to three lovely members of our Writerly Love Community and bring you into our book club conversation. This is the second time we’ve shared a live book club chat on the podcast, and this one was held in a live video call with Writerly Love members.
I hope this episode will help you understand some of the most memorable concepts of the book, get into the stream of this lovely craft conversation happening around writing—many conventions are being bucked, dear writers, and this book is part of a series of books that have changed the way we think about writing craft, many of which we read in our book club already. If you want to hear what we thought about any of those, hop over to episode 62 of the podcast (rachelthompson.co/podcast/62) to hear about seventeen of the craft books we read previously in our book club.
I hope you feel like you’re part of this conversation with us, dear listeners who are not members of the Writerly Love community—yet! (You can always learn more about the community and sign up at rachelthompson.co/join.)
Because we recorded this live, you’ll hear not only from our three lead readers, but our community facilitator, Meli Walker was there, and we took questions from members present.
So here is Louise Julig, Lina Lau, and Wendy Atwell in a conversation we recorded live in our Writerly Love community. We’ll start with you Louise.
Louise Julig: 02:08
My name is Louise Julig. My pronouns are she/her/hers. I write personal essays, creative nonfiction, I have an affinity for Flash nonfiction. And I also do a live storytelling show in my home area which is the San Diego, area of California which is a Kumeyaay land, though I’m coming today from my dad’s house, which is in Las Vegas. And I actually don’t know, the traditional residents of this area. So that’s something that maybe I should find out.
Rachel Thompson: 02:42
Lina Lau: 02:43
I’m Lina Lau and my pronouns are she/her/hers. And I’m in Toronto, Canada, I do write just creative nonfiction and memoir. Those are my genres. And like Louise, I also have an affinity for Flash.
Rachel Thompson: 02:57
Wendy Atwell: 02:57
I’m Wendy Atwell. And my pronouns are she/hers, and I live in San Antonio, Texas, which is the [sysco 03:05] tonewheel Tekken and Lipan Apache and Tonkawa land. I’m writing creative nonfiction right now, I’m working on a book that’s sort of a generational memoir. But I also write about contemporary art.
Rachel Thompson: 03:18
Well, thank you all for being our lead readers with this book. This is the first time we’ve had so many lead readers actually. So it’s also kind of a cool aspect of the book, because what we’re going to discuss is not that there’s one singular voice. So that’s part of Huber’s thesis is that there are multiple voices. But I do want to start with a question of what kind of writers would you recommend this book to? And why would you recommend it to them?
Louise Julig: 03:45
When you asked about recommending it for writers at a particular point in their writing evolution? At first, I thought, oh, gosh, I wouldn’t want to give this to somebody who was like, just starting out, because it might be overwhelming. But then I realized, I kind of wish I had had an encouragement to think about Voice earlier. And I mean, that’s kind of what the title of the book is, ‘Voice First’. Let’s not just think about it as a layer on top, you know, maybe not someone who’s at the very, very beginning of trying to even just think about writing, but anytime after that, I would think it could be helpful. I know Sonia Huber has written a lot of nonfiction and as a nonfiction writer, I kind of can see that leaking through, but I think any genre would really benefit from it.
Rachel Thompson: 04:30
Thanks. Yeah. And I really appreciate you thinking about those emerging writers and that maybe they should be thinking about Voice much earlier on.
Lina Lau: 04:38
I agree with Louise, just with the emerging writer, comment. I think that if I read this when I was first starting out, I think I would have been overwhelmed too. So I think it’s probably best for writers who are just a little bit beyond emerging category for that. I mean, for me, it’s come to me at a good time I think because I have published pieces. And I think it would have been overwhelmed with the idea or the concept of Voice and how she’s talking about the multiplicity of it. But it’s something that I feel like I have a good enough handle on my craft now that I can now incorporate more of the ideas that she’s presenting in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to, if I had read it when I was first starting to figure out how to write and learn the landscape of submitting and publishing and that kind of thing.
Wendy Atwell: 05:24
It definitely has a conversation that’s happening with a lot of existing writers that I recognize now that I’ve been learning so much more about craft, like knowing that her references to Claudio Rankin, or Ray Bradbury, such a vast, vast amount of writers that she mentions, and they all seem to be in conversation with one another. And so I think it from that sense it, you know, for someone who’s already engaged with the craft of writing, but I would also say that her prompts are so accessible, I really enjoyed how they sort of break up any sort of writer’s block, and helped me to think about writing is just something that’s liberating. It’s not something that there any specific expectations around.
Rachel Thompson: 06:09
Thanks for that note, and I do love this notion of the sort of just a little bit beyond the emerging writer, which also feels kind of apropos for the writers who join our community, because it’s like, they’re making that commitment, because they’ve gone a little bit beyond emerging and are ready to start showing their work and getting published and started reading this craft books and thinking about this. And I want to pick up to about the conversation that you said Wendy, because I feel like our book club is in conversation with this book and a bunch of other books that also that she referenced in Voice First as well, too. So it’s really kind of exciting to be part of this dialogue about craft from these multiple voices and being able to kind of catch those different references, because we’ve done this close reading of all of those books.
Does anyone want to talk about maybe some of the illusions? Is there anything that you picked up on in terms of the other books that were referenced that connected things for you?
Wendy Atwell: 07:07
Well, for me, the Craft in the Real World was a reference, I really enjoyed, that she was bringing that up. And I was working on a piece where I think it’s let’s see, I’m going to look for the chapter that she talks about embodied voices, radicalized lives or voices of challenge and change, I think, these voices where, if there’s ever any time where you need to be thinking about the position from where you’re speaking from, if it’s one of privilege, or being conscious of your ethnicity, and race, and how maybe your voice is not always so free, depending on where you’re from, or your experience. And I just really appreciated all the tips she had, from that point of view.
Rachel Thompson: 07:50
Anyone else with thoughts about those tips?
Louise Julig: 07:54
I also appreciate it. I mean, she referenced both Craft in the Real World and Anti-Racist Writing Workshop. And although it wasn’t part of our book club in a different book club that I’m in, I recently read, Sister Outsider by Audrey Lorde. And she referenced to the essays that are in that book, and I was like, ‘oh, I just heard those’. So that was exciting. And it also makes you feel kind of more of the literary community when you get some of the references. So that’s exciting when that happens.
Rachel Thompson: 08:25
Yeah, and I think making that point, again, maybe we can even hone in to like, who is the book for? I’m picking up the thought. And I would tell you that might feel a little alienating, though, to have all these books named and be like, I don’t know, any of these books. I’m not really in this stream. But where we’re at in terms of our reading, we are in this stream. And it’s pretty exciting to feel like part of this change and thinking around craft as well, too. It seems to me like a really exciting time, because I think there were just so many of the classic craft books on the shelf that everyone referenced. And now they’re sort of this new generation, I want to sell most of the books that are coming to kind of buck some of the norms and expectations around craft.
Lina Lau: 09:05
I’m familiar with a lot of the titles and the other book that she’d referenced, but I haven’t read them. So I sort of maybe struggle, in the way that there’s some familiarity there. But I haven’t been making those connections with those pieces. But I did want it to ask other people sort of in terms of genre of who the book is for just because I write creative nonfiction and memoir, you know, there’s the obvious connection with the multiple voices. But does anyone write fiction and I was just wondering what they may have taken away from the book. I feel like everyone here writes creative nonfiction. So maybe that’s not the right question to ask.
Rachel Thompson: 09:38
I think the lead readers who joined in, we’re all writing creative nonfiction is sort of a focus. So that might say something, I guess about who the book is scored just by self selection purposes. I’m trying to think too. I don’t think we had much conversation from the fiction writers on this in particular. That’s an interesting question for us to not answer but hold onto and think about after this. I feel like poets, though too also were resonating with it a voice is just so important to poetry. So I feel like I can say without a doubt that it’s definitely for poets, but it’s harder for me to say, it’s definitely for fiction writers.
Wendy mentioned the prompts and how accessible they are. Can we talk about the prompts and which ones you tried and how things went? And what were your favorites at them?
Wendy Atwell: 10:27
I started out thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to just like tackle this book’, because I’m so excited about it. And it’s going to help my writing project since I discovered a voice that I was writing from before I had heard of this book. And so I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, it’s going to help me with it’. So I got to like the first chapter and started doing the prompts and realize that I could be doing this for like, the next two decades, there’s so much, it’s going to be a great resource for months and years to come. And I think whenever I’m stumped, or I’m revising, I’m going to be excited to go back to those prompts. Because they’re just endless. There’s so many. And it’s the kind of thing that I find myself really wanting to take time to do I don’t want to rush through them, or just check them off my list. It’s like, what am I in the mood for? What do I need? So the first chapter prompts were, we listed Voices, I loved that one. The other one that I just did this morning, was, ‘Oh, God, I’m going to blank out. Oh, it was the container. Imagine yourself as a container’. It was something that was just really relating to something I was thinking about with my memoir about, when my father was dying, and I was like, just at a loss for words, I didn’t know what to say to him. And I think she has a chapter about the whisper of a voice. There’s just silence. That really was such a helpful exercise to sort of move through being at a loss for words, what that would look like, visually, if it wasn’t container, I put that I was a overstuffed cardboard box with a bunch of blankets, kind of that feeling of like smothering or like carrying all this baggage. So yeah, that was what I did this morning.
Rachel Thompson: 12:08
Yeah, I love it. And thanks for that explanation of the exercise too. It’s like imagining yourself a literal container. And the voices when it’s about listing all the different voices that you have did any of the voices I’m familiar with your memoir, project, Wendy. So I know that you have this interrupting voice. That’s really a beautiful aspect of your memoir. Were there other voices that surprised you, when you were working on the prompts that came out?
Wendy Atwell: 12:37
What I really loved was there’s a section where she talks about how she hasn’t haven’t that’s kind of a well worn read that she slips into melancholy and sadness, which is definitely one of the things that I do. And it’s like, won’t, won’t, won’t, like just so kind of like, get with it. And anyway, then she was writing about hedgehog and how she was enlivening her voice by thinking about holding a hedgehog. And then she was cultivating her Pain Woman character voice with the hedgehog. And it was just such a great example, that reminded me of how my voice in my book has helped me to sort of get out of that sad read, and remember that there’s humor, and to use that and also to be more embodied in my writing versus thinking.
Rachel Thompson: 13:24
Anyone else tried those prompts or other prompts? Go ahead, Louise
Louise Julig: 13:29
I agree that the prompts are a little overwhelming. If you think like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to be the super straight A student and do all of them’. I don’t think it’s meant to be done that way, I can totally see this as a book that I would pull off the shelf when I just wanted to get things going, you know, and maybe get out of a rut or think about things in a different way. I did the pay attention to different voices that you use. And that was fascinating to me, thinking about the voice I use when I’m talking to my freelance client. And then the voice that I use when I’m interviewing my clients, customers for a story, which is a thing that I do, and the voice that I use in my newsletter and the voice that I use when I’m talking to my sister on the phone and the voice of us when I’m talking to my daughter on the phone, all of these and the intent behind them and what am I trying to do and all these things that are going on. And then the book is an invitation to think about those things and then consciously pull them into your writing. So even just doing that very first kind of assignment was really enlightening.
And then one that I enjoyed was seeing it’s in chapter five, where she says timing plays great voices, and I loved how she was talking about how her young voice was influenced by Erma Bombeck and helped hints from heloise. These books her mom would leave around the house and the after school specials, and they started thinking about it. What was my early influences and it was like frog and toad, Alice in Wonderland, juvenile biographies of historical figures that were from my area where I grew up in Pennsylvania, the Jeeves and Wooster books, with a huge overlay of my mother, who I read things that I wrote when I was in elementary school. And I’m like, ‘oh, yeah, that’s my mother’. But yeah, just being more conscious. And thinking about it was a great exercise.
Rachel Thompson: 15:28
Yeah, I love how attentive you are to Voice. And what I love to write when we were setting up the podcast that was introducing the fact that we have a podcast editor who can fix when we hesitate, and you were saying, well, hesitation is part of my voice. And I’m just sort of realizing that that’s sort of part of what I do. In fact, it’s part of my voice as well. So I’m not singling you out that way. But I love that attention that you were making to voice to you, and how you are always using voice as well. Thanks for all those references to the different voices that appear.
Lina, did you want to talk about prompts that you used?
Lina Lau: 16:01
I’ll just sort of jump in and piggyback on some of the things that Louise was saying, I didn’t do any of the prompts. So they were very overwhelming. And I tend to my reading time is when I’m lying in bed with my daughter waiting for her to fall asleep. And so it’s just not conducive to doing the prompts. But it’s a great time to live with my headlamp on and read. But I did take a seminar with Sonia, where she talked about this book. And we did do that an exercise in person around just listing off sort of the different voices that you have. And that was sort of the first time I thought about a writing voice not being a solitary thing, which I think before, I always thought it was us having to find your one voice as a writer. And so I remember writing different voices that came to me because it was in the States. And so like I was my Canadian voice and my like, super polite voice. You know, my professional school psychologists voice when I’m talking to parents in the context of that. So even just that exercise alone, as a preliminary introduction, was very impactful in opening my mind to sort of have a reset, just being mindful around. I think in my head, I call them more personas versus voices, like just these different being self aware. And just be mindful of the different aspects of us that we can bring to the page. That’s, I think the biggest thing that I learned, at least from doing that prompt, and it was lovely, because then other people had a chance to write something. So even just being there in person here, people sharing things from their child voice or their, you know, teenage self voice or whatever it was, it was just a great exercise to do in person with other people with the community.
Rachel Thompson: 17:31
I appreciate what you said about persona two, because I think I first connected it to the idea of code switching, you know, speaking differently with different communities and people that you have different types of relationships with even you know, what Louise saying about the daughter voice versus the sister voice even that’s a form of code switching, but then it can be bigger in terms of like, community groups and alliances. But yeah, I did like, also how it expanded to, it’s like even in your writing, and even in your journal. I mean, Wendy also said this, too, is there’s like, self critical voice in the journal. And then there’s also kind of the critical voice of the critical voice, too. It’s like, becomes layers and it’s whole onion, I guess that keeps having layer upon layer of voice on things. And yeah, I mean, it definitely opened up so much possibilities. I love that you both were there in person with Sonya Huber, I think maybe before this book was out then so it’s when she was working on these ideas.
One of the things I appreciate is maybe if I can finish that thought, because my voice is also often hesitant or starts an idea and doesn’t quite finish it. But the fact that we’re in conversation, and people are shifting what it means to be a writer and kind of knocking down old ideas. And this idea of voice has been almost like a weapon sometimes almost for writers. It’s sort of like, well, you have to find your voice. What is your voice, your one true voice and this book is revolutionary and rebellious, like the other books that we mentioned, that said, Well, what if things weren’t this way? What if we didn’t have to have the cone of silence in the workshop as Craft in the Real World says, and what if we recognize power imbalances in society that also results in the workshop team? And this book is like, what if we don’t have to have one singular voice? And because we don’t, what if we accept the fact that we have these multiple, you know, I mean, Whitman said that “I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”. And I guess maybe we should have stuck with that idea from way back instead of constantly pursuing this idea of what voice is which, I don’t know who was ever able to define that but it definitely was always kind of something wielded in workshop will you do to find your voice and sort of, you know, the more formal institutional type workshops I think in the past, that was my soapbox a bit about this. I guess it isn’t a manifesto was inspired me in a manifesto kind of way, as well, too.
So thinking about how did this book affect not just your way of thinking about voice but has it impacted your writing itself? Have you adopted different voices or noticed things about voice as you’re drafting or revising your writing? All three of you are in the revision level, of course that we’re doing right now actually. This is me kind of calling in on the homework as well to going, so have you noticed that voice in your revision as well?
Lina Lau: 20:18
I’ll jump in. This is Lina. So as part of the revision, of course, I’m working on a piece that would fit in really well with the idea of voices because it is sort of a lyric essay or a collage piece coming from different perspectives. And so in working through, it’s forced me to sort of think back, okay, well, this section is from a time in my life when I was an adolescent, or this is a section from a time in my life when I was living in a different city. And so thinking back to my headspace, then, to me, Persona just fits as a better word. But you know, just sort of being who I was as a person then and then how would I speak to that writing that section, so it has been impactful in that way. I feel like I’m just at the very beginning of I think Rachel did you say call it an onion, or someone sits refer to an onion, but I think I feel like I’m just at the beginning, because honestly, I’m not even halfway or more than halfway through the book, I’m still sort of just blown away by the idea of having multiple voices, like it’s going to be a book that I’m going to be able to go back and just really delve further into it. Because even going through it, first time reading. Yeah, I’m sort of just stuck. The opportunities to expand into this idea so much more.
Wendy Atwell: 21:21
For me, the revision part of this book is super helpful. I feel like revision just freezes me up, I can see where my writing needs improvement. But I love the tools that she has in it, because two of the things that I’ve been working with right now on a piece are revealing conflict within my mind, like having two different voices that are speaking opposite ideas and sort of just admitting that I have these multiple aspects, or I’m living with contradiction. And then she also mentions that there’s a complexity to authenticity. And I love that because I think that one of the mistakes I’ve made or you know, just part of the process of revision is sort of taking the time to be quiet and listen to the multiple voices that are going on in a piece of writing or a memory and giving space to each of those and maybe taking the time to explore them. The note does really allow for such a richer experience or a layered experience of reading. And when I look at other writing I love. I really admire that honesty.
Louise Julig: 22:24
I haven’t worked with any of these ideas yet in my revision, but as I am in the revision mode course, and working on a piece that I got workshopped recently where part of the feedback was, well, I don’t feel it. It’s much like in the body. And there’s this chapter in the book that talks about embodying voices. And I was like, ‘Oh, I’m definitely going to come back to that’. I mean, I recently read the chapter on joy. And she talks about Ross Gay’s book, The Book of Delights, which I haven’t read, but I’ve heard it referenced multiple times, I think I’m going to have to add it to my list, about how he wrote this whole book about joy and delight, and noticing and wonder and things like that. But even within that book, the pieces have different voices. It just popped out at me when she said, ‘Yeah, even writing about one theme, you can use multiple voices’. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, you have so much permission to play and experiment with these opportunities’, as Lina mentioned. So I’m looking forward to using some of the things and I haven’t gotten to the chapter on Revision yet. But I’m excited that it’s there.
Rachel Thompson: 23:38
Wonderful. Maybe I’ll point out because we’re recording this for the podcast, as well. For listeners that are book club, we don’t require that people finish the book, either. But this is a low pressure book club. And so if you’re listening, and also have maybe not completed your reading of the book, or decided to join along with us, one of the goals of this conversation is just to decide if it’s worth your investment of time into reading the book, as well. To that point too, I guess, what I’m picking up from everyone is that you’re seeing this as like, a long term book to pop in and out of, but not necessarily absorb that one reading and I’m with you, where I wasn’t able to do all of the prompts. It felt like a lot just to do the voices prompt and I’m still kind of constantly thinking about it and discovering, walking around speaking with someone discovering a new voice or an intruding thought, that’s another voice. Hear all these different voices that are popping out, because I’m noticing that because of the prompt from Sonya Huber to do that.
Is there anything else that the three of you our lead readers would want to share with writers about this book, and the experience of reading it?
Wendy Atwell: 24:51
I definitely think that this book added a whole level of humor. I love the humor in this lady’s voice. I think it’s so great that you guys got to see her in person, she seems like a really fun person to learn from because she talks about her accent and how you know, she’s like worried that people are going to see her differently because she has a strong accent or just the examples that she gave of her writing, when she tries, the prompts were so entertaining to read, it helps me to really pay attention to the fun parts of the voice, like, it’s a really fun book, it does feel like something where it kind of reminds me of like a mad love or something, the way you could just list out like, I started to list the Swedish stuff voice from the Muppets. Julia Child voice or the voice, I used to talk to my dogs or you know, my best friend’s voice, that we kind of have a dialect that we speak to each other in or my tennis coach voice, you know, the one that’s telling me Go, go, go go. I don’t know, it was just really fun to think about the multiplicity of voices and how there’s actually so many layers to life. And I think that it really is true that the journal writing zone makes you feel so constricted, do you think that you’re supposed to write in a specific form or that you’re supposed to have this specific voice, I love what Lina said about, you know, just the idea that we were supposed to find our voice. But yeah, there’s not one voice. So the manifesto part for me is just that. It’s not at all what you think, it’s so many voices. And that really is a huge help.
Louise Julig: 26:22
One experience that I had with this book was so as Lina mentioned, we took a workshop with Sonia at HippoCamp in August. And I think the book was just coming out, and she had some copies. And so I bought it then, and I was like, I’m going to go home and dive into this. And I kind of actually got a little bogged down in it, at first, I didn’t end up finishing the book, by the end of the year, I kind of, you know, and I had this, like, what is wrong with me kind of feeling about not being able to finish the book. And then when I saw we were going to be reading it as part of the book club, and I was like, ‘oh, good, you know, now I have an opportunity. And then, you know, I volunteered to be one of the readers, lead readers for the book club, having a commitment to finishing it within a two month period’. And I went back to the beginning and reread because I kind of forgot some of the stuff. I kind of felt like I was taking a running leap at the material and diving in and not feeling like I had to do all the stuff or understand or let everything absorbing because it really is quite layered and dense.
And so I guess that would be my advice. For anyone who’s thinking about reading it is if you get that bounce down feeling like I did, just don’t worry about that stuff. And just take a running leap and let it wash over you and the things that stick will stick and then maybe you’ll come back to it later. And other things will stick. I definitely like I said, see this is a book that I’ll be pulling off my shelf, just to use as a companion more than ‘okay, I read that’, and then I’m sticking it away.
Rachel Thompson: 27:59
Thanks, Louise. I think it also is striking me that it’s a great book to read with other writers. So maybe introducing it to workshop if you’re in a workshop or another group, you know, is a good group reading, like we have done together.
I’m interrupting our book club conversation to invite you to hone your craft and connect with other luminous creative writers in the Writerly Love community. This is my inclusive and supportive membership community for creative writers to get together and learn about everything from writing craft and getting published to building a platform and sustaining themselves as writers. It is a place to grow a luminous writing career with a community of brilliant peers.
If you’re ready to learn and grow. I’d love to have you join the Writerly Love membership community. I offer a sliding scale pricing model to make it accessible to as many writers as possible.
You can learn more and sign up at rachelthompson.co/join.
All right, so we will turn to questions from the members who are here at our live call about the book or comments about the book. And then before we go Meli is going to introduce our next book reading that we will be starting next month. So you can raise your hand or indicate if you want to ask something or make a comment now.
Meli, it’s always kind of funny that we do it this way. Because also I know you’ve read the book and you’re really engaged as well. Is there anything that you wanted to bring forward for our listeners or for the members who were present or going to watch this in replay?
Meli Walker: 29:31
I enjoyed listening to this conversation and found myself nodding along and I just generally recommend reading craft books without feeling pressure to do the prompt unless you’re like I need to stop everything and you feel excited about doing it. Because I personally just feel too overwhelmed by having to read any book in order actually, if I think about it, once I let go of that sort of obedient child reading all the books on the library book list self, then I’ve been able to enjoy craft books much more. And like Louise was saying too like letting things wash over me, it strikes me that there are so many voices in this book, which is both its strength. And also, possibly what makes it overwhelming is that there’s so much coming at you that it can be overwhelming. So that’s a good thing. But I would just emphasize that, that also yeah, I agree. If it’s within your means to get this book and to have it on your shelf, and to let it be, like a line that you enjoy at the right time in the right moment, or, you know, you pull it down off the shelf, when it’s time, I would recommend that.
Yeah, I haven’t actually finished the book all the way through, I sort of was like looking around and found that it was great to enjoy that way too, to read it out of order. And I really like craft books that do that, because it lets me be sort of disobedient and go out of order. And practice that. I see that Michelle has her hand raised. So Michelle, I’m going to unmute.
Sorry, I was just going to say I wanted to just share a passage, I totally agree with everybody. So I’m glad I’m not the only one that thought, ‘Oh, my goodness, I have to bring my other book so I can drop everything. And travel around with two books. But that got a little ornery there’. I just love the quote from Toni Morrison, on page 103. That reads, so this is in the chapter about detail, is the seed of voice. And this quote saying;
“All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was. Writers are like that: remembering where we were, what valley we ran through, what the banks were like, the light that was there and the route back to our original place. It is emotional memory–what the nerves and the skin remember as well as how it appeared. And a rush of imagination is our flooding.”
Meli Walker: 32:05
That’s beautiful! Thank you for bringing that. I love that. And the idea of memory. And that emphasizes that idea that we can return to the book or we can trust that what needs to come back to us will come back to us that there’s time to hear all the voices to explore all the voices.
Rachel Thompson: 32:24
Go ahead, Jennifer.
I just wanted to share one of the things that I loved most about this book. And I’m not finished yet. But so far- was the idea that voices that I wouldn’t normally think of as having anything particularly literary to say let’s call it that are not only valid, but can often get somewhere that no other voice or persona could even get to. And so you know, she talks about her pain voice and how it felt like a real narrowing restricting of what she had known previously as her voice and how that had valid things to say took her into different places. And there’s one passage I’ve been trying to find it and I can’t but she’s like, you know, I don’t have to be my like caffeinated on the ball self, I can just be tired and kind of grumpy and stressed and like that voice is enough to do some good work. So I really appreciated that.
Rachel Thompson: 33:16
I just love everything that people are bringing in terms of self acceptance, because it also feels like maybe to get mad as well, like Louise, was never about the podcast recording method itself being about voice. And then also, I kind of feel like our book club, or the way we’re approaching our book club is about voice somehow too. It’s like not necessarily having to be perfect in how we read these craft books as well. So I love the all being completist events. It’s like great, yeah, we didn’t finish it. We still got a lot out of it. And I hope that also invites other people who feel daunted by craft books or that there’s like just a lot of ideas. I think it’s a great approach to go at such complicated and groundbreaking thinking slowly and taking it in bit by bit as well. And not necessarily showing up perfectly and caffeinated, and all those things. Louise, go ahead.
Louise Julig: 34:16
I wanted to thank Rachel for bringing up the chapter in detail because that was another one that has tons of underlines, including the segment that you read. But one of the things that that chapter helped me realize is by having her example she talked about like a neon skeleton that had tumbled off of a shelf at one point and then looking at something else like a funny little cow creamer that she had in her kitchen. It kind of made me realize, ‘oh, the stuff that I have just in my life that seems totally normal to me, has said something’ and just because I have the things that she has in her kitchen in my kitchen in my house. And the way she was talking about them, let me notice, you know, have that I’m just swimming in water of my own, you know milieu, and it seems perfectly normal. But those things, say things. And I’m excited about using those details as a way to get into some voice in my own work. So yeah, that was a chapter that was a real eye opener for me.
Rachel Thompson: 35:26
Yeah, it’s that call to attention as writers to really deeply notice even just ourselves like the soup that we’re in, or the water that we’re swimming in, like you said, Louise. Wendy, did you have something you wanted to add?
Wendy Atwell: 35:38
I just wanted to say that I also loved the Toni Morrison quote. And I was making a note of the name of that essay is called the Sight of Memory. And it looks like it is from Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, edited by William Zinsser. And so I’m excited to read that because I really thought it was helpful. And that was one of my favorite chapters as well, the details when, and I’m also wanting to try on my wish list of prompts is to do the one where she sort of mentioned that your body can help you remember in a way that the mind can’t. And so I think she has prompts for that, which relates back to Toni Morrison and just thinking about how we have so many different ways of knowing. And even though it’s the idea that it’s the voice is really representing like so many different parts of our bodies and how we experience the world.
Rachel Thompson: 36:31
Yeah, that book and all the books that we’ve mentioned in this call are going to replay for members and in the podcast for this as well. Lina?
Lina Lau: 36:41
I just wanted to say just around that chapter about details is one of my favorite chapters that have come to you so far, because I think one of my biggest takeaways from the book sort of that’s directly related to voice, but also just I think it’s a long term book that I think could just really help deepen you as a writer, that idea of sort of understanding yourself better. And the details of the things around you and thinking about all those different levels, including voice but also beyond voice. I think that’s going to be one of my biggest takeaways from the whole book as a longterm book where that will sit on my shelf that I will be able to refer back to, by just deepening myself as a writer. And I think that that’s one of the biggest values that it can offer other writers as well. Go ahead, Wendy.
Wendy Atwell: 37:22
I just wanted to add one more thing about the body and voice it was a quote by Virginia Woolf that she says;
“Style is a very simple matter, it is all rhythm.”
I thought that was such a great description. And then on the next page, it says;
“The shape of my body affects the voices and rhythms in my head.”
I thought that those were such great details that I really never paid attention to. So yeah, another point that I learned from.
Rachel Thompson: 37:46
That feels a bit like it’s in conversation as well with the Melissa Febos book that we read too about the body. I’m trying to remember is the title of that one, though, because I want to say what the body remembers, but I think that’s is that something else?
Wendy Atwell: 37:58
Rachel Thompson: 37:59
Yes, thank you.
Meli Walker: 38:00
Yeah, Bodywork was a past book club selection. And I wanted to mention our next book that we’ll be reading in May and June. And for our Writerly Love members. The book is listed on our book club page. The book is called Craft and Conscience: how to write about social issues by Kavita Das. I’ll just read from Kavita Das’s website, the author’s website, because I think it’s a good representation of the book. So it says;
“Writers are witnesses and scribes to society’s conscience but writing about social issues in the twenty-first century requires a new, sharper toolkit. Craft and Conscience helps writers weave together their narrative craft, analytical and research skills, and their conscience to create prose which makes us feel the individual and collective impact of crucial issues of our time.
The book includes essays from a fascinating mix of authors, including James Baldwin, Alexander Chee, Kaitlyn Greenidge, George Orwell, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, and so on.”
So, it’s on our book club page. And I hope that listeners to the podcast and of course, Writerly Love members will join us in reading Craft and Conscience. There’s lots of great material in there, it’s available as an audiobook as well. So if that’s something that you prefer, it is a pretty compelling audiobook, in my opinion. And that’s how I’ve been listening to a lot of books lately or absorbing books lately is through audio, it tends to get me to work through the book a little faster or a little more quickly. So I would really recommend the audiobook version, maybe on an app like Libro or from your library through the Libby app. And I hope everyone will join us.
I think that was a really great representation of the book and I appreciate the lead readers for taking the time to focus on the book and also to the members who joined us to listen in.
Rachel Thompson: 39:58
Thank you so much to our lead readers for this conversation and I appreciate reading alongside all of you as well. It’s definitely, I think, motivating for all of us to kind of dive in deeper and think about these ideas in the books. And I’m looking forward to seeing how this impacts your voices in your writing the craft itself too. So please continue to share about any voice discoveries as well.
The Writerly love community is my warm and supportive membership community for creative writers to get together and learn about everything from writing craft, and getting published to building a platform and sustaining yourself as a writer. If you’re ready to learn and grow, I’d love to have you join us.
You can learn more and sign up at rachelthompson.co/join.)
So, that was Louise Julig, Lina Lau, and Wendy Atwell talking about Voice First: A Writer’s Manifesto by Sonya Huber.
I hope you’re as amped up as we are about the notion of us having multiple voices in our writing. Maybe you’ll start noticing them as you go about your day, maybe like me in the checkout line at the supermarket. you’ll think ‘oh, that’s another voice’.
I hope our reading and discussion style, and the way we come as we are to book club, having read what we can of each book, inspires you to take what serves you and leave what doesn’t. Or maybe, like many of us, you’ll plan to leave this book on your shelf to pull down when you need to dip into work on your voice or your voices.
All of the books and other things we mentioned in the episode are up in the show notes at rachelthompson.co/podcast/72.
Louise, Lina, and Wendy also have shared their insights over two months in our community chat that culminated in this call. Thank you to them and thank you to the members who came live and those watching us on video in the replay, and to Meli Walker our community facilitator and our co-producer for the episode.
Meli introduced our next craft book club reading, Craft and Conscience by Kavita Das, which we will start in May. So you have time to get a copy and read along with us. We read over two months, so our next conversation will take place in June. So look for that here in this podcast feed.
Craft and Conscience by Kavita Das is touted as the first major book for writers to more effectively engage with complex socio-political issues—a critical first step in creating social change. It’s set to be a good reading already. When we announced the book several Writerly Love members told us they already had the book on their shelves, which is always a good sign.
The link to find the book is in the show notes, again at rachelthompson.co/podcast/72.
The Write, Publish, and Shine podcast is brought to you by me, Rachel Thompson and my co-producer for this episode is Meli Walker. Sound editing is done by Adam Linder of Bespoken Podcasting. All of our episodes have transcripts by the way, and in the past months of episodes, these have been transcribed diligently by Diya Jaffery. Thank you, Diya! I’ll add some links to Diya’s social handles in the show notes, as well.
You can learn more about the work I do to help writers, write, publish, and shine at rachelthompson.co. When you’re there, sign up for my Writerly Love letters, sent every week and filled with support for your writing practice.
If this episode encouraged you to read the book and rethink your voice, I would love to hear all about it. You can email me at email@example.com. The special call out to fiction writers to see if they found this book as helpful as the creative nonfiction writers on the call did definitely drop me a line again at hello@rachel thompson.co
And tell other luminous writers about this episode. You can do this by sending them to the podcast at rachelthompson.co/podcast or telling them to search for Write, Publish, and Shine wherever they get their podcasts.
Thank you for listening—I encourage you to use your voices and writing luminously!
Our lead readers in this episode each introduced themselves with a territorial acknowledgement and I am a guest in the South Sinai, Egypt, on lands historically and presently occupied by the el Muzzina Bedouin.
By the way, I mention this in each episode to show my support for Indigenous peoples globally and specifically because I support the land back movement in North America, where I have benefited from living and working on Indigenous lands, including unceded territories.