I write only because / There is a voice within me / That will not be still.
Finding one’s voice in writing is similar to shopping for jeans–it’s a struggle for most writers. New writers might find it necessary to try on a few voices for size while searching for their unique writing voice, and each person has a unique writing voice. There’s no one-size-fits-all in jeans, and the same holds true for writers and readers. We like what we like, and we write and read what resonates with us. Some write what they know or are interested in learning about, and others venture outside the box with new genre, language, or worlds with each book. The one thing that remains true and constant among my favorite writers, even if they write in different genres, is their distinct VOICE.
What is voice in writing?
To me, voice in writing is the unique way by which we see, experience, and interpret the world as individuals.
“No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.” Oscar Wilde
A little about me:
I grew up as an Army brat in a close-knit, bilingual family. A creative child, I loved drawing and telling stories, which I learned from listening to my maternal grandmother and mother’s wonderful stories of growing up in Ponce, Puerto Rico. As a child, I loved reading Nancy Drew mysteries, books about great adventures on the high seas, life in the Caribbean, historical fiction, and family sagas. I was an inquisitive child with a good case of being nosy! I always eavesdropped on my elders’ conversations, much to my mother’s dismay. In my teens, I developed a love of classic Puerto Rican literature, thanks to my Spanish teacher, Señora Esteves at the Liceo Ponceno in Ponce, Puerto Rico. La charca by Manuel Zeno Gandía (considered by many to be the first Puerto Rican novel), Julia Burgos’ poetry, and El jíbaro by Dr. Manuel A. Alonso, are still among my favorites. My sister and I love extreme weather, and by the age of 18, I’d lived in four countries, always trying to make my way in a new world. My favorite sanctuary was my grandparent’s farm in the mountains of Puerto Rico. I married an Army officer and had two children by Caesarian section, which led to an interest in becoming a doula, an assistant to a midwife. After my mother’s death in 1992, we moved to Europe with our two children, where we lived for thirteen years. My reading interests as an adult remain the same and include memoir and women’s fiction. I believe all little girls need a heroine who looks like them. As a young mother, I began researching my family tree on both sides of the family–Polish-Russian, Italian-Canarian (Canary Island), and Puerto Rican, which led to a love of family history and oral storytelling.
So what does any of that have to do with finding voice in writing?
The writing of my debut historical novel, A Decent Woman, was filtered through my life experiences, cultural background, and interests, which in turn produced my writing voice. I wrote a historical novel/family saga set in turn of the century Puerto Rico, based on my grandmother’s lifelong friendship with her Afro-Caribbean midwife. My protagonist, Ana Belén, is a strong, courageous, Afro-Cuban heroine, an unassuming champion of women’s rights, and a midwife who must battle male doctors entering the birthing room for the first time. She is a mystical and spiritual woman, who explores the idea of decency in early Puerto Rican society through her life experiences as a black, poor, illiterate woman–an outsider. What about my fascination with extreme weather? A baby is born during a hurricane in the first chapter. My love for my grandparent’s farm? The farm in Jayuya is the setting of the sequel to A Decent Woman, titled Mistress of Coffee, which will come out in 2017.
‘The Lament of Sister Maria Immaculata, my work in progress, comes from my work as a Spanish language refugee worker and family support worker and a fascination with nuns. I grew up in a Catholic family, attended Catholic schools and a Catholic university, where a nun was the RA on our floor.
My voice, the essence of who I am, my soul and spirit, are on the pages of my books. You might have grown up in a bilingual family, you might be an Army brat like me, and you might even be a Puerto Rican Army brat, but we won’t see the world in the same way. Each of us is unique.
How does a writer find his or her unique writing voice?
Here are a few thoughts and questions that might be helpful in finding your voice:
READ. Think about why you like certain books, heroines, settings, eras, or endings.
What genres appeal to you and why?
EXAMINE why you like a particular author. Is it the story content, the author’s style of writing, or the book’s settings and locales?
What did you like to do or read as a kid?
Do you like happy endings, romance, or short stories, and if not? Why?
WRITE. Get to know yourself through writing blog posts, short stories and/or writing in a journal.
How would you describe yourself in a couple of words?
What themes seem to show up in your writing?
What’s important to you? What frustrates you about people and the world? What can you not abide? Write about that.
OBSERVE. Observe the world around you. Describe what you see, hear, and touch, and write about how you feel in nature, when you’re in love, or in pain.
You are unique. Only you can tell your story.
Read to broaden your horizons, and improve your writing skills by reading authors you admire, but don’t copy them–it might come off as fake–be yourself. Try on new ‘skins’, but always use your unique ‘skin’ when you write. Your voice will always be the perfect fit.
Puerto Rican novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language family support worker, and a refugee caseworker, inspire her stories.
‘A Decent Woman‘, Eleanor’s debut novel, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends National Latino Book Club, and is listed in Centro Voices, The Center of Puerto Rican Studies, ‘Essential Boricua Reading for the 2015 Holiday Season’. Eleanor is featured in the anthology, ‘Latina Authors and Their Muses’, edited by Mayra Calvani, and in the soon-to-be released anthology, Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society, edited by Allie Burke. Eleanor is a proud member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, The National Association of Professional Women, and the Historical Novel Society. She is a contributing writer at Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society. When not writing, she loves facilitating creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.
Eleanor adores her two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is writing her second novel, ‘The Lament of Sister Maria Immaculata’, and a collection of short stories.