In wriitng in others’ voices, do you ever worry about losing your own?

“To have a voice,” L.L, Barkat writes in Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity and Writing, “a writer must have passions and a sense of place.”

I think of Wendell Berry, with his passion for a kind of neo-agrarianism and his region of Kentucky. I think of William Faulkner and his passion for a way of life that had disappeared in his native Mississippi. I think of Charles Dickens in Victorian Britain and all of the passions that coursed through his novels (mostly centering in questions of social justice).

We don’t have to be a Berry, a Faulkner or a Dickens to have a voice.

But for a long time, I wondered if I indeed had a writing voice of my own.

From about 1975 to 2006, speechwriting was a significant part of my career. In those three decades, I wrote for 12 CEOs, numerous other corporate executives, people running for office, a school board president and a few non-profit executives as well.

To write a speech for someone else, and to do it well, you have to essentially assume their voice—both their speaking voice and their “personal” voice. Over time, I learned to “channel the speaker” and write in their voice—their stories, their ideas, their hopes, their favorite quotes and authors, their speaking patterns and their idiosyncrasies. I read what they read, I listened to their taped speeches, I watched their videos. I talked with them and listened to them in meetings and conversations.

Most PR people hate speechwriting, and with good reason, Speechwriting is never about you.

The best speeches I wrote sounded exactly like the executive who was speaking. My own desires, messages, thoughts and hopes tended to be suppressed. The time to articulate them was in conversations with the executive about the speech. If he or she liked them, they became the executive’s.

When I stopped writing speeches for others about five years ago to do other things, The thought was in my mind that my voice might be permanently locked up. It was probably no coincidence that I started doing a lot more writing for myself—the series of novel manuscripts, one of which became Dancing Priest; my blog (now three years old and counting); writing for The High Calling, The Master’s Artist and TweetSpeak Poetry; guest posts and articles; and speeches and presentations for myself.

It turns out my voice had only been on the back burner, but it had been there all along. It has been wrapped together with my passions and my sense of place.

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