I used to work with students on their fears about writing, fears that underlay “writing block”. Such fears can be overwhelming, causing immense struggles, leading to mental ill-health. One of the issues we used to work on was “finding your voice”, a term I used to describe the process of battling through the fears about criticism (from that devilish internal editor sitting on your shoulder, saying “what a load of rubbish” as soon as you write your first word), to arriving at a place where you can actually start to work out what you want to say.
Nowadays it’s the singing voice that interests me. Finding your voice in singing; now there’s a challenge if you’ve been told, as so many people have, “please don’t sing in the school choir, you can’t sing” or “stop that horrible noise!” when you’re chirping merrily in the shower. It’s terrifying for someone who’s had that experience to be heard singing by another person; the editor on their shoulder is expressing disgust and hate. It’s like being undressed in public – a nightmare, all your imperfections literally laid bare.
I’ve been lucky; apparently I have a “lovely voice”. I was told that when singing with my mum at a service in Winchester Cathedral when I was a small child, and I’ve heard it many times since. But just to write those words “I have a lovely voice” is horribly difficult; that bastard on the shoulder is sneering “You didn’t believe them, did you? Who do you think you are, you stuck-up git?”.
So for most of my life, I sang only in choirs. Paradoxically, you’re relatively safe from being heard there, although if the person you sit next to moves away, you interpret it as bad news about your voice. Then one day, I started having singing lessons. Terrifying. That voice, hidden for so many years, was going to be heard by another person who would judge it. But I went home from that lesson, released at last from that fear – I’d learned that I wanted my voice to be heard and that it was OK.
Other fears are still there, of course. Even today, I’m having to be brave because I’m staying in an apartment where other people are living who might be listening. It makes me sympathise with people who haven’t got somewhere to practise, a place where they can make noises unheard. But I need to practise and so I’m doing it anyway; OK, do it, it’s fine, they haven’t yet banged on the door to shut me up.
But I also need to work on the fear that sometimes wobbles my legs and shakes my voice when I do perform. One aspect of this is that you can’t hear your own voice. It’s difficult to be objective about one’s own achievements even when those are outside you – baking a cake, writing a book, painting a picture – but when you’re part of the performing – presenting the voice, or face, or body – it’s even harder, and it makes one vulnerable to that nasty editor’s mutterings.
There’s a simple trick that you’ve probably thought of already – why not record your voice? Good idea! More learning, this time of technology, downloading the app “Voice Recorder”. What I’m finding is that it is giving me another weapon against the b******. It’s not that all misgivings are eliminated but it focuses attention on the job – and that seems to be the key to it. Now I can hear things that I need to work on, which I suppose is a sort of editing but it’s the sort of editing we do need, once the first draft is written.