The voice

Do you have a voice? Do you want to find and cultivate one of your own? Then, do not surrender it. Do not use direct quotes, or, in case, do not always attribute them. Write, do not report. As well, perhaps, write, do not translate – not too often, at least, if you can avoid it. Be assertive, in a word, and take your liberties. Read, for example, what Gay Talese (gt) says here, questioned by Elon Green (eg) about his landmark piece “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold”:

sinatra-cover[…] If Sinatra learned anything from his experience with [Ava Gardner], he possibly learned that when a proud man is down a woman cannot help. Particularly a woman on top. <Was this belief Sinatra’s or yours?/eg <It’s my voice. It’s my deduction of all the research I did. The point is to establish the voice. What I don’t like, if I can avoid it, are direct quotes. If I can avoid a direct quote — and sometimes you cannot or should not — I will. Because what you do, with a direct quote, is surrender your voice. If you know what you’re talking about, and think you can be declarative in terms of sentences and attitude, then go with it. That’s your voice. And if you surrender to the direct quote, the quote more often than not is not considered and it’s not literary. A direct quote out of a person’s mouth is not a written sentence. When you write that sentence you might write it a dozen times. A single sentence. What is the point? It’s to try to establish language that is both specific and has a tone that is in concert with the voice. And that is what makes for smoothness in writing style and makes the departure from journalism to literary writing — sometimes called literary journalism. You cannot fracture it with direct quotes. You are then surrendering to the subject that you’re quoting, and they become the writer. And they don’t write very well./gt <In other words, it was better for you to say this than for — /eg <I find that in 80 percent of the cases it’s better to say it, or to take the essence of your research and put it in your own words. And you either stand or fall by it./gt <But did you think Sinatra also believed this?/eg <That is what I would have thought Sinatra would have thought. I don’t give Sinatra the right to say this or that, any more than he gives me the right to choose a song he’s going to sing. He chooses it!/gt […] <Right./eg <We’re not talking about daily journalism, remember. This is part of the New Journalism. It takes certain liberties, if you will, from formal journalism — formulaic journalism. What you’re talking about is formulaic journalism. […] [And when] you choose not to attribute [certain] quotes, it is a literary device which predicates the most important thing is form. It’s not as important as fact, but form and fact break the barrier between nonfiction and fiction as a method of communication. If you are asked, “Where did you get this? Where did you get that?”, which is what you’re doing, you can say this is where I got this information. “Why didn’t you quote it?” Because I didn’t want to quote it. Because if I had quoted it I would be losing the point of having this form, the uninterrupted voice of the writer. The difference between writing and reporting is voice. Writers, whether Philip Roth in fiction or Tom Wolfe or Halberstam or Breslin or John McPhee or me or whoever in nonfiction, the voice is very important. And there are times when you cannot interrupt the voice if you have it. It carries an atmosphere./gt […]

In short, if you have a voice of your own or finally find one, you cannot interrupt yourself too often. You cannot surrender to this or that preoccupation. You have to go your own way and follow your inner urgency at expressing yourself the way you find you’re better inclined to.