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Voice Problems

Mouth I'm having a voice problem right now. Not of the laryngitis variety. It's a writing issue.

Today, as I wrote a jargon-laden response to an RFP for a client, I realized how soul-sapping it is to do that kind of work.  It's what's expected, unfortunately, by the funders and by the client, so I have to do it. In fact, I've become quite adept at stringing together a series of polysyllabic vocabulary words in a way that to me often seems to obscure what we want to say, rather than make it clearer. But clients love it and it's what's on my plate right now, so there you go. 

This would bother me less if I didn't feel like it carries over to my writing here. When I've been in this world for too long (and too long can be a few days for some of these jobs), it feels like my blogging takes on that dreaded "teacher voice." You know, the Charlie Brown "wa wa wa wa wa" voice? There's a slight lecturing quality that I don't like, but can't seem to get rid of. It's also a time when I seem to draw fewer connections and when I feel stale and boring, even to myself. And usually I find myself to be endlessly fascinating, at least according to my husband.

I've tried to address this by blogging at 5:00 a.m., before I start the jargony stuff. But it seems to carry over from the day before, dogging me. You'd think that sleep would help me shake it off, but apparently not. When I'm in this mode, it feels like I've lost the connection to my "real" voice, the one that helps me learn and to see things with fresh eyes.

I think it's interesting that I feel like I have a "teacher voice" when I'm stale and not learning and when I've been working on the same kinds of projects to meet the demands of various competing bureaucracies. Is this a coincidence? What does that mean?

But that's really an aside. This post is more to acknowledge to myself that I'm in a bit of a pit, not attuned to my inner teacher, as Tom Haskins would say. The first step to changing things is to say them out loud, so there it is. I'm having voice problems. Let's hope they clear up over the weekend.

Photo via kkelly2007


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I think the whole issue of 'voice' is an interesting one. I have a casual 'voice' and write in that way. It is 'me' and the way I think. But I get criticised for that - it is considered to be 'academic' enough. But I like it because I think it is much more likely to resonate with 'ordinary' people/midwives. Writing in an academic way that makes no sense to the average reader is the worse form of snobbery, to my mind.

Sometimes it helps me to write to a specific individual. If jargon is the issue, perhaps addressing a person who knows no jargon would be helpful? It's all mental trickery, of course. Neither your chosen person nor your audience ever needs to know.

@Sarah--interesting point about the issue of casual vs. "academic" voice. That's to some extent the split I feel at times, too, in terms of balancing the personal with the professional. I think you're right that your casual voice makes you far more accessible to the average person, not to mention the fact that blogging isn't really a medium that's mean to be academic.

@Robin--I think what happens to me is that I've developed a certain style of writing that goes with certain kinds of projects and it can be hard for me to shake that style when I'm switching. So after a few days of writing an RFP, I have that going on in my head and it's like I can't access other ways of expressing myself, at least not initially. After a good night's sleep, I see that this post is in large part about hating what I'm working on right now and wanting to avoid having to do that again in the future. It's the "I don't want to work, I just want to blog all day" kind of feeling because in blogging, that's at least where I can choose where and how I'll express myself.

It's not surprising to me that sleep does not shake off your jargon-laden voice. It's a voice that brings in income. Amidst talk of a recession, our survival instincts would silence any pro bono voices, especially if they undermine the credibility of our money-maker voices. A possible work around for this pitfall is to consider yourself to be multi-lingual. This approach works for me. Rather than frame one voice as good and another as unfortunate, I see myself "speaking the local language" all the time. My different mentees do not speak the same language, and none of my relatives speak the language I use in my blog or mentoring. So I am constantly changing the metaphors, concepts and models I'm using to relate to each of my "audiences". Perhaps this will help clear up your voice problem.


Thanks, Tom--as always great points. I like the idea of me being multi-lingual and needing to see myself as speaking the "local language" at the moment. I need to just find ways to shift between the languages more easily.


Here is a link to a jargon generator. I think this will shortcut your work and allow you to get back on track.


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