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January 7, 2013: Finding my Voice

I have, in the past five years or so, found my writing voice, which was something I lost in graduate school. There, while working on my PhD, I was “required” to write academic prose, that is prose that is objective, distancing, detached, and defers to the experts on given subjects. Story telling was out, unless it was anecdotal, and supported a clearly defined argument. There also needed to be a stated thesis, which had to be in the first or second paragraph. All provided information was supposed to support this thesis. (An aside: Even Illustrations.)

I was easily able (in the above paragraph) to define academic writing because my dissertation was to a large part a defense of its counterpart, personal writing. Like Peter Elbow (who too was a strong proponent of personal writing), I was arguing for my piece of the pie.

After graduating, I went into a writing-related funk because I could not seem to let go of what I’d been taught – that the most persuasive and legitimate form of writing was that which was academic. I was like the monkey who stuck his hand in the jar but could not pull it out unless I dropped the thing in the jar that I was holding. When I did write, what I produced was a bastard child of academic writing.

Oddly enough, the acquisition of horses enabled me to again find my voice. This voice was more self-assured than previously. It is a voice that is opposite of the above. This voice is the voice that people “hear” when reading my dispatches. Of course, there are variations upon this voice, but these variations have a single commonality – I’m attempting to get at certain truths. (Many academic writers are doing the same, but are going at it from the opposite end of the continuum.)

I found my voice by doing what one of my teachers, Donald Murray, suggested, and writing about what I was most interested in. This, of course, was horses. The first horse that I wrote about was Raudi. I began by keeping a journal, and then moved on to articles about our ongoing relationship for the Alaska Icelandic Horse Association Newsletter. The first few articles were extremely difficult to write – in fact, each took me about three weeks, working on an average 4-5 hours a day. This was because I believed that I should instead be writing in an academic voice. I got lucky – the newsletter editor (Fran Bundtzen) was very encouraging, and published most, if not all of what I wrote. This prompted me to write related articles for Equus, The Alaska Horse Journal, Eidfaxi, and The Icelandic Horse Quarterly. I should add here that as the other four horses materialized in my life, that I also began writing about them.

Raudi’s Story and Raising Raudi came next. (I am including both book titles because this was originally one book. It eventually became two books. Both are memoirs. Raudi’s Story is her point of view about her first four years, and Raising Raudi is my point of view. I will let the readers decide, but the former is less conventional than the latter.

We construct stories as we go along, adding or deleting detail in order to capture and keep the reader’s attention. Some, perhaps Pete, might contend that I never really lost my voice, and so in this sense the above is, at best, a fictional account. I have to disagree. Okay – this may not have been as cut and dry as I’m making it out to be, but for some time I was at a loss about what to write and how to go about it. And just recently I accepted the fact that I’m not going to set the world on fire as an academic writer.

I have never ceased to believe that the best writers are those who continue to push on the boundaries of given forms. And my job is to push on the boundaries of memoir. Right now, the animals in my life are central to this.

Next: 8. 1/8/12: Happy Trails...Until we Get Mowed Down Again