Voice |vois|:

The distinctive style of a literary work or author

Conference season is upon us. A time for artistic souls to traipse and travel from all corners and crevices to revel in the complexity and camaraderie of the publishing industry.

To sit in workshops and ponder questions like: What does my character want? What does my character need? 

It’s a humbling process that, for me, started many moons ago, in a workshop now far far away…

Circa 2005

“I’m Holly Howley and I am here today because I took a leap two years ago. I stopped working to stay home with my two boys and it’s hard to hear your voice when you are by yourself all day,”  I said, sounding like a train full of emotions was ready to run me over.

Dear God, did I really just say that?

The day was a birthday gift to myself. An opportunity to spend an entire day with other writers. It was also an opportunity to spend a day with myself by myself. A concept akin to taking a Mediterranean cruise for a mother of toddlers. Of course now, in this moment, the idea seemed entirely overrated.

“Write about your dinner table growing up,” the workshop leader prompted.

While I’d been obsessing about my opening remarks, the group had clearly finished making their introductions. It was time to get down to the writing. The reason we all were there.

My insides groaned. “What kind of stupid topic is that?”

I began by scribbling details of the actual table I sat at night after night as a child. The curve of the walnut stained legs. The heavy layer of furniture wax on the tabletop. Clever was the best I could hope for, I decided.

Until… many minutes later, a whiff of something, surfaced. And, slowly, the layers began to peel away, in small barely recognizable pieces.

When it was my turn to share, I began: “Most nights dinner took my mother by surprise.” (Sorry, Mom!)

It was a relief to hear sprinkles of laughter, recognition around the room. It was a relief to hear me. I spent the next several hours lost in a maze of internal scraps. Daring to care too much while letting go of trying too hard.

As the day wrapped up, the workshop participants exchanged contact information. But, somehow I doubted I’d follow-up. 

I’d found the person with whom I most wanted to connect. Me.