Your Third Inside Voice – A Message to Publishers

By Göte Nyman

Writing is a creative endeavour.  I was thoroughly surprised when one evening, my wife started reading some passages to me, from my recent novel Perceptions of the Les demoiselles d’Avignon. It was meant to be a bedtime story but hearing her read it, I got so excited that I was fully awake.  It was not about the joy of hearing her read my novel.  I could not believe it was ‘my’ text, something that I have written! I did not recognise me in its voice, not at all. Who then had written that text? It was like a voice belonging to some other person, perhaps a writer whose work I knew. It was a third person behind it and now my wife’s voice telling the story.

I started thinking what or who could be behind this strange experience, the Third Voice, and how did it come about. Memorizing and imagining the writing process became a revelation. I believe all of us who write columns, documents, short stories and even novels, know this phenomenon. It goes like this.

Writing is not about dumping our well-formulated and clear thoughts on a media platform, be it digital, handwritten or even graphical in nature. From the first word on, the mind of the writer becomes crowded with ideas, assocations, images, silent speech and mental scenes and algorithms. Every word, sentence and paragraph evokes more of them. It is an extremely dense network of elements which are all connected with what the author is about to tell. Sometimes they are in a good order, often not. Often, but not always, we as writers have chosen a direction, plot, an arrangement and other structural guidelines to help us produce the text. When we then correct and re-correct what we have written, traces of the mental guidelines are still available and we can use them to edit the text accordingly.  Often, however,  new ones emerge, the story evolves, and can even transform into something quite different from what we had originally planned it to be.

Writing is a creative and constructive phenomenon, where the material residing in the mind of the author is used like any other raw and supporting material in handicrafts, art and engineering. The final product, the text, is a result of inclusion and exclusion of all the elements that the author has had in his or her mind during writing. This is the heart of writing: to weave, construct, reconstruct, decorate, and finalise the story from the excessive material and associations available for the story. The final text is the outcome of this complex self-correcting and transformative, creative episode. After some time, it may not be easy to remember its elements.

When we then hear what we have written, most of the mental components available during the writing have already fainted away or totally forgotten. The images and associations evoked in the mind of the person who reads the story to us and has her powerful, personal voice and style, don’t remind us – the authors – about the original mental contents that were there during the writing. It becomes like a distant third person talking, the Third Voice that can feel strange, even alien to us writers. It is still emanating from the author, transformed perhaps, but he cannot recognise it.

This realisation made me think about the role of the publishers who choose their authors and often commission their chosen and perhaps successful writers. From the outset it may look like they had commissioned a book that the eager readers have perhaps been waiting for, the next story. However, what is actually commissioned is the whole process of thinking, imagining and writing. Now the good question is, what – in the hard and competitive world of publishing, and especially creative writing, be it novels, poetry or other literary texts – is it that the publishers get? They get the mental world and life of a committed and creative writer. When it is about a strictly defined book series, genre or style of the story, it still is about this marvellous phenomenon.

I don’t know how well the publishers are aware of the value and significance of this complex mental process of writing and the importance of freedom in it. If they know it, they can invite authors on this personal journey and let the creative minds work on the stories or whatever texts they may be. The real value is in letting the writers think, imagine, choose, forget, rearrange the mental scenes and story elements and transform their private world into something tangible that we, their audience can then enjoy as their stories. Commissioning is about the life of the author.

The Third Voice hides in all of us. It is a most exciting journey to allow it to emerge and speak. We have it in writing and why not in any other artistic work but it is very easy to mute and even kill it. The Voice has a mind of its own, something that we are not constantly aware of. Letting it speak can open new gates of creativity and imagination.

Then there is the interesting question, whom are we listening to, when we hear the story of an author, or her Third Voice?

By Göte Nyman, Professor of Psychology, University of Helsinki, Finland


His books: 

His latest novel: Perceptions of (the) Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (Pegasus, Cambridge/UK)

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