Zoe or Bios?

As I learn more about the craft of writing, one thing is becoming clearer to me — I have to find my voice.  What is my creative voice, and how can I be true to it?  That is a question that makes sense to me on an intellectual level, but what does my “voice” look like in the words that I put on the page for my novel?  Obviously it isn’t “my voice” just because I am the one writing the words, or finding my voice wouldn’t be so challenging, and there wouldn’t be so many books and article about finding it.   Being honest.  Real.  Share your universal truth.  So many words that kind of make sense, but what does it mean practically?

Recently, I read an interesting take on this topic in a book on creativity by Twyla Tharp. She says that she believes that “we all have strands of creative code hard wired into our imaginations.”  She postulates that our brand of creativity, or our “creative DNA”, as she calls it, is as real and biological as the genetic code that determines our eye color.  But how do we discover who we are creatively at our most basic level?  By looking at the creative work that we have done in the past, and the hows and whys of those works.

For example, she states that she has a tendency to divide artists into two categories.  Those that hold their work at arms length,  looking at it from a distance so that is it less concrete, and those that pour every detail into their work, bringing the reader/viewer right up close into the most minute details of the story.  She uses the Greek words dios and bios to explain the difference.  Both of these words mean life in Greek, but they are not synonymous.  Zoe means “life in general, without characterization.”  Bios “characterizes a specific life, what distinguishes one living thing from another.”  She uses these words to define her own type of creativity.  Basically, she divides writers/artists into two groups.  Those whose first instinct it is to tell the essence of a story, the outlines, the big picture, or those whose instinct is to master the details while telling a story, using even the smallest detail to connect with the reader.

In looking at my work, I would say that I am inclined toward bios.  If my protagonist is reading a book, then I want the reader to know what book.  When I am writing a story, it is important that I describe the details of place.  Those details are important to my story.  It is also how I tend to look at the world around me.  Not that the impulse of zoe isn’t present in me, but I lean more toward the details than the essence.

Reading her insight into the creative DNA didn’t necessarily answer the question: “What is my creative identity?  What is my true voice?”  But she gave me a way to start working it out.  I need to look at how I have been living my creative life.  Examine my biases, my urges, my habits, and the way I like to work in order to discover my creative identity .   I don’t have the answer now, but I have a start.  And usually the first step is the hardest.

**quotes from “The Creative Habit: Learn It And Use It For Life” by Twyla Tharp.

 

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