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David Ritz

David Ritz’s most recent book is Willie Nelson’s memoir, It’s a Long Story. In June, 2016, Little Brown will publish his collaboration with Tavis Smiley, Before You Judge Me, a study of the last sixteen weeks in the life of Michael Jackson. Ritz has collaborated on memoirs with everyone from Ray Charles and Don Rickles to Etta James and Cornel West. He’s presently working on books with Jessi Colter and Lenny Kravitz.  

“The Joys of Suppressing Your Own Voice”
I’d like to present a counter-argument to the notion that the writer’s great and necessary search is for his/her own voice. What if instead there’s another vital search, one to find a way to capture a voice not your own? 

In music writing this search takes several forms. In crafting an article or biography about a living musician, how do you frame his/her voice? Do you quote literally? Or do you liberally sculpt the quote to create what you perceive to be your subject’s true character? How far can you go? And in what ways can you define the limits?

If you’re writing an article or biography about a deceased musician, the same questions apply to your supporting interviewees. How can you make these characters come alive as living, breathing people with voices of their own?

In the case of the ghostwritten autobiography, the challenge is even greater. Where does your voice stop and your subject’s voice begin? Given the fact that the eye hears differently than the ear, what are the mechanics—and the literary and moral responsibilities—of creating a voice that is both compelling and authentic?

On a personal basis, what does it mean to suppress your own voice (and your own ego) in an attempt to allow another voice to emerge from your writing? What does that struggle feel like? Does it compromise your independent critical thinking? What does it do to your writing/thinking/feeling process? And, from a practical point of view, how does it impact your professional career?

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