On hearing yourself speak, and other things authors aren’t used to

When I went in for my interview with Faith Middleton last week for a radio interview about my book, I wasn’t worried about too many things. I knew the subject material by heart (it was my book after all), I knew how to get to New Haven, I knew that Faith was going to be a wonderful person and that we were going to have a nice, laid back chat. But the one thing I was worried about was how I was going to sound over the airwaves. Here’s a little secret: I hate the way my voice sounds on recording.

Ever since I was young, I’ve noticed that my voice gets nasally when it’s recorded — either on voicemail or tape or whatever. And I have always hated it. After all, that’s not how I sound. Not to me, anyway. No way, no how. So when I went in for my interview, I was sweating it a little.

During the interview, I had the option of wearing headphones to hear myself as the interview went about. I gracefully declined. When asked why, I told Faith exactly what I just told you — that I hate my voice. And that’s when she told me that I had a “beautiful and resonant voice” — definitely not a compliment I have ever received before. It made me blush a little, I’m sure, but I still decided not to wear the headphones. Even if I sounded like Morgan Freeman, it’d be distracting, I figured.

And then, after the interview was over, I silently promised myself that I wouldn’t listen to it when it finally aired. It just wasn’t something I was comfortable with. But just now, while driving to CVS with the radio on, I heard something that took me by surprise: my voice on the radio.

It didn’t sound anything at all like I thought it would — definitely not as nasally as I remembered normally being on recording. I wouldn’t say that it was beautiful, but it wasn’t half bad. It sounded, in all honesty, the way I sound when I talk. I liked it. I liked the fact that I sounded the way that I sound to myself. But was also a little surreal. Actually hearing my voice coming from my car’s little radio speakers was strange. I just wasn’t used to it.

But if you’re lucky enough to become a published author, I’ve realized, you’ve got to get used to doing things that you aren’t used to. You’re going to hear yourself on the radio. You’re going to speak in front of large groups even if you’re paralyzed with fright. You’re going to see your mug in the local newspaper and online. It’s all going to strike you as strange — as if you-as-author is a separate entity from you-as-you. And in a way, that’s true. It’s going to be a mask that you put on when you need to, a mask that you take off when you’re home alone and with friends. You might not be used to it, but after a couple of times you will be. What’s the point of owning a mask, after all, if you can’t use it to have a little fun?

I’ll post a link to the interview when it’s available in NPR’s archives. In the meantime, do any of you have any stories about the first time you heard your voice on the radio (or saw your photo or name in print)? I’m dying to hear about it!

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