The Voices In Your Head

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The Voices In Your Head

I have been an absent Crow recently—my apologies. For those of you who don’t know, I am not only a literary agent, but also a very lax blogger,  a compulsive baker of cookies, and the mother of a tiny and precocious little girl named Alice, who is just over 400 days old.

On Saturday afternoon, my gracious mother braved the drizzle and traffic and drove to my apartment to spend a few hours chasing my daughter from room to room. She did this not only because she relishes being a grandmother but also because she felt it was her duty to grant me the most fantastic gift one mother can give to another: Sleep.

Stay with me here—this post will eventually be about books. I promise!

Once I got my mother and daughter settled in together, I stumbled into my bedroom, buried myself in the various comforters and sheets and blankets of my bed, and succumbed to a gorgeous, deep, dark, drool-on-the-pillow afternoon nap.

When I finally came to, I lay there for a few moments, trying to regain my wits. The baby monitor in my room was turned on low, and through the tinny speaker, I heard the familiar rustle of pages, followed by the melodic sound of my mother’s voice as she began reading Alice a story. I haven’t heard my mother’s “reading voice” since I was a little girl, and until that moment, I suppose I never even realized that my mother had a “reading voice.” It sounds different from her normal every day voice– lilting, deeper, more confident.

I think that everyone has an inner narrator; that is, when you sit down to read (or write) a story, there is a voice you hear in your head, narrating for you. And on Saturday afternoon, with the rain beating against the windows and the cheerful coos of my daughter bursting like happy static through the baby monitor, I realized that the voice of my inner narrator, whistling back to me through the corridors of time, carrying with it very promise of every wonderful book I have ever read—and will ever read—is the voice of my mother.

Just to make certain I wasn’t absolutely crazy (hearing voices, having mommy-issues, and all that), I queried others about their inner narrators and was relieved to find that most everyone has one. Some people hear their mothers or fathers, some the voices of their schoolteachers, grandparents, or favorite authors. One person even told me that she doesn’t know who her inner narrator is exactly, but she knows beyond a doubt that it’s not her own voice.

To this day, it is my mother’s reading voice that drives the bright kernel of hopefulness I feel upon setting out to write new short story, or to read the first pages of a new novel or manuscript. And I suppose that every time little Alice crawls into my lap with her pile of books and I read to her, pressing my lips to the top of her sweet, sweet head, I do so with the vague optimistic hope that, in some remote future, it will be my voice she hears, my voice that guides her long after I am gone, into each new narrative adventure, into the world of wonder and opportunity that lies behind the title page of every new book.

What about you? Whose voice do you hear when you read or write?

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Brigid Coady and Debra Schubert, Upstart Crow. Upstart Crow said: Now on the Upstart Crow blog: The Voices In Your Head ( […]


  2. Danielle, This post put a smile on my face from beginning to end. I think the voice in my head is also my mom’s, although I’ve never thought about it like this before. She sang to me and read to me a lot as a kid (and I’m a singer and a writer, go figure!). Reading to my boys was one of me and my husband’s favorite thing to do. Berenstain Bears, Goodnight Moon, The Whiskerville Fire Station (Post Office; Bake Shop) are all staples of my kid’s childhood. Thanks so much for this precious walk down memory lane.

    Enjoy your time with your sweet, little Alice. I think you’re right. It’s your beautiful voice that will always fill her mind.


  3. Oh, geez. I have to figure out who my narrator’s voice is. It’s not my mom’s. She rarely read to us, and the voice in my head is clearly female. Hmmm…I might have to go read a book and really listen to it. Awesome post!



  4. I think the voice I hear is somewhere between my own voice and James Earl Jones…

    But not the Darth vader James Earl Jones, more like Mufasa from the Lion King.


  5. I think mine is me. But it’s kind of like the NPR version of me, the voice I use when I’m driving to the grocery store and practicing being interviewed about my recent world-changing, Nobel-prize-winning bestseller.


  6. I hear voices all the time–usually Hero and Heroine getting into impassioned discussions or witty exchanges at the most inopportune times of MY life (an especially when I don’t have a pen or computer handy!).

    You can even read about the day that their voices almost got me killed while driving:


  7. Okay. That just made me cry. So sweet. YOU should write a book!


  8. Danielle, I love this post! And not just because I have a daughter named Alice, too.

    My kids actually hate it when I read books to them in voices. It’s a bitter disappointment; where else do I get to use assorted European accents? But I think it’s because they want to hear a familiar voice take them to unfamiliar places. They want their story appetite to be sated with comfort foods.

    Thanks for giving me a new way of thinking about this.


  9. I taught preschool so long that the voice is just me reading to a room full of kids. But it’s nice to think that I might continue to read to them years after I’ve been consciously forgotten. Great post.


  10. Recently I was reading to my four and five-yr.-olds at bedtime and I noticed that my own voice was different: it was rhythmic and low and had lost its hybrid Canadian/Southern accent and slipped into a very articulated, almost English sound. Then I recognized that my mother had always read with a pronounced English accent. Although she grew up in Canada, she was born in England and lived there until she was five. Now I wonder if it was a connection to her own mother reading to her. Strange how unconsciously that voice came out in me. Thanks for that connection!


  11. I think I hear my own voice, which includes a mixture of my mother and grandmother’s voice. They read constantly to us and I remember fighting my brother and sister for the prime seat in the house- my mother’s lap. Well, maybe I remember seeing a picture of me scowling at my sibs, feeling high & mighty I “got the lap”, completely ignoring the story being read to me. At any rate, I always wanted her to read to me alone. Which she often did.

    My kids are older now, youngest being 9, and they prefer to read on their own. Sigh.

    My mother died when I was 22… so it was always bittersweet reading the books I used to love to my children.. I could just hear my mother’s voice…


  12. Well, Sterling Holloway for one of my books.

    Mara Wilson for another.

    If only those voices could be bottled.

    (And Jacob, James Earl Jones…oooweee!)

    Great thread!


  13. Great post! I began to read early and don’t remember my mom reading to me though she definitely inspired my love of books by taking me to the library weekly. I love to read aloud and my kids loved for me to do it (even my 13 year old will sometimes still ask me to read, but don’t tell any of her friends). So, I guess, the voice in my head is me- a mom with a healthy swirl of little girl mixed in.


  14. How sweet. Love this post.

    I’m with Jenni “I think mine is me. But it’s kind of like the NPR version of me.”

    I think mine is me, but without ‘umms,’ plus a dash more confidence than regular me.


  15. This is going to sound strange. I hear my own. Wait, no really let me explain. I’m deaf, however I used to be able to hear. Fearing losing my voice and never hearing it again. I used to listen as I spoke to the lilts and nuances of how I said words. I wanted to remember what I knew someday I would no longer have.

    Even now when I write, I’m never satisfied until I voice what I’ve written to gage how it might sound read out loud in my head. It’s been an amazing tool for helping me continue to talk eloquently and speak as if I never went deaf.

    The only other voice I could hear inside my head reading is my daughters. That child’s soft whispering lilt as she learned to read to me. Nothing else compares. Indigo


  16. I love this post. I hear the voice of my father reading to me when I read those favorites I heard from his as a child.

    For writing it’s junior high “drama class voice”. I was very shy, but in drama I discovered I could be somebody else, somebody who spoke with gusto, bravado, emotion. It’s one of the things I like about writing; the characters say and do things I never would.


  17. Danielle, that is a very insightful blog. I appreciate your vulnerability as well. Thanks for sharing your treasured moment.


  18. . . . a southern voice slips in and out along with some sort of Swedish hush . . . not so sure about the southern presence–perhaps the grandmother I never had the opportunity to know. Quieted as a young mother, she spent her days cranking out typewritten stories–placing them room to room and then sharing them with children, from what I’ve been told.


  19. That was an amazing post, Danielle. It’s something that I’ve never stopped to think about, but now I wonder why. I want to poll all my favorite authors.

    Maybe this is far too telling, but I hear a bunch of different voices in my head as far as narrators go. I’ve been trying to figure out where I’ve picked up these voices, but I haven’t nailed down my primary voices. I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and I think some of the cameo voices might be the narrators I’ve liked for those. I know, at the very least, I get the infrequent Jim Dale (Harry Potter Series) and Tim Curry (Series of Unfortunate Events.) Johanna Parker and Kate Reinders have been doing some narrating lately because I listened to some Meg Cabot books before that.

    Yeah, I have a lot of voices in my head. I should probably see someone about that.


  20. While reading, I got that familiar pang of guilt from not reading enough to my children when they were small.

    But my mother read to them and in a fit of inspiration she once recorded tapes for each of them, tapes of her reading their personal favorites.

    She died five years ago. My kids were in their early teens. And none of us have been able to find the courage to put in one of those tapes. Maybe when my daughter’s twins are born, we’ll bite the bullet and let the tears come.

    And back to the question…the narrator in my head is the writer’s voice, which ever writer I’m reading. I only hear me when I’m reading my own. I suppose that’s why I only like stories told in a great voice. I can’t fake that.

    But the greatest READER I’ve ever heard, on NPR no less, was John Lithgow. Absolutely captivating.


  21. I’m blown away by the incredibly touching, incredibly insightful comments to this post. Thanks, everyone, for sharing your thoughts and your memories–really amazing!


  22. Danielle, that was a lovely and insightful post. And I never put it together before but you’re absolutely right – there is a “reading” voice that I hear in my head. It’s not exactly my mother’s – she spoke beautifully but she had a noticeable French accent – and it’s not quite my dad’s. It’s like some mixture of the two with a little of my own – the voice I wish I had, I guess.


  23. Danielle,

    In a word: Gorgeous.


  24. This was a great post, Danielle, so sweet and thought provoking and many of the comments have made me misty-eyed!

    I think I have to define the voice I hear as the book itself, which for me is not quite the author, not quite the main characters, or the setting. Maybe it’s the creative spirit that demanded that the book be written in the first place? This may make me sound a bit off my rocker, but do you know what I mean? I hear that voice everyday. I hope that’s the voice readers hear when they read my books.

    Your post also made me glad that I read to my girls often. Now that they are pre-teens there never seems to be enough time. But I’m so glad I have the memories, and glad that they have the memories too.

    Enjoy Alice, she’s a lucky girl!!


  25. Cute story.

    Funny though, it never occurred to me people heard voices other than their own. That surprises me. I hear my own voice in my head.

    But this is interesting too, I was once part of an online discussion regarding if people saw moving pictures (like a movie) in their head as they were reading. I see the pictures. I’ve heard that not everybody does.

    Thanks for the nice story.


  26. I hear my own voice when I’m reading books, but when I’m reading blogger comments, I’ve realized I hear other voices. I’ve spoken to very few bloggers, so I have no idea about the accuracy of the voices. It’s fun to think about!


  27. This is really a lovely post.

    As for me, I hear different voices depending upon what I am writing. But there is one voice that I really like….it is British sounding and a little snobby and always witty. It is really fun to write when that voice shows up.

    Yeah, um, the Brit voice didn’t show up when I was writing my comment….sorry.


  28. My inner voice:

    “Have to pay health insurance . . . also the car payment’s due, you better write something . . . kid’s tuition . . . spoiled little bastards but they’d never handle public school . . . I could drink cheaper booze . . . no, never! Quick, write a bestseller . . .Hmmm, I could turn off some lights or I could write an extra page . . . I want to trade my MacBook for a MacBook Pro . . . I miss the Benz . . . okay, coffee up and write something . . .”

    Usually in John Malkovich’s voice.


  29. Danielle,the vision of you listening to your mother’s voice as she read to Alice went straight to my heart. Thank you for brightening my day!

    My mother seldom read to we five kids, and for some strange reason I seldom read to my three. I guess you can say I was a late bloomer in that regard because I didn’t find that ‘reader’s voice’ until I began to teach school, reading Ramona the Pest to my fifth-graders. Suddenly, a voice I’d not heard before found ME. I suppose it was the author’s.

    I remember hesitating to read such a primary book to fifth-graders, but they absolutely loved it–begging me to keep reading and well, I have to confess, the HAM in me kept on going. It was hard to move on to US History.

    My mother is 92 and not doing so well these days. Some days she recognizes me, some days not. I go to visit her, hoping and praying she’ll recognize my voice, recognize my face. I can no longer call as my voice over the phone only confuses her, but I do hope she goes to the Great Beyond hearing all her family’s voices in her heart. I will forever hear hers in mine.


  30. Thank you, Danielle. You touched a chord in many with this one. Your post will keep me thinking for some time. Relationships, bonding, the power of reading aloud. I wonder whose voice my older-adopted children will hear…


  31. I stumbled across the blog tonight and read your words. It immediately drew me back in time to when my son was young and wanted me to read Dooly and the Snort Snoot (one of my favorite childhood books) over and over. I heard the voices in my head.

    My mother read in voices, and I never really thought about it until I started reading this blog entry and the replies. I realized that everything I read aloud is with specific voices for the characters. I probably do it in my head too.

    I teach a class at work called Nonviolent Crisis Intervention. Part of the course is about communication, and I am constantly stressing to people that what we say is far more than the words. Nonverbal communication comprises 58% of the message, followed by paraverbal at 35%, and the actual words are 7%. It fascinates me that the power of words might truly lie in the voice we hear when reading, the pictures of communication in the nonverbal and paraverbal spheres that writing evokes.

    Thanks for asking such a thought provoking question. I find that I’m looking at writing from a new perspective right now.


  32. My inner narrator is myself, reading very quickly, which is odd, because I hate to hear my own voice.

    I wish it were Adam West.

    Sometimes, I find myself reading too quickly to my three-year-old, and I force myself to slow down and make funny voices, because I’m not just reading to her… I’m helping her find her own inner narrator.

    But, honestly, after the third reading of Rockabye Crocodile, I can’t help the velocity.


  33. I am late commenting as I have only just discovered The Upstart Crow Literary website and your blog. But, oh! how your blog resonated! And I feel I must add the Voices in my Head: They are Mama’s southern drawl reading from a big book (it covered me in her lap) called “The Real Story Book” (stories retold by Wallace C. Wadsworth, published by Rand McNally) and I highly recommend it for your little Alice… if you can find it. Mine has survived many years and many moves and now resides in a little stone cottage (not unlike one in the book) in a Brittany hamlet (also not unlike one in the book) where my grandchildren enjoy it. The Other Voice In My Head? My Da’s reading the Sunday funnies to me. Thanks for reminding me of why I live where I do and write my own Real Story Books. Anne Crowder


  34. Such a wonderful thread could only come from a beautiful blog. Delicious post Danielle. And the comments have really kept the wet eyes moist.

    My girls and I like to repeat the poem in our favorite book; whether we’re reading it or not. It helps us remember how much we mean to each other and always sends one, or both, clamoring up into my lap for snuggles to reinforce our feelings. And at six, I’m grateful they’re not done snuggling yet. I hear even they will grow out of that and dread that day with severe abhorrence.

    My inner voice also changes per book. With Robert Munsch it was a tender older-ish woman, changed into my own with ever “…as long as I’m living…”. But with Fablehaven it’s a young sweet girl, and Nancy drew it was a charismatic twenty-something (surely she was aged in my head) that spoke from the pages below.

    Every book brings a new and fascinating friend to lead me through its very personal story, and I love that.

    But as much as I like new friends, I would rather my children hear my voice as their inner friend. I may be a little selfish in this wish, but….

    Though I suppose it is a very personal thing, I am grateful you have all shared this with me. This post is truly a treasure.

    Thank you Danielle for inspiring us to look within to find what drives us without. Precious.


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