You Don’t Need a Degree to Find Your Voice

Rumors of Water

The following excerpt is from Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity & Writing by L.L. Barkat.

I am opening a jar of green tea from Granada, Spain. It’s an old salsa jar, without its label. The tea is silvery and reminds me of those pictures I’ve seen of the mountain mist in China. There are curls of lavender flowers. Bits of orange peel. I am not surprised about the peels. When we went to Granada, we were told that a nearby city, Sevilla, blooms with orange-scented flowers so strong you can almost smell them in your dreams. When the flowers fall, the oranges come. On every tree-lined street, there is citrus for the taking.

This morning, I am making Te Granada, sharing it with Sara. This is the kind of sharing I feel I could do forever.

“We should do a tea pilgrimage,” I say.

“What’s that?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “Maybe we read everything we can find about tea. Maybe we try new teas from around the world. You could keep a journal. We could write poems. We could go to Kathleen’s Tea House, for scones and Crème Earl Grey.”

She agrees, and finds a pink journal with green flowers. She makes a declaration page, for those who want to say yes to the journey. She makes lines for signatures. I sign mine “Mommy.”

I open the computer, go to our local library’s site, and type in tea. A book comes up, Tea With Jane Austen, and I order it. Over the next month, after dinner with my girls, I share the words of this book. We read of tea in England, how Jane would have made toast with an iron contraption, and how she held the key to the tea cabinet. Tea was so expensive in Jane’s time that servants would steal it to resell. A servant not inclined to steal might save the used leaves and peddle them. Charlatans made tea from poisonous tree leaves, added coloring and sometimes dung, and put it up for sale. The British became so enamored with tea that they went into national debt over it. The plan for extrication from this dilemma? Sell opium to their tea trader, China.

The girls and I try new teas. We place our orders with daddy-the-world-traveler. He brings home Christmas Tea and Bagatelle, from Betjeman and Barton, located in Paris. I become so enamored with these teas that I trade in my standing order for chocolate and make it tea. The girls steal away with cups of Christmas Tea, regardless of the season. I discover that Betjeman and Barton do not distribute through channels in the U.S., so my new habit will, of necessity, take me to their online French catalog, where every tea sounds like heaven, with roses and sunflowers or orange peels and cherries.

To have a voice, a writer must have passions and a sense of place. These passions and places infuse the writing with silvery leaves and orange peels, versus, say, ocotillo and pequins. The words of a region, a philosophy, a passion for French or French tea, come with their own sounds and rhythms and fragrances. If we read the Palestinian poet Darwish, for instance, we will find ourselves mouthing jasmine, doves, olives, veils, whereas if we read a poet like Marcus Goodyear, we will find ourselves breathing to the staccato of cactus, cattle, tree poker.

Sometimes aspiring writers ask me if they should get a degree in writing, or go to a lot of writer’s conferences. A writing degree and a conference will help us make valuable professional connections. They might inspire (or require) us to write. Which is a good thing. But we don’t need either of these experiences to find and use our voice. Our voice will be better developed if we spend time with our passions. Learn the difference between a tangerine and a tangelo. Consider the variation in their blooms, and the place where their nectar beads.

I pour a tea called Polka into two cups, one for Sara, one for me. It is dotted with sunflower petals. If this tea could smile and speak, it would tell us of its home, first in the mountains of China or India, then somewhere in the sun-kissed countryside of France.

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration, Guest Post.

L.L. Barkat has served as a books, parenting, and education contributor at The Huffington Post blog; is a freelance writer for Edutopia; and is the author of six books for grown-ups. She’s also the author of a magical fairy tale, The Golden Dress, and the beautiful A Is for Azure: The Alphabet in Colors. Her poetry has appeared at VQR, The Best American Poetry, and on NPR.

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Jan Romes

What an incredible article! 🙂 You have a friendly, descriptive voice!

Megan Willome

Such a good section from “Rumors.” L.L. and I share a love of tea, and it’s only one of the reasons I love her.

Marilyn Yocum

“Our voice will be better developed if we spend time with our passions.” I got away from my passions, not realizing they were my passions, and slowly over time, not only could not write, but I could not find myself and my place in just about anything. Help came my way and that help asked me what I used to do before. What was it I used to do that I don’t do anymore? I gave a too-quick answer that revealed nothing, but it the days that followed it began to come to me, what those things were, why they’d… Read more »

Melinda McGuire

This was beautiful and insightful. Write your passion seems to go along with write what you know. Glad to have read this.

[…] essay on finding and developing your writer’s voice, courtesy of Writer’s Digest (and another fine one, from Jane Friedman). An important point in both essays is that the expression of self in writing, […]


Everybody is talking about tea this morning… This is encouraging.


You don’t need a degree to find your voice, but unfortunately it still helps if you want people to hear that voice in certain areas.But thankfully the ‘old boy/girl’ network isn’t the only gig in town. Grassroots poetry is breaking out everywhere and to us the establishment is almost an irrelevance. I mean I know dinosaurs existed, but I’m not real interested in digging up their bones when there are living breathing creations dynamic and vital all around us. Here in Ireland The Poetry Bus Magazine doesn’t go down the old, it doesn’t even go down the road less traveled, it’s… Read more »

Hope Clark

What a beautiful post and a nice diversion from the hub-bub of the Internet today. Now I crave a cup of tea.


Always, whether schooled of late or not, we must find the passion to make the essence of the words real to the reader.

Angie Arcangioli

Definitely inspiring.  I didn’t understand really what the voice is until reading this.  Wow this is a wake-up call.  Thanks so much for posting it, I’ve added it to my Goodreads wish list.


This is my favorite book of Laura’s. What she didn’t say ~ what she left out ~ made it “Elegant”. And brilliant. I hope she pursues this way of making us forget to breathe between sentences. It seemed like a puzzle to be solved, fitting into itself effortlessly. iLike. 

Ann Morton Voskamp

L.L. writes as one who’s heard the rumors and shows the thirsty the way to the well.
Thank you, L.L. — thank you.


Thanks for posting this piece of L.L.’s. I’ve really enjoyed her work at the High Calling. Lots of great thoughts in this piece, and I’ll just share my angle on one of them… I interviewed a band called Red Heart the Ticker, they’ve been on Prairie Home Companion BTW, and they mentioned to me that their song writing is really rooted in their home town in Vermont. They moved to NYC and Philly, but their art always called them back to their home town. The more my own writing acknowledges places and the things about them that matter to me,… Read more »


L.L.’s writing engages all the senses, as this essay shows. She writes from the point of view of a person who has, indeed, “spent time with her passions.”

The book is brilliant.


Laura has taught me to stop and to allow the world to surface. 

I understand passion better because of her. 

Lisa Ahn

Beautiful writing, and I love this: “To have a voice, a writer must have passions and a sense of place.”


I need to find my voice…all these years of writing poems and other wrenetitings…and I still haven’t discovered it yet…


sorry writings….


I enjoyed this. My granddaughter and I also discover teas we enjoy. I could picture everything you described, thank you.


Thank you for sharing this valuable information and insight into what really makes an outstanding, and creative spoken word artist…I am not, but I so can appreciate Poetry and the creative process associated with how one is able to put pen to pad and bring forth such beauty.. ~Bonnie~

Bill Ransom

Nicely done, thank you!

Jeanine Byers Hoag

Very inspiring, both about tea and about writing! 🙂


No affiliation here, just a satisfied customer: you will have to check out, if only for the sheer pleasure of reading their incredibly well-written and informative descriptions of the countless teas they carry, each carefully selected by the owner and his staff.  Thanks for your essay.


So glad I stumbled over here from L.L.’s site. Beautiful rich words and images here. I can smell the orange blossoms and am desperate now for some simple black tea and a snuggle up with a good book- 


One of my very favorite books. Ever. Thanks for this long excerpt. And thanks, L.L, for the book – and the life behind it.

JoDee Luna

I read, no savored, Rumors of Water. This book is filled with captivating content. In fact, I got depressed when I turned the last page. Now I’m onto her book, God is in the Yard, and find myself delightfully lost in Barkat’s words and images once again. 

Louise Gallagher

What a delight to find you here and read this excerpt. I haven’t bought Rumours yet. Now I must — and it will be placed at the top of my ‘to read’ pile where I shall devour it like oranges in sunshine.


Simply Beautiful! And, having got a Masters in writing, I found there are many people who try to tear you apart leaf by leaf of yourself. I so agree – you do not need a degree to write – it is all about “passions” and “a sense of place” and willingness to share your heart – like you describe with all the senses, all your heart just showing up in what you see!

[…] Today’s guest post is by poet and editor L.L. Barkat. You may remember her from an earlier guest post, You Don’t Need a Degree to Find Your Voice. […]

[…] essay on finding and developing your writer’s voice, courtesy of Writer’s Digest (and another fine one, on the same topic from Jane Friedman). An important point in both essays is that the expression of […]

C. Yolanda Anderson Williams

I’m truly encouraged and inspired! Now, I best go have some tea and mull over my thoughts and ignite further passion for my writings.

Thank you for sharing, L.L!

[…] essay on finding and developing your writer’s voice, courtesy of Writer’s Digest (and here’sanother fine one, on the same topic from Jane Friedman). An important point in both essays is that the expression of […]

[…] essay on finding and developing your writer’s voice, courtesy of Writer’s Digest (and here’sanother fine one, on the same topic from Jane Friedman). An important point in both essays is that the expression of […]

[…] Barkat began this tradition with her own kids, by embarking on a tea pilgrimage. This year, despite that her kids are now 17 and 20, they’re at it again with a spice […]