"Describe your work in terms of its most characteristic emotion, or "humour"-- whether you write from a taproot of rage, pity, love or grief. It seems as important to know this about yourself as to know your country of origin.
I'm struggling to define my voice today. I think facing your "taproot emotion" is challenging because it may show you an emotion you're not comfortable with. For example, I'm a bit concerned that my predominant emotion is derision with a slight contempt. I can be sarcastic.
The last chapter in the Hoagland book is called "Negative Capability, How to Talk Mean and Influence People." The back cover elaborates on this idea: "Meanness, the very thing that is unforgivable in human social life, in poetry is thrilling and valuable. Why? Because the willingness to be offensive sets free the ruthless observer in all of us, the spiteful perceptive angel who sees and tells, unimpeded by nicety or second thoughts. There is truth-telling in meanness."
Instinctually I agree with this because I've always had a queer sensibility. As a catty Cher fan, I've often joked that I'm a gay man in a woman's body. But the truth is, I sympathize with the most bitchy, irreverent, flaming martyr in the room...because this is fundamentally part of my personality, but one that only finds life in my writing and with my husband (poor feller).
On the one hand, the "sweet Mary" side of me is not happy about this manifestation of myself as a writer, the emotional tone I gravitate toward, the one with the meaner edge, disdainful and cutting. My inner Oscar Wilde or Mark Twain.
If only I could write aphorisms as well.
"When an honest writer discovers an imposition, it is his simple duty to strip it bare and hurl it down from its place of honor, no matter who suffers by it; any other course would render him unworthy of the public confidence."
Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad, 1880
"I shall not write any poetry unless I conceive a spite against the subscribers."
Mark Twain as editor of the Buffalo Express in 1869
"Even prophets correct their proofs."
"There are two ways of disliking poetry, one was is to dislike it, the other is to read Pope."
"Most people become bankrupt through having invested too heavily in the prose of life. To have ruined oneself over poetry is an honor."