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Voice Inaudible

18 Jul

I’m a writer in search of my voice.

At the national Romance Writers of America conference, I attended a workshop called  “7 Steps to Finding Your Voice” featuring Vicki Lewis Thompson, Andrea Laurence, Kira Sinclair, and Rhonda Nelson. These authors all have different voices and demonstrated those differences throughout the workshop. Their process establishes a pattern to find your voice.

Your voice is you on the page:

  • Your background as it forms you. You had no choice as to your parents, your genes, your location
  • Your choices. Friends, lovers, jobs, education
  • Your self-image—get to know yourself

Come with me on my journey through the steps. As Bette Davis said in All About Eve, “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” (This is often misquoted as “bumpy ride.”)

1.     WRITE

  • Write as much as you can as often as you can. Push yourself.
  • Don’t self-edit during the creative process. That’s what revisions are for.
  • Read your work to identify strengths and weaknesses.

I think this makes sense. Unless you have a body of work to examine, you won’t be able to identify your strengths and weaknesses.

2.     LISTEN

  • Listen to your instincts.
  • When you leave out your voice, the writing can be flat. You want it to be special.
  • Give readers something new. You want your writing to be special.

A minor caveat, IMO. My instincts thus far have not led to publication, so what do I know about instincts? But, I’m game. Let’s continue.

3.     ASK

  • Ask yourself what it is you like about your own writing.
  • Poll critique partners and beta readers and ask them to give you three words that describe your writing.

As for what I like about my writing, I’d say my characterizations and dialogue, but those are merely components of writing fiction. Does it have anything to do about my voice? Losing my way a bit. I’ve only polled one critique partner so far. She said my writing was contemporary, approachable, and somewhat literary. I’ll ask the others and see what they say.

4.     BLOG OR JOURNAL

  • Your topics, tone, vocabulary, and rhythm all demonstrate your voice to your readers.

That’s good for the readers, but doesn’t pin it down for me.

5.     LET GO

  • Give yourself permission to write what you want to, not what you think you should write.
  • Let your characters be free to say and do the first things that come to mind.
  • When someone reads your work, your voice will shine through.

Okay, so I want someone to tie up my voice with a pretty gold ribbon and present it to me.

6.     EXPLORE/EXPERIMENT

  • Once you’ve identified your voice, make the most of it.
  • Push your boundaries and try something new.
  • Work at your strengths.

Still waiting for the “identifying your voice” thing. I’m slow.

7.     WRITE SOME MORE

  • Once you’ve established what it is that makes your voice unique, hone it.
  • Write, write, and write some more.
  • Plot stories that will showcase your voice.

Umm, honing’s good if you’re sure about the voice thing. I’m not. Not yet.

I’m a writer in search of my voice.

Or, am I? Maybe I’ll just keep writing what I want and let the readers decide.

 

31 responses to “Voice Inaudible

  1. Liz Fredericks

    July 18, 2011 at 5:50 AM

    Another thoughtful post, Janis – you’ve got my cerebral hamster back in spin class. From your blogs alone, I pickup a wry, self-deprecating wit (have you ever written in first person for ms?). You also weave ‘big ideas’ through very practical scenarios. So, I’d definitely agree with the CP who said your writing is ‘approachable’. I think your post illustrates a huge danger/opportunity in using critique groups. I’m rather blessed in this regard as my critique partners help me focus on clarity and rhythm, but give me space to figure out voice. I suspect, though, that there are scenarios where critique could blunt or homogenize a writer’s voice.

     
  2. Janis

    July 18, 2011 at 7:42 AM

    Liz, I haven’t tried first person simply because I like knowing what other characters are thinking. Good point about critique groups. A writer must take care not to make every change suggested willy-nilly just because someone else thinks it’s better. The original voice might become diluted if they don’t maintain their uniqueness.

     
  3. Meredith Conner

    July 18, 2011 at 8:01 AM

    I’ve always enjoyed your voice Janis. As Liz said wry comes to mind, but practical. You’ve got your feet firmly grounded yet you see the humor in life and appreciate others. I think your appreciation of people and their traits is what makes your characterization so strong.
    I loved this post. It’s an excellent tool for beginners as well as a nice reminder for those of us who have been working at this for a while.
    My three traits that I’d say I hear in you? – wry, self-depreciating (thanks for the borrow Liz) and family/home.

     
    • Janis

      July 18, 2011 at 8:50 AM

      Thanks, Meredith. I hope to figure it out as I continue my writing. And thanks for the feedback on MY voice!

       
  4. Suzie Quint

    July 18, 2011 at 8:39 AM

    Voice is something that clarifies as you hone your craft. It’s everything from word choice to grammar structure to sentence structure to humor. Les Edgerton wrote a book called Voice that’s worth reading. Another interesting book that relates is Author Unknown: Tales of a Literary Detective, which demonstrates that there are somethings you can’t really change about your voice. Good luck in your search.

     
  5. Janis

    July 18, 2011 at 8:51 AM

    Suzie, great resources to check. Thanks so much for these books.

     
  6. Kyrsten

    July 18, 2011 at 9:18 AM

    Voice is such a “into the mist” topic. Thanks for sharing these great insights from National. I love to listen to Vicki Lewis Thompson share her hard won and proven expertise.

     
    • Janis

      July 18, 2011 at 10:48 AM

      Kyrsten,

      She was also very funny. All four of the presenters did a great job.

       
  7. Carley Ash

    July 18, 2011 at 9:34 AM

    Thanks for sharing Janis. I am in the process of reading all Peter Mayle’s books because I just adore his voice.

     
    • Janis

      July 18, 2011 at 10:49 AM

      That indefinable “something” that speaks to readers is what we all would like to bottle and sell.

       
  8. Patricia Yager Delagrange

    July 18, 2011 at 9:52 AM

    Janis, thank you for this post. I have been hearing about Voice for two years now and I still don’t get it – yet. I’ve written three novels and they’re all edited by a multi-published author and my mentor whom I love. But, you know what? She and I have never talked about my Voice. Do I even have one? You have really made me think about this. Thank you.
    Patti

     
    • Janis

      July 18, 2011 at 10:50 AM

      I’m glad there are other writers out there who are searching. Thanks for dropping in, Patti.

       
  9. Christy Hayes

    July 18, 2011 at 10:35 AM

    Nice post, Janis. Thanks for sharing something from the RWA conference that I wasn’t able to attend.

     
  10. Janis

    July 18, 2011 at 10:50 AM

    Glad to help, Christy. Thanks for the comment.

     
  11. Lynn Mapp

    July 18, 2011 at 11:23 AM

    Janis, thank you for presenting “Voice” in a clear manner. Identifing your voice is difficult. You have to think about your writing style. That involves stepping back. Hard work.

     
    • Janis

      July 18, 2011 at 1:39 PM

      Yeah, it’s always the best things that take the hard work!

       
  12. Valerie Robertson

    July 18, 2011 at 12:09 PM

    Janis, you can also help find your voice if you read your writing into a recorder; the pauses, cadence, the words you give a little extra emphasis to, and the timbre of your actual voice (of course), all give extra clues.

    On the other hand, I think finding your author voice is kind of like trying to listen to a recording of your physical voice–it never sounds the same when it’s outside your head, so it’s hard to discern.

     
    • Janis

      July 18, 2011 at 1:39 PM

      Val, so true. Thanks for the tip. I’ll try it.

       
  13. Charli Mac

    July 18, 2011 at 12:23 PM

    It took me a while to accept my voice. My CPs kept telling me they loved it but I wasn’t sure what they were talking about. It took me quite some time to zero in on it, hone it, and finally embrace it.

    The ah-ha moment for me was when I’d read a piece of my work I hadn’t in a really long time. I finally heard my voice then and I loved it too. 🙂

     
    • AJ

      July 19, 2011 at 7:12 PM

      I can attest to her kick ass voice, seeing as I’m here number one fan and kick ass crit partner extraordinaire …

       
  14. Janis

    July 18, 2011 at 1:40 PM

    Charli,

    So, test time. Give me three words to describe your voice!

     
  15. Clarissa Southwick

    July 18, 2011 at 5:16 PM

    Me giving advice on voice would be a case of the blind leading the vision-impaired. You have a great voice, Janis.

    I think it might be a mistake to use publishing status as a measure of success. What’s fashionable comes and goes. It might just be a matter of waiting for the market to turn. Right now, stories told in first person seem to be all the rage. A few years ago, no one wanted to look at them.

    Good luck. I’m sure you’ll find your niche soon.

     
    • Janis

      July 18, 2011 at 6:45 PM

      Well, not a measure of success, but certainly a measure of how well a writer can resonate with readers/agents/editors.

      Niches are good. Thanks.

       
  16. Mary Vine

    July 18, 2011 at 5:53 PM

    I thought that your brand and your voice are two different things. Maybe not, I just know that you can tell the same author has written all three of my books-me in case your wondering 🙂 So, I was thinking it had to do with vocabulary, sentence structure and dialog.

     
    • Janis

      July 18, 2011 at 6:51 PM

      Yes, brand and voice are very different. Here’s my take on the difference. You can brand yourself as a contemporary YA writer, let’s say, who writes about the challenges of growing up in the 21st century.

      One YA author’s voice may be humorous in showing the challenges and another YA author’s voice may be poignant. And if that first author writes a different subgenre, chances are it will be humorous. Does that make any sense?

       
  17. Mary Vine

    July 18, 2011 at 5:54 PM

    Also, good thought provoking blog. Thanks very much, Janis.

     
  18. P. L. Parker

    July 19, 2011 at 7:06 AM

    Very interesting! Gave me some things to think about.

     
  19. Peggy Staggs

    July 19, 2011 at 8:09 AM

    Great blog. Voice is tricky and so easy to over analyze. Your suggestions are poignant. It is so easy to write your voice out of your work without realizing it.

     
  20. AJ

    July 19, 2011 at 6:37 PM

    The biggest mistake I made after writing my first MS was listening to every crit partner I encountered. Somewhere in there, crit after crit, I noticed my tale was no longer my own. That is when I stopped, took stalk and realized less -in terms of crit partners – is more. At some point during edits, I read a particular passage, and remembered how I was told to change it, read it again and realized, I’d found MY voice. Not someone else’s, MINE, and I haven’t let her go … Great post, Janis!

     
  21. ccjamess

    July 20, 2011 at 8:41 AM

    Good advice. Sometimes it’s just so hard to let go. I usually write as though I’m seeing things as a movie with all the different characters. Have no idea if that affects my voice or not.

     

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