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On Being the Writer You Are

As a writer, I’m very guilty of being easily distracted, of finding myself reading a book and thinking, oh, I want to write this kind of book, then reading another one and thinking, no, I want to write this kind of book.  Which, I’m sure, is all part of the game most writers play with themselves.  Of course we admire other authors’ work and aspects of their style, and of course we should try out different writing styles as a fundamental part of our journey as a developing writer.  The tricky part lies in learning to recognise our own ‘voice’ and style when it emerges, in embracing it and developing it as best as we are able.
 
What makes our writer’s ‘voice’ uniquely ours is about more than just the words we use and how we use them, it also has to do with what we write about; with the underlying themes and subjects we tackle.  It’s only when we peel back the layers of ourselves and write about what truly obsesses us, what we feel passionately about, that the emotional truth of our writing emerges: the thing that has our writing lasting in a reader’s mind long after they close the final page.  And that emotional truth is something that can’t be faked.
 
We’re a notoriously insecure breed, us writers, and it’s so easy to lose ourselves in the ‘shoulds’ that our inner critic, those “How to Write” manuals, or even just our flighty selves throw at us.  It’s easy to compare our writing to that of others we admire, or those who are more successful than us, and to listen to the devil on our shoulder who whispers that maybe our writing should be more like theirs.  But that’s just playing the magpie, being attracted to the shiny things that belong to other people instead of polishing up our own.
 
On a good day, I believe I have a ‘voice’ as a writer that is distinctly mine: it’s the one I find myself returning to when I stop angsting over my writing and simply go with the flow.  There are aspects of my voice that I need to develop, just as there are bad habits I need to iron out, overwriting I need to tone down, but the core of it is definitely there.  It’s also true that I often lose sight of that voice amidst the morass of ‘shoulds’ that constantly plague me, and when I do, more often than not, along comes a Writerly Crisis.  Because I’m not being true to myself.  I’m trying to be the writer I think I should be. 
 
It’s a lesson I seem to have to learn over and over again, that the most important thing is to silence those ‘shoulds’, be true to myself and to be the writer I am.  For better or worse. 

Comments

( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
readthisandweep
Dec. 1st, 2011 02:11 pm (UTC)
Great post Jenny.

Distraction & fear - both are our nemeses!

Having located my writing mojo down the back of the cat, I've begun the Big Revision. To this end, I've armed myself with a scary To Do list. Pages with keywords, several of them beginning with 'C.' Conflict, Characterization, Clues, Central, Crucial, Consistency etc.

Amongst the other keywords sits Voice. Like you, I think I have my voice pretty well nailed, but not always. And like my story, I'm a WIP ;)

Nicola Morgen (respect & recommendation by the way: http://helpineedapublisher.blogspot.com/) has some interesting things to say about the nature of voice. In Write to be Published she suggests that the voice of the book is more important than the voice of the author. By this she means the voice of the book is what it sounds like, how it 'hangs together in tone & style.' It's what defines the story.

The author's voice is more about her sense of herself, & her confidence as a writer. It's important (for all the reasons you have mentioned) & makes us unique. But essentially, the author's voice is more important to her than it is to a publisher.

When I first read Nicola's book, Write to be Published I barely digested the 'voice' stuff, but re-reading certain passages - in the interests of making the To Do list even scarier - I find myself paying more attention. Consistency seems to be the biggy - keeping it real & being authentic.

I've decided to stop worrying too much about my voice (trust it more too) & concentrate on that of the book.

Taking up some of Nicola's challenges means I'm revising by the back door. Preparing the ground so to speak, & I'm sure you are familiar with the process.

This is one of her suggestions: Take the book you are reading & the one you are writing. Look at the first chapter of each & analyse the voice. Can you describe the narrator's character & age simply from the tone of the narration? Unusually for me, I'm reading non-fiction at present & it isn't so effective (although it still works.) And it isn't that easy if you have more than one main character (I have three!)

Another suggestion is a questionnaire. Thirteen questions for your main character[s]. Try asking them, 'What would you most like people to know about you?' It's hard, girlfriend!

May your Muse be with you!



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readthisandweep
Dec. 1st, 2011 04:24 pm (UTC)
I'm dead picky about 'How To' books - & hard to please. I read Nicola's book & was mightily impressed. Can't recall now where or when it first came to my attention.

I even created my Twitter account because of the way she sold it as a networking medium. And it does have its uses as I'm sure you will agree. I've found some great writers & excellent blogs via Twitter.

Another blog you might like is from Emma Darwin.
http://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/
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jennygordon
Dec. 2nd, 2011 08:39 am (UTC)
They do look good, don't they. I haven't come across her before.
jennygordon
Dec. 2nd, 2011 08:41 am (UTC)
Lol! What was your mojo doing behind the cat??!! Glad you've tracked it down in any case, and I hope the revisions are behaving.

Thanks for your really interesting thoughts on this post, and thanks too for the Nicola Morgen link - she's not a lady I've come across before. I've been thinking about her comments re. each book having its own voice, especially in the context of the Maggie Stiefvater books I admire, the latest of which I blogged about last time. The three that made her name certainly have a very different voice from the latest one, though I believe I could still recognise the essential 'Maggie' in them. Conversely, the Patricia McKillip books I adore all have the same core voice, which is no bad thing as it's such a mighty fine one! Hmm interesting.

I agree that it's easy to get a bit bogged down in the whole 'voice' business. We find our 'voices' when they're ready to be found, and as Nicola says, each book finds its own when it's ready. For me, the essential thing at the moment is being true to ME in my writing, not getting distracted by books I think I should be writing, when actually they're books for others to write. It's about writing what's truly in my heart and soul to write. My writerly insecurities have been wearing at me over the past year or so, some of them as a result of other 'life' things I'm dealing with, and I'm trying my hardest to find my way beyond them. Finding the 'truth' at the heart of my writing seems to be a part of that.

And no worries re. the long post - it's always good to chat and share our thoughts and experiences. And this reply is pretty long too ...
readthisandweep
Dec. 2nd, 2011 09:24 am (UTC)
Misty is a magpie disguised as a cat - she steals things. ;)

I didn't address the book distraction thing - I know it though. We are influenced by writers we admire - why wouldn't we be? They inform our writing & I think that's the trick - let them inform us while allowing our own authentic voice to emerge.

As for other 'life' things - I know this only too well. One of the things I've learned during the last two years is that writing aspects of my experience into my stories is both therapy for me & beneficial to the story. Only the truly astute who know me very well will recognise these stands & moments as anything other than fiction.

Right - back to the revision ;)
jennygordon
Dec. 2nd, 2011 09:43 am (UTC)
Funny you should mention that about incorporating actual life experience into your writing. We all do it to some extent, of course - our writing comes from within us, after all, and our experiences inevitably inform our work to some degree. However, I've recently considered incorporating aspects of a specific crappy 'life' thing I've been experiencing into my writing. Ultimately, I decided, you know what? I write to escape from the craptasticness that can be life, so why allow this particular thing to permeate my writing when it takes enough away from my writing time as it is? In this particular instance, the therapy aspect for me is in escaping to another place entirely.
readthisandweep
Dec. 2nd, 2011 09:59 am (UTC)
Get this totally. The need to escape reality & enter another world that sustains & supports us while we work through the 'stuff.' What I'm talking about (& didn't make clear) is that having worked thorough some things over the last two years, I'm ready to incorporate them into my writing. This is post-angst. Not necessarily completely resolved (some things attach for life) but worked through enough to inform the story.

They are threads - small things - traits (& faults even) that I feel brave enough to give a character. It's like saying, 'Yes, I get this about myself now & I'm becoming a better person. I'm brave enough to own it, through a character.'
jennygordon
Dec. 5th, 2011 11:03 am (UTC)
It's all part of what informs our writing and makes it uniquely our own, isn't it?
readthisandweep
Dec. 1st, 2011 02:18 pm (UTC)
Didn't realise how long the previous was until I saw it on your page! Sorry!
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jennygordon
Dec. 2nd, 2011 08:47 am (UTC)
"I'm only happy when I'm writing stories that are authentic to my inner artist." Yes, and YES! This is what I mean, and what I feel I may have been inclined to lose touch with recently in the face of all those false inner voices telling me what I 'should' be doing, when in fact I should be listening to my true inner voice.

I completely agree that it's the 'voice' of a story that makes it 'sing' (what a lovely way of expressing it). I know that voice when I see it in my writing, and I've realised I need to try harder to pay attention to it as I've been inclined not to in recent months. And by that, I don't mean the 'voice' in my writing, rather the 'voice' that's the heart of ME in what I'm writing about (if that makes sense). Like you, magic and nature are a core part of that.
tracy_d74
Dec. 1st, 2011 09:06 pm (UTC)
Sage words.

It is sooo easy to read a great book and think, "I can never write something like this. That was great!" And the truth is...YOU CAN'T WRITE THAT BOOK. For starters, it's already been done. And secondally, you aren't that author. You have a different set of life experiences. A different story to tell. Your story will be great in other ways. (Please note, that I sound like I have it together...I sooooo do not. I'm insecure about my writing. At my core, I know what I just said to be true.)
jennygordon
Dec. 2nd, 2011 08:52 am (UTC)
Lol! I know, I know, it's easy to philosophise, isn't it, but so much harder to put it into practice in the face of all our insecurities.

It's exactly that core part of me you mention that will give my work heart, and make it uniquely mine, that I'm trying to rediscover. Sometimes I feel as though it was there when I was first starting out writing seriously, but that it's inclined to get buried under all the 'shoulds' that I come across in writing advice manuals. Maybe I need to rediscover the purple-prose-writing teenager in me for a while ...
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jennygordon
Dec. 2nd, 2011 08:55 am (UTC)
Trouble is, it's easy to say, but so much harder to actually do ;O)
edgyauthor
Dec. 2nd, 2011 02:57 am (UTC)
Yay, you've finally written this post! :)

I can relate to everything you said so much--not just as a writer, but as an artist! There are so many different types of voices and styles I admire, but over the years, one has emerged as one that's so very me, I had no choice but to embrace it. For both my writing and my art, I am comedic at my core. I have this weird need to show the absurdity in everything. That's why, for my art, I have gravitated more toward comic-like stuff and why, for my writing, I'd easily describe all my books as comedies, despite how drama-filled or scary certain elements might be. Humor sparks my creativity the most, and knowing my brand of humor might help perk up certain readers someday makes me even more passionate about my craft.

Good luck perfecting your own voice and shooing off those pesky "shoulds"! ;)
jennygordon
Dec. 2nd, 2011 08:59 am (UTC)
Well, you did say you'd be interested in reading it - your wish is my command ;O)

You certainly have a great, fun kind of 'voice' that comes across in your blog and in the art you post on it.

For me, it's not so much about finding my voice - I think I found it a long, long time ago - it's more about rediscovering my fidelity to it, as I've been having torrid affairs with all kind of other approaches (largely as a result of those pesky 'shoulds'), and those affairs are always disappointing and unfulfilling in the end ...
edgyauthor
Dec. 3rd, 2011 09:07 pm (UTC)
Aw, thanks for your kind comments about my voice, especially since I often think I sound rambly and weird on my blog--heck, even in my comments.... XD

I think I can understand your need to "rediscover your fidelity" when it comes to voices more as an artist than a writer. Whenever I see artwork that is so wonderfully creepy, moody, or mystical, I can't help but try to mimic it (and always fail trying). Like my writing, my art needs something comedic about it for me to pull it off, but it's too easy for me to shun that when having a fangirl moment over Stephen Gammell or something. (Haha.)

Anyway, good luck embracing your voice! If it's anything like your blog's voice, it's an awesome one to have and it'd be a shame to have it grow dusty in a corner somewhere as you go play with other voices. ;)
jennygordon
Dec. 5th, 2011 11:11 am (UTC)
"as you go play with other voices" - Hahaha! That makes me sound like a crazy lady ;O)
edgyauthor
Dec. 6th, 2011 09:26 pm (UTC)
Haha, not crazy! Just writerly. ;)
bogwitch64
Dec. 2nd, 2011 04:02 am (UTC)
Don't just silence those shoulds; tie them up, gag them, and toss them into a closet!
jennygordon
Dec. 2nd, 2011 09:00 am (UTC)
Lol! I have such a wonderful image of me doing precicely that! I'm sure we've got some gaffer tape at the back of a draw somewhere that will do the job nicely.
Sophia Chang
Dec. 11th, 2011 09:48 am (UTC)
THIS post I am bookmarking
"...it also has to do with what we write about; with the underlying themes and subjects we tackle. It’s only when we peel back the layers of ourselves and write about what truly obsesses us..."

YES!!!!! I love these kinds of posts that give us back our agency and our permission to be ourselves, for in the end, that is what will make us great.
jennygordon
Dec. 11th, 2011 11:10 am (UTC)
Re: THIS post I am bookmarking
Thanks, Sophia, glad you liked it. I need to remind myself sometimes that being true to ourselves is the simgle most important thing we can do.

Thanks for dropping by.
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