This was originally posted waaaay back in 2009 and first posted at Long and Short Reviews:
The Writer’s voice
* “I’m so unhappy with my editor. I’m afraid she’s taking away my voice in this piece.”
* “I don’t want to submit my story. It’s a part of me. What if they don’t understand my voice?”
* “My voice will be lost if I worry about the mechanics of writing.”
*+ “Your writer’s voice is so distinct.”
These are comments I’ve heard on and off over the past
couple of years, and frankly, this concept of voice still puzzles me a
bit. What is it? Our style? Our accent? At a writer’s forum I attended
recently, several writers worried about their voices. To be honest,
that’s really the last thing I think about when I write...if I think
about it at all.
Okay, I do believe that every
writer has a distinct voice. I don’t think we can escape it. To me, it’s
a little like how where you live affects how you speak. Frankly, I’ve
always believed that I speak in unaccented American…you know, like the
news anchors? But as I’ve traveled around, people in different areas of
the US have mentioned my accent.
I’m from Northern
California. Not the Bay Area, but north of the Sacramento Valley, and
oddly enough, I’ve come to realize that we do have a regional accent.
You know the actor Sam Elliot? He’s got that silky, sexy drawl that we
love to hear in the beer commercials. He’s from Texas, right? The South?
Nope. He was raised in the Sacramento Valley. My brother’s accent is
exactly the same.
In fact, my oldest daughter works
on a private yacht with an international crew. She’s the chef, and has
been known to launch into the occasional verbal tirade when she’s alone
in the galley. She says the Kiwis like to come in and listen to her
tantrums because of her “redneck accent.”
does this have to do with your voice as a writer? Well, it’s there. You
can’t really escape it, unless you’re spending a lot of time with
technical or academic writing. If an editor wants you to clean up the
grammar of your narrative, she’s not asking you to stifle your voice,
she wants you to do your job and write properly. As a general rule, your
editor will respect your writing and her advice will make your story
better without robbing you of your voice.
times when I feel that my voice has become stiff and uninspired. I’m not
talking about writer’s block. That’s when nothing comes at all.
Sometimes I feel like the words are coming out by force, like maybe I’m
not the one writing at all.
Perhaps there is stress
in the household or I’m simply disconnected from the story that I’m
trying to tell. Or maybe I’ve just finished a project and have turned to
another, and haven’t captured the new personalities that I’m working
with. When that happens, I have a few tricks to loosen up my mind and
free that elusive voice.
* I have conversations
in character. Okay, that might seem a bit weird. I used to act so
walking around verbalizing is something I did to learn lines. If you
can’t open your mouth and let your character speak, do it in your head.
Go sit in a comfy chair, or lie down on the sofa and ask your characters
what’s going on. Visualize the scenario they are in, and watch their
actions and reactions to each other. Know your characters! I prefer to
worry about the voices of my characters rather than my voice as a
* Listen to music. Music digs into our
brains on various levels. You know how a song gets stuck in your head?
Music is a great tool for learning, as well as for setting mood. Try
listening to the Beatles or Chopin or Barry White. Listen to the mood of
the music. Many authors have soundtracks for stories. Belle Starr was written to the music from the Japanese Anime Cowboy Bebop. It’s a wild, fierce jazz number by a band called Tank. I think that single song really shaped the entire story.
* Read poetry. Find a writer that works for you. It
might be Bob Dylan or John Donne. Poetry is the height of language and
has an inherent flow and meter. You’ll expand your vocabulary and I’ve
found my narrative moves better when I’ve taken a poetry break. Right
now I’m reading Silky Thefts by Michael Jennings.
* Sing. Dance. That’s taking the music and poetry and moving it
to another level. You’re integrating your body into the rhythm of the
music and getting your circulation moving.
tell the story. Frankly, that’s a pretty good avenue to take. So it
might be stiff and ugly, but if you sit down and hammer out the story,
you’ve got the framework finished. That’s the hard part. When you’re
feeling more inspired, go back and fluff it up. Indulge in your
creativity and play with your characters. Have fun. It’s easier to do
when you have the roadmap instead of the roadblock.
Writing is certainly a creative art, but it’s also a craft…a
discipline. If you approach it as a job that needs to be done, you will
learn to work through the rough times. Your voice is there because it’s
the part of the story that is inherently you. If you belabor the idea of
your ‘voice’ your writing will become self-aware. It’s like watching an
actor on stage who is aware of the fact that they are acting. Don’t act
the role, be the role! In writing, don’t worry about your voice or it
will become just another character on your page.
when you sit in front of that blank page with your list of things to
worry about, strike “Voice” off that list. It’s there if you let it come
out. And no one can take it away. Not even your editor.
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