#AtoZChallenge — Voice

This post is part of the April A to Z Blogging Challenge, where I am challenging myself to reflect on other A to Z posts that I come across.


Your writer’s voice is supposed to be something that is uniquely your own. But what does that really mean? What the hell is writer’s voice? And how can you find something when you’re not even sure what it is?

Is it your style of writing? Is it your tone? Or is voice something else entirely?

According to one article I came upon, “voice is not only a unique way of putting words together, but a unique sensibility, a distinctive way of looking at the world, an outlook that enriches a writer’s oeuvre.”

I’m sorry, but that didn’t help at all. “A writer’s oeuvre”? Seriously?

V is for Voice, Fandango

I read this a few hours ago, and it’s occurred to me that since I left such a long comment it might as well become my post for the day. So here’s that comment, with some additions.

My concentration in college was Creative Writing, so I took a lot of writing courses. One of them focused specifically on “voice” — a concept that I’m still a little shaky on, to be honest, but hear me out.

Throughout the semester, the professor and I had a running argument about fanfiction. I am all for as a writing exercise, because it creates opportunities to be creative within a finite set of rules (canon) and a somewhat less finite set of your own personal take on things (head-canon). The professor argued that it was merely taking on the voice of other creators and not exploring my own.

But how are you supposed to figure out what your voice is if you don’t have meaningful examples? The course did attempt to provide some, but none I really clicked with. And I’m saying that as someone who read Grapes of Wrath in high school and couldn’t stop writing like Steinbeck for weeks. I didn’t even like that book.

For me, the iconic example is Douglas Adams — because I spent so much time writing Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy fanfiction. For a while, I had the Adams voice down pat, and that time it was intentional. I’m still not able to articulate what my own voice is, but I wouldn’t exactly be able to describe his either. It’s not something you define, it’s something you feel. Rhythm, content, it all blurs together into this thing that you kind of only identify from a distance, as an afterthought.

You know what I think? I think your own style is something you’re so intimately familiar with that it’s like… the taste in your mouth when you’re not tasting anything. It’s like the air you breath. It’s like water to a fish. Part of why I’ve come to this conclusion is because, if you try to think too hard about “sounding like yourself,” you overthink how to start the next story or the next scene, and you either end up staring at the blank space or forcing out some crap that you don’t really like.

oeu·vre
noun
the works of a painter, composer, or author regarded collectively.
“the complete oeuvre of Mozart”

So maybe your voice just is what it is, and only your readers can properly identify it because they have the necessary distance, the necessary perspective, and usually a fair amount of time to absorb a selection of your work. You can only know your voice when someone else hears it, and tells you what it sounds like.

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Author’s Voice, Editor’s Voice

I have always struggled with voice. In high school, the struggle went like this:

  • Reading Grapes of Wrath? Everything I write that week sounds like Grapes of Wrath.
    troad1fs
     A visual distillation of how I felt while reading The Grapes of Wrath. (Source.)
  • Reading The Great Gatsby? Everything I write that week sounds like The Great Gatsby. And includes a mint julep.
  • Reading Crime & Punishment? I don’t write at all those two weeks because Russian Lit just kills me.
  • Reading Stephen King in my free time? I learned how to spell harbinger real well. Real well indeed.

Then, in college, the struggle became:

  • I am pretty good at writing fanfiction in the Douglas Adams voice.
  • That’s pretty much it.
  • Everything I write contains the phrases “almost, but not quite ___” or “almost, but not entirely unlike ___.”

My problem is that I’ve learned how to write by sponging up whatever I happen to be reading at the time, and the result is I am still a bit uncertain of my own voice. What I do know is that it tends to be very direct, often rather snarky, and consecutive sentences never start or end with the same word because that drives me up the wall.

Some of this I’ve learned from how I edit other people’s work. I am the nitpicker who will go through the page and circle every instance of a repeated word in a paragraph or page, and note the total count in the margin just in case I hadn’t already made my point. I am the nitpicker who will not only notice that every sentence has the same length and structure, but (a) point it out, (b) state whether or not it seems like you did it on purpose, and (c) start scribbling in examples of how you might rearrange them.

I’ve never been quite sure how anyone feels about my writing critiques, but personally I can’t stand getting critiques back with no notes throughout and a bunch of vague comments at the end. If you didn’t think something worked I want you to show me where during the text you had that thought, and I try to do that when I edit.

My voice as an editor has helped inform me a bit more about my voice as a writer, although I have to take this with a grain of salt. If I listen to my editor-voice too much I get distracted by rewriting things I haven’t even finished writing in the first place. Similarly, I can queue up audiobooks to listen to in the car but have to keep a wary eye out for signs that the book of the week is taking over.

It helps when I pick the audiobooks to suit what I’m writing, rather than the other way around.

And heaven help me if I’m typing up something I’ve written longhand, because unlike the self-restraint described in this post over at The Caffeinated Writer I can’t help trying to fix it as I go! Approximately halfway through whatever I still have written down has somehow become completely irrelevant and I no longer have a complete draft. 

Title Pending: National Novel Writing Month

This is not the first time I’ve attempted National Novel Writing Month. I made a vague attempt while still in high school, which probably peetered out after about a week, week and a half tops. Then there was the rest of high school, and college, and seeking gainful employment. I could never imagine finding the time. But this year it boiled down to the decision that I would make the time, and spending the two weeks leading up to Halloween world building and outlining.

 

I’m just barely making my word count for most days but it’s going pretty well so far and I feel confident… to a certain point. The outline I have only goes as far as about six chapters because I don’t know what happens in the middle of the book. Past that I’ll be relying on random word prompts from NaNoWriMo sprints on Twitter. I’m making peace with this by remembering something I was told in a Mindfulness and Meditation class about building a meditation practice: it’s hard, and if you fall short of what you set out to do it’s completely counter productive to beat yourself up about it.

Continue reading “Title Pending: National Novel Writing Month”