Has Anybody Seen My… Voice?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

When I first started writing, I was very afraid that I would lose my voice (the one in my writing). I would write half a novel, maybe even three-quarters of one, and then I would read a book with a strong voice in it and it would alter mine, leaving the rest of my book inconsistent. I’ve read about other writers having a similar concern, and I can understand why. After reading 300-400pg novel with a strong voice over several days, I usually start to think with a different beat, inserting words that were used a lot in the book. It’s most obvious with older books, especially when I start saying “thus” out loud.

(Now, some of you might argue that what I’m describing isn’t exactly what voice is, and since it’s such a slippery topic, you’re right. Voice is much more than that. Come back Friday for a post discussing voice. However, I did not understand this at the time so I was worried.)

My solution was—avoid reading books. Now, I love reading, so this wasn’t a good solution for me at all. It lasted for almost half a year while I wrote my first draft, but eventually I had to read. I missed it too much. So I went ahead and dug into a book, and it was great to read again. The next day I approached my draft, wrote a few pages, and my writing wasn’t really that altered. My voice was still there! Some of the word choices were affected by what I had just read, but that was okay. In fact, writing was easier than usual. The words flowed better and I wrote faster. Reading helps you write! This is probably old news to a lot of you, but for me at the time it was a pretty big discovery. Sure, I had read books that told you to read a lot if you want to be a writer and that it will help you with your writing, but I never really grasped the extent of what they meant till that morning.

How about you? What surprises have you had on your writing journey (or with other learning experiences)? Did you have any fears that turned out not to be necessary?

Note: Great giveaway over at Seeing Creative, Stina Lindenblatt’s blog. She’s celebrating reaching 500 followers and the prizes include Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook as well as first chapter critiques!

How to Avoid Writing-related Panic Attacks

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I’ve noticed in the writing blogosphere that a lot of us have bouts of elated “this is the best book ever written” as well as many “nobody will ever like this, I don’t even know why I bother, I’m gonna wipe it all off my computer to spare others the misery” moments. If you’re ever experiencing any of the common writer ailments, please scan down the list for easy fixes.

1) Everybody wants to be a writer, there’s so much competition, what are my chances? Well, if you visit writing blogs, it is easy to feel like everybody wants to be a writer, but you have to remember that it’s mostly because those are the people you talk to. Think of people you’ve actually met. How many of them are writers? Not all that many. Try to keep it in perspective.

2) My character just did something weird/my plot took an unplanned turn, why do I even bother to keep writing, this story will never work now. Remember—you can always, always edit later. It might seem catastrophic at the moment, but if you distance yourself from the particular problem for some time (hopefully by writing the rest of the book), you can always come back and snip, snip until you excise the problem, or remold the scene till it works with the rest of the story.

3) This is taking sooo long. This first draft/first edit/nth edit will NEVER end. Actually, as long as you keep writing a certain amount per day (no matter how little), you are bound to eventually complete your task. Sure, writing more per day will get it done faster, but either way it will eventually finish. Look back at how much you’ve already done. If you write a certain amount per day, estimate how long it will take and remember: it takes time to get a story down and that’s okay. It’s not a race.

4) I’m trying really hard to improve my writing, but the industry trades are changing all the time, different agents have opposing opinions, and even my crit buddies can’t agree on how my story should be changed! All of this may be true, but you have to keep in mind that it’s your story and that everybody has different opinions. Everybody will never agree exactly on what they dislike or like about it, and all of the advice out there will not always be applicable for you. You have to do what’s right for your story and characters, as well as what works for you as a writer.

5) That writer writes so much better than me, I’ll never be that good. You’re probably right. You won’t be that very same good, but you will be your own good. The writers you admire have written for years and years, and the strengths that you admire in them are probably your weaknesses. Which is what makes it interesting. If we all wrote exactly the same way, there won’t be as much variety. Write your own story, write it in your own unique way.

6) All the good ideas are already taken. If you boil it down to broad terms such as friendship, love, revenge, etc—then yes, all of the good ideas have been taken, and have been done over and over again. (Because they’re good!) But you can always add twists, and your own personal touches—the execution, the voice, the characters. In the end, it’s all about shedding new light on old concepts.

That’s all the ones I can think of for now. What problems and doubts do you have with your writing? And even more importantly, how do you deal with them?