Monday, August 27, 2012

Finding Your Voice

Good morning readers, I hope you had an excellent weekend. I did. I played some games, relaxed on the couch, did some reading and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Very restful.

I'm sorry the blogposts have been few and far between, that's more because I've not been sure what to say, rather than lacking topics to potentially talk about. It's a frustrating feeling when I have things to talk about but I can't seem to get the words straightened out in my mind, which usually leads into some sort of panic that I've lost my writing-groove and unlike Angela Bassett, I'll never get it back.

But I have my groove this morning, so I thought I'd sit down and write. What we'll talk about today will be blunt and candid, but important. I want to talk about your voice as a writer, and why it above all else is critical if you want your writing to take you places, personally and professionally.

So what is it? Some resources will tell you that voice is the way your narrator sounds. Some people will tell you it's the frequency that you use particular phrases or word. Some of the shady / less-than-reputable resources won't expressly spell out what it is, but for the low low cost of however-much-their-book-is, you can figure out your voice BEFORE you get to writing "seriously", as if whatever you were doing before was mute and you're nothing without their book.

For me, and I can only ever speak for myself when I talk about writing terms, voice is the sum of the word choice, inflection, tone and medium through which the ideas are attempting to reach me. Every author has a voice, and every project shades, tints and spins that voice as I digest the material.

Do I figure it out BEFORE I write? When I was learning all that I know about editing, I was mentored by a man named Sid. In his later years, the cancer was pretty intense and his long-windedness became short-windedness, but I remember a lot of what he taught me, and kept rather obsessive notes. On the subject of voice, when I must have asked if you're supposed to find your voice before you write, he said this:

"Voice is like sex. When you're getting some, you're not worried about it. It's when you hit a dry spell and don't get any that you start to question it."

And that's true. When you're writing, when the fingers dance over the keys and the ideas take shape on the screen or the page, you're not worried about whatever the voice is.

You'll develop that voice AS you write. It's something that grows out of the act of writing, as well as from the confidence of having written.

Why is it important? One of the things looked for when you want to take work from the "I'm writing as a hobby" to "I'm writing because I want this creation to do something for other people, and possibly make me some money" is voice -- Yes you need a strong story, well-written, with characters and growth and a plot, but you also need to demonstrate that you've created something, and that this story is a lens through which you show off a particular idea and view of the world.

Imagine you have a camera with a powerful zoom lens. You can use that zoom to create some very arresting images, images that you may want to share with other people. By using that zoom, as well the light and exposure of the camera, you're able to take photos that evoke a particular reaction in whoever seems them later. It's no different in writing. The voice is your camera; the words and style your zoom lens.

How do I find this voice? You write. You create. Don't judge the writing as good or bad, that's something for later down the road, when you have the benefit of hindsight or the expertise of others as a reference model. For now, to find your voice, you write. You write and create and discard and hone your work until you can sit down and nearly on command, summon the ideas so that you may broadcast them (that's a little hyperbolic, but precisely what I mean)

Any other notes? Yes, have some bullet points:

  • Voice is what you get when you let yourself show through your work. There's an old saying "Voice is vulnerability." and that's not too far off. I'm not saying you should expose your pink underbelly to every predator on the veldt, I'm saying you don't have to prop up some tower shield and defend your actual and perceived weaknesses from the mean scary world.
  • Voice doesn't waiver, but your mind will tell you that it does. How you sound doesn't change. You can effort to mask it for one reason or another, through a variety of techniques (read: lies), but there will always be a 'tell' as they say in poker and facial recognition, that will expose your native sound. Your brain, not wanting to be scared or exposed (see above bullet point), will tell that your voice is wobbly or that your writing isn't at its best today...because your brain is trying to protect you ((technically, it's protecting its addiction to specific chemicals released when you feel certain things, and if you suddenly were to change behaviors, you may not release the same chemicals and your junkie-brain may have to change)). But don't believe this hype. Your voice is always there, always the undercurrent of your work - it's just up to you as to whether or not you tap into that.
Now go and let your Voice be heard. Happy writing.