Friday, August 31, 2012

Some Tips on Voice-Finding

Today we follow up on what I wrote earlier this week.

Jeremy Morgan asked:

"I fear that my voice (my worldview in particular) will come out as a 'tell' and that it will be off-putting to readers. (I know, I know, be true to yourself and write!) But the fear is still there. Any tips on conquering (or at least allaying) that fear?"

Now, Jeremy's answered this question partially - that the key to this is to be true to yourself and write, but I know there are a lot of people saying, "Easier said than done." So let's talk about it.

For starters, it may be easier to say to be true than it is to actually be brave enough to be honest and write without a veneer or cover, but it's doable. Everyone can do it. We may not all do it at the same time, it may come easier to some and harder to others, but everyone can do it. 

The Fear
The fear can be found in the second half of Jeremy's first sentence: "that it will be off-putting to readers" Lots of things can be off-putting to readers, and it's up to the reader(s) to choose whether or not the thing you've written is upsetting to them. 

Sure, there are topics that lead to that choice faster than other (religion, politics, racial commentary), but whatever you wrote is just words. Words have only the power imbued, so the interpretation is wholly subjective. 

The point: The reader chooses whether or not to be offended. Do not make that decision for them. Do not pretend to have already made that choice for them before you start writing. Just write. Write and be brave. Write and be honest. 

To fight the fear, I have some tips.

The Tips

Write as if you're the (only) audience. I often tell people to think of their audience when writing salescopy or promotional material, so that they can find a sympathetic rather than an aggressive starting point. Here, I ask you to write as though YOU are the audience. I don't mean write to yourself (No, "Dear self: blah blah blah", that's a different exercise), I mean write as though you're the sort of person who the material targets. What would you say to someone exactly like yourself?

What's the worst that could happen? Let's say you write whatever it is you're writing. What's the worst case scenario? That it never gets published. Then you'd never have to worry about your voice upsetting people. Let's assume it gets published. Are you really going to care at that point though if ten people from the middle of nowhere didn't like it? You've had one book published, you may be well on your way to a second, so what's the worst that could happen? (The trick here is to distinguish the practical possibilities from the irrational -- people not liking your work is not the same as starting a controversial global discussion about whether or not pigs fly or whatever your work is about)

Remember why you're writing. Are you writing because you have something to say or some story you want to birth unto the world? Or are you writing to please others? Note: one of those two questions is a path to frustration and disappointment, choose wisely. Writing for the right reasons is critical. What are yours?

I know I promised a dozen tips Jeremy, but I think those 3 are going to be the ones you want to keep close at hand. 

Happy writing.