(This posting originally appeared on The Melt-Ink Pot)
Ah, the elusive “voice”. It is the one thing we pre-published authors are often told is the most crucial aspect of our writing, but no one can tell us where to find it or how to develop it, or even how to tell when we’ve got it, other than to just keep writing.
This past week, I submitted a couple of chapters of my space-pirate adventure to an on-line writers group formed by some of the people who took part in the Writer’s Workshop at Anticipation (a.k.a. the World Science Fiction Convention) this past summer. Discussion of the chapters got lively, but in a friendly, constructive, helpful way. I got some very good ideas out of it, and I think I can see what I need to do with the story next. (Less death and destruction, more humor. Check.)
Which is all very cool, but that’s not the only thing I got out of it.
The next day, one of my commenters posted this on his blog. I’ll quote part of it here, but you really should go read it all, because it’s good (and also short):
“I recently gave a critique to someone about their story – which was a relatively funny piece – and then I got an email reply to my comments that was loads lighter than the story they’d written. Why was this? Because in the email they were relaxed. They were just trying to get back to me, not trying to entertain or write something important.”
Wow. Obviously, he was referring to our discussion about my chapters, but it really hit home for me.
Sometimes, as writers, I think we try too hard. We read endless style guides and how-to books and author blogs, and we go to conventions where we listen to advice from authors and editors and agents and even publishers. And after we’ve done all of that, we’re lucky if we can write our grocery lists without stopping to ponder whether the dramatic tension could be increased if we put the milk ahead of the cheese, or worrying ourselves to death trying to decide if it should be “a dozen eggs” or “12 eggs.”
Yes, style and grammar and even spelling are important, but those can be tweaked later. What we need to learn to do in order to find our “voice” is to relax and just tell the story.
For me, that’s part of what NaNoWriMo is all about. (Aha! You knew I’d get back to that, didn’t you?) It’s not about proving to myself that I can write 50,000 words in a month. I already know I can do that, since I’ve done it twice before. It’s a chance to focus more on the story and less on the style. That doesn’t mean that I don’t pay attention to style at all — I’m a bit OCD that way, if you haven’t already guessed — but if stray commas or adverbs sneak in, they can be weeded out later. I’m just having fun telling the story. And that’s how to find your voice.
Oh, and for those who are paying attention, I’m currently at just a little shy of 29,000 words. In other words, just past halfway and well on my way to the 5oK goal, though maybe only about 1/5 of the way into the story. I’m still aiming at 100-120K words total, but looking back on what I’ve written so far, there’s a lot I could take out and tighten up, so even if I end up around 140-150K, I’m probably doing all right. Heck, as long as it ends up shorter than last year’s, I’ll be happy.
So my challenge to my fellow writers is this: Spend some time this next week just having fun with your writing. Relax, let the words flow, and let’s see what happens!
I love it when I can serve as an object lesson!
(If you want to become NaNoWriMo buddies, or even if you just want to follow my word count progress, I’m arwensouth on the NaNoWriMo Web site.)