Today I’d like us to chat about writing voices. And, to do that, I’d like to share some details from my life as a parent. Soon after becoming a mother I learned that everyone’s got an opinion on parenting—whether they have experience with kids or not. And, they’re all eager to give it—and equally oblivious to whether or not you want to hear it.
At first I would just get annoyed and tune them all out. After all, it was my kid; I was the mom; I’d figure it out on my own. Then I started to listen and soon I found I needed to reign myself back the other way. I got to a point where I was comparing myself to others or killing myself trying to be the Pinterest-perfect modern-day June Cleaver with all the bells and whistles and golly-gee picture-perfect kids. (Shocking news flash: it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be—or possible.)
What are writing voices?
So, why on earth am I talking about Pinterest and parenting advice? Because it has way more than you may think in common with writers and the advice they get constantly from many, many writing voices.
As writers, we have hundreds of views flying at us every day—from our writing communities (which I believe are vital to our success, as I shared in this series), blog posts, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest searches, writing newsletters, writing seminars, writing webinars, book coaches, writing coaches, writing books, editors, publishers, agents, friends, family, the cat. No joke! I was writing late one night and Tolkien Cat put his paw down … right on my keyboard.
The Voices. Never. Stop.
Each voice bears another piece of sage advice.
“Wipe away adverbs.” “Adjectives belong in the rubbish.” “Adjectives and adverbs bring depth and poetry to prose.”
“Write what comes to you.” “Don’t type a stroke until you plan every detail.” “Write when inspiration strikes.”
“Write every day.” “Give yourself days off.”
“Write first thing in the morning.” “Write in the middle of the night.”
Writing voices often disagree.
As you can see the voices tend to disagree, quite a bit actually. This past weekend I attended the Louisiana Book Festival, which was delightful and amazing, by the way! If you’re subscribed to my weekly newsletter, you saw several photos from the day.
I went to four panels, two of which focused on short stories. The first was with Tim Gautreaux, a genuinely delightful man who is as kind as he is talented; and the second included a panel of four authors, each with his or her own book (or books) of short story collections published.
Their approaches and writing voices could not have been more different! The tip that stood out to me was about theme in short story collections. That topic was really the focus of the second panel, but Mr. Gautreaux was quick to mention he didn’t see a collection in that way at all. He chose his very best stories to include in a collection and that’s where it ended. The other authors agreed that their collections carried a distinct theme; however, they differed in whether they set out to create a theme or not.
The voices get more biting.
So writing voices often conflict with one another, but they’ve also been known to turn on the poor writer trying to make sense of them all.
“What genre are you writing?”
“I’m writing across several genres with the works I have right now. The story I’m working on right now may become a historical fiction. I haven’t decided yet.”
“Well, is your main character a woman?”
“Oh … then you’re writing romance.”
If I put gifs in my posts, I’d have a plethora to choose from here to capture my reaction to that comment—think deer in the headlights. Ummmmm … what? Female main character automatically equals romance???
Actual conversation—no lie (with someone who works for a publishing company, by the way). That’s when I vowed that I will write a novel with a female protagonist in it and there won’t be a lick of romance involved. (Have I ever mentioned I’m stubborn?)
[Sidebar: So, a lifetime from now when someone mentions, “Hmmmm … that author, Joy-with-the-weird-last-name … none of her female protagonists fall in love. She might have major intimacy issues.” To which you can reply with the truth because you were here with me from the start: “Nope. Not intimacy issues. Obstinate is the word you’re searching for. Definitely, obstinate.”]
The voices drone on and on until they become only noise.
“You can’t write across genres, not if you want to be successful.”
“Never start with a ton of boring description.”
“Save backstory for deeper in your story.”
“Thrust us into the action, but don’t make the reader feel completely lost.”
“Give us a reason to care about your characters.”
“Mind your pacing.”
“Always do this. Never do that.”
If a writer allows himself to follow all the voices surrounding him, he’ll never write a single word.
Find your balance.
As a young mother, I had to find the balance between letting the voices consume me and sifting through them for the few golden nuggets amongst the fool’s gold. As a writer, I have to do the same thing. It’s my daily task to seek out the PERFECT BLEND—enough advice to improve my writing properly without taking me from the process itself or rendering me so crippled by a constant need to follow every tip as if it were law that I no longer write with my own voice or any shred of passion.
Writing voices are important and so many out there are earth-moving. But, some voices—even the life-changing ones—just don’t carry the truths you need or advice that fits you. What may ripple the grass beneath my toes may keep the asphalt blazing under yours.
At the same time we’re discarding information not meant for us, we have to be humble enough to recognize good advice and make the changes to accept it. Great writers evolve throughout their lives. So, here’s what I’ve learned: choose wisely who gains your ear and what information you mine from them. Gather golden nuggets and sparkling gems and valuable minerals; examine them separately and together, tuck your precious collection away and then … just write.
Let your pen be your guide.
What are some of the best voices you’ve listened to? Which voices do you wish you’d listened to? Which voices did you NOT listen to but laughed at instead (like my woman = romance story)?