Monday, March 22, 2010

How to find your writing 'voice'

As I spent a wonderful writing retreat weekend at B's house, I couldn't help but feel that the many, many, many years of working on the art and craft of writing are starting to [and I hate this word] synergize, into something that's even bigger than myself. I find my voice growing more confident and firm as a writer.

I earned my MA in creative writing in 2007 [returning to school after a 10+ years btw] and I learned a lot about developing my 'voice'--even though I'm not sure that's something that can be quantified, or even explained.

The writer's voice is what makes Stephen King sound like Stephen King and not William Faulkner. And what makes Faulkner in "Spotted Horses" different from Faulkner in "The Sound and the Fury."

I don't think there are any hard and fast rules, a lot of this falls into the category of "you'll know it when it happens"--it kind of creates an electricy in the air, it creates something where you feel you are connected to a vast host of invisible and daring artists...and I do not think I would have gotten here unless I felt called to "write dangerously" for a year.

There are no hard and fast tips or techniques [please note my restraint in not adding 'that's what he said' after this] ...but here are some things that helped me:

1) Remember what it was that drew you to writing in the first place.
This is particularly difficult for those of us who write for a living. Sometimes it seems like factory work, particularly if you're working on a newspaper. But remember the time when you enjoyed it for the sake of enjoying it? When you didn't feel like you HAD to be published? I think recovering your voice or finding it are intrinsically a part of that.

2) Experiment with different writing styles- particularly ones you have never tried before.
My graduate professor, Luke Whisnant ["Watching TVwith the Red Chinese"] made the comparison to running track . Some run cross country, some do the sprints, some do the long jump, and while every member may participate in every activity, you'll find there is one that seems to come more naturally to you. [or at least, that's the way I remember it- sorry Luke if I got it wrong.] Obviously, you'll never know if you don't try.

3) Don't try to force it.
While there are a lot of writer's I admire, my writing is stylistically very different from them and vice-versa. It's like the old story about the animals who were given jobs in the corporate world. They put the squirrel in charge of soaring over the sky, and the eagle in charge of foraging for acorns. You can't be what you naturally aren't made to be---well, okay, maybe you can. But it's not as much fun.

4) Keep on keeping on
When I took piano lessons, and I had to play a particularly fast piece (think "The Rustles of Spring"), I kept wanting to rush it, I was impatient with learning the notes and I wanted to get everything up to speed. Yesterday. My teacher told me to play each note slowly, making me plod through it at what seemed like an agonizingly slow pace. "The speed will come," she said (and I almost expected her to add 'grasshopper' at the end of it)
But one day, after slugging through the trills and 32nd notes, I found, quite surprisingly, that my fingers were almost naturally able to just find their home and and sing across the keyboard.

Writing is similar.

You can't find your voice if you're still struggling with basic spelling and grammar. I'm not talking about the typos that happen to us all [ fess up, folks]. But you obviously can't build a house if you can't swing a hammer. Ditto for writing.

Like I said, it's kind of hard to quantify. There's almost something intangible about it. But these are some suggestions that have worked with me personally.

Later this week, I'll post some of my favorite writer websites and some of the best websites for writers! Plus the highlights from some of the best writing advice I ever had. The Snarky Muse may even make another appearance.

>>>Hint for Track #3 on my 'Australia' novel. This song took its title from a TV show.


billie said...

Great post, Dawn. I have often thought of finding one's writing voice as something that happens almost on its own if one commits to writing a number of stories/chapters/novels/poems without thinking too much about it. The first efforts can be contrived and awkward, but if you keep pushing on at some point you forget to try too hard and that's the moment when you find your authentic voice.

Dawn said...

Ditto--I think there's a lot of 'letting go' with it...kind of like the approach a child takes to watercolors- they don't care if it's not perfect. Hmmm...this may be a how-to book on writing...