Friday, October 30, 2015

Finding and Writing with My Voice (Part 4 of 7)

Writing with your own voice means you trust yourselves to write with your words, your style, and your outlook.

Writing in your voice means you don't try to sound literary or imitate someone else. Those with a compulsive, inner need to impress with their knowledge are usually the most difficult to help. They need to impress or show off their education. They tend to fill their prose with polysyllabic phrases and esoteric terms.

Perhaps they're afraid to be real. As one writer said, "If I show my true self and you don't like me, that's all I've got." That's risky, but worse is to deny who you are and trying to sound the way you think you ought to sound.

You need to represent your material in the way that serves it best—using the right tone and the right words (your words). I'm not sure anyone can teach you to find your voice, but we can provide the atmosphere and encouragement for you to strive toward recognizing and claiming your inner voice. And when you do, you'll know you're being authentic.

Voice is at the heart of all good writing. You can learn techniques and write in a variety of genres, but if you write from someone else’s voice, the syntax sounds forced, hackneyed, or inauthentic.

I want to be authentic;
I strive to write with my voice.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Finding and Writing with My Voice (Part 3 of 7)

"Uh, I'd like to, uh, I mean, I'm, uh, going to teach . . ."

That simple piece of dialog tells you about the speaker's insecurity or uncertainty. Perhaps it's more obvious when others speak, but we also catch the timidity in their writing when they use statements such as, "It seems to me" or "I like to think." Or we notice the dogmatism with sentences like this. "If you ever want to succeed you must follow every rule and no deviations. There is only one way to master this topic." The more unsure of themselves they are, the more they go to one extreme or the other.

By contrast, writing with your voice means you trust your knowledge and technique sufficiently to use your own words, your personal style, and present your outlook as your own.

When you write on different subjects, your approach varies, but you're still writing with your voice.

For example, clarity is a primary rule for me. I want readers to understand, so I use a direct approach and as few words as possible. It's my style and my voice. Some have accused me of being a choppy writer and I wouldn't argue.

Or I would write the above paragraph like this: For example, clarity is a paramount concern for me and I strive to enable prospective readers to understand, grasp, and ingest my words through a straightforward, undeviating style, and in so doing I use as few words as necessary to convey my intention and my meaning; after all, I want them to grasp my style and my voice even though some have accused me of being a choppy writer and I wouldn't argue a great deal about their accusation.

In the first paragraph I used 44 words and four sentences; in the latter, 79 words for a single sentence.

Your true writing voice is truly you.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Finding and Writing with My Voice (Part 2 of 7)

"In your natural way of producing words, there is a sound, a texture, a rhythm—voice—which is the main source of power in your writing. It’s the only voice you’ve got," wrote Elbow in Writing without Teachers.

Whatever you write shows your style. You can't hide your voice unless you intentionally try to disguise it or try to sound like someone else. A long accepted principle of psychology is that everything you say or do reveals yourself.

Our voice is how we see the world and how we write our impressions. It's the sound of ourselves on paper; it's who we are on the page.

The most serious writers admit that finding their voices is ever ongoing. "I want to sound like the real me," I said many years ago.

If you feel that way, it means being relentlessly honest with yourself. There are several ways I could have written the previous sentence. (And you might write it to sound like you.)

Writers who want to be authentic begin by being true to themselves.

Probing deeply within and being aware of our shadow side enables us to learn to function as authentic writers.

Be you. That's your major task.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Finding and Writing with My Voice (Part 1 of 7)

You don't have to move into publishing very long before you start reading or hearing about the author's voice. And that means your voice, which many books and articles center on these days.

Finding, discovering, and activating your own voice will probably be a struggle—at least it is with most successful writers. Their authentic voices set them apart from others. It's their distinctive manner or style of writing. A true voice is something uniquely yours.

Readers learn to recognize you. It’s the way you write. And if it's genuine, it will always sound like you. Or it will sound "off" or awkward when you write using someone else's words.

Voice carries two meanings for authors.

First, it's your style—the quality that makes your writing unique—unlike anyone else. It conveys your attitude and your personality. "I like his warm tone," a friend said about her favorite writer. "I feel he's talking just to me."

Voice also refers to the speech patterns. Some refer to it as persona. A decade ago I tested this in a class in which I taught a nine-hour course at a writers conference. At the beginning of the second hour, I handed out different paragraphs from five people.

I asked the class to number 1 to 5 for the readings. "One of those paragraphs comes from one of my books. I'd like you to write my name when you hear my paragraph. And if you know any others, do the same, or write one quality about that person's voice."

Out of nearly 50 people in the class, everyone guessed mine. Many of them hadn't read anything I'd written, but they had heard me speak for an hour.

None of them recognized the other authors but they caught the gist of who they were. "She's a romance writer," was one almost everyone got correctly.

I want to develop my writing voice so it reflects who I am.

Friday, October 16, 2015

How Do I Improve My Writing?

I hope every writer asks that question and asks it often. Too many authors, even multi-published ones, write at the same level today that they did three years ago or a decade ago. My favorite scribes are those whose works show their growth and increased skill. After someone hits best-seller lists, I like to go back to their first books and read them in order. I learn a great deal from them and can smile at their progress.

Improving isn't easy and you have to push yourself to discover techniques and methods that make your writing better.

So here's my first answer: Never stop learning.

Second, read and analyze other writers. Ask yourself why something works (or doesn't work). I don't consider myself particularly analytical but I still read and have an interior dialog with the authors. Occasionally, I'll read an awkward sentence and say to my invisible author, "How could you let that get past you?" Sometimes, I smile and then say, "That was an excellent paragraph."

Third, start or join some kind of group where you edit each other. I no longer do that, but it was an invaluable part of my growth for the first twenty years. Even after I had published enough to make a living, I still shared my work.

The last group I started, called the Scriptiques, made me realize I was ready to go it alone. For several meetings, they had made what I refer to as copyediting suggestions—often helpful—and all of us realized it was finally time for me to move on.

I want to improve my writing, 
so I continue to find ways to develop my skills.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

What Is Most Essential to Writing an Excellent Book Proposal?

First, be able to summarize your entire book in no more than four sentences. If you can do that, it shows you know what you want to say and where you're going.

I don't know anyone else who does this, but on page two of my proposals (following the title page), I write what we call a précis statement or the elevator pitch. I put it in a box with a 14-point font.

From reading those three or four sentences, editors can easily decide if they're interested. If not, I've saved them a great deal of time and they can stop.

Second, consider the proposal is a soft sales pitch. Don't claim that it will change lives or it's the best novel written since 1806. Present the book honestly and simply. Editors probably know better than you what the book can do.

By contrast, a self-published writer tried to get me to buy a copy of his book by telling me that "everyone who reads it is instantly changed." That statement also appeared on the back cover. (His best friend told me that the author had sold a total of four copies.)

Let the manuscript sell itself. And the soft-sell pitch is your enthusiasm. I don't write anything unless I'm excited about it. That excitement shows in my writing.

I don't like pitches that all but guarantee I'll become a new person by Friday, permanently lose 20 pounds in 14 days, or find a soul mate in three months.

Finally the essential element of a good book proposal is one that clearly expresses your well-conceived idea.

Friday, October 9, 2015

How Long Does It Take to Write a Book?

I asked my literary agent about her clients and her answer was, "About seven to nine months." And she referred to full-time writers. Writing isn't just typing words on a page, but forming words in your head before putting them on the screen, deleting them, revising, searching for exactly the right word or phrase, and going back over everything again.

Dorothy Parker once said she wouldn't write five words without deleting seven. Her hyperbolic statement is where most of the hard work in writing comes—the rewriting.

It's an individual issue. For some writers, like me, the words flow quickly; for others, it comes out a single word at a time. Because I write fast, my time is usually about four months to complete a book. (I also have a lot of energy and enjoy working long hours.)

The first professional writer I ever met said she wrote one sentence and stayed with it until she knew she had it exactly the way she wanted it. Then she went on to the second sentence. She never went back or edited. That system worked for her and it made her a slow, slow writer. As far as I know, she never finished a book on deadline, which causes problems with her publisher, but she was excellent.

How long will it take for you to write? You have to answer that for yourself.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Where Do You Get Ideas for Your Books?

Although I could probably squeeze out a number of responses, here are my three major idea places.

First, I read widely, and I ponder what I've read. That keeps ideas flowing. By widely I mean outside my normal areas of publishing. Other books open up for me a world full of fascinating people and ideas.

When I was in graduate school I promised myself that I would read at least one book a week. I've held to that. When I read, I ask questions, which the author doesn't always answer. I might read a chapter and think I have a better idea or could state the same truths more clearly. (If we're going to write, we have to have a certain amount of ego involved.)

Second, I'm attracted to people who are as bright, or brighter, than I am. When they tell about books they like, I'll look into them. Others' ideas stimulate me. My best friend, David, and I meet every week and open up to each other—and I can think of only one or two times when I haven't grasped a new concept or left with a different approach to an old idea.

Being in the presence of people who think deeply and who process information differently enriches my life and spawns new ideas.

Third, I'm open to new ways to see the world. Some authors say, "I'm curious," and I assume it means they're constantly asking questions and seeking to deepen their lives. That's a compact way to say it for me.

Ideas are out there waiting for me to find them.

Friday, October 2, 2015

"How Do You Find Time to Write?"

I've never found the time to write; I make time. It's a matter of individual priorities because all of us lead lives filled with dozens of daily tasks. In 1971, I decided I wanted to write, so I made the time by giving up a few activities I enjoyed.

For the first few months, I reached my office 30 minutes before my secretary arrived. Before long I arrived an hour earlier. Eventually it was two hours.

Here's something else that helped me. I was a pastor in Atlanta and regularly visited seven major hospitals. During the day while I drove from place to place, I edited inside my head. The next morning I sat at my desk and wrote all the things stored inside my brain. (They didn't come out exactly the same, but I had done a lot of playing with the material and had it mentally outlined.)

In 1983, a year before I began to write full time, I started taking off all day Friday to write. It was an adjustment to be home with no interruptions, but after a few weeks I realized I could adapt to such a life.

Here's my advice: If you keep trying to find time, it will be a constant frustration. If writing becomes your passion, you'll see it as more important than other activities and drop them. That's making time.

And one final word. If you absolutely can't find or make time to write, ask yourself this question: Am I supposed to be a published writer?

If I try to find time to write, it will always elude me;
I can make time to write.