Finding your writer’s voice #amwriting #writing #writerslife

“To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.”
—Allen Ginsberg, WD

A writer’s voice can be an elusive thing. It is hard to know you have found it unless you are an experienced writer with enough books under your belt.

Often, you instinctively know when you are allowing your fears to get in the way of what you really want to say, but it can be difficult to do something about it. Whether it is word choice, style choice, character choice, or some other choice you are smothering, it can be difficult to quash your inner critic and just let the inner writer out.

What is the definition of a writer’s voice?

The writer’s voice is the individual writing style of an author, a combination of their common usage of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works) Source Wiki.

One of the things I grapple with is my use of unorthodox words. There were a couple of places in my book where my editor pointed out ‘better’ words, but I decided not to use them. Of course, there were plenty of other places that I did take her advice. I guess there are certain words that interest me, and although there may be a simpler word I prefer the alternative ones.

I talk in the same way, it’s part of me, and I think there is nothing wrong with leaving a little me in place.

I’m glad I did, and for no reason other than it allows personality into my book.

What is the right amount of voice?

Many bestselling writers use very little ‘voice’ to make their books as appealing as possible. There is no doubt that this tactic works and to elaborate I will use an example. I am one of those odd people who tends to read book reviews after I finish a book, and I was reading a review of a book that I had thoroughly enjoyed, and was surprised by a large number of negative reviews. All the writer’s other works had received glowing 4/ 5 star reviews, but this particular book (which I personally felt was the best in the series) had received a significant number of 1 star reviews.

Why was everyone upset? Well, she had done something a little out of the ordinary in this one. Personally I felt it gave the book an edge that was lacking in the others. For me, this book had something that pulled it out of the ‘mundane’ pack. I read a lot of books and I have been reading for many years, and I have found over time that I actively seek and enjoy uniqueness in a book or writer.

Many of the readers wanted the nice flat line…personally I enjoyed the blip. Certainly not everyone was upset by the book, and it did get a lot of five star reviews too, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the writer’s decision to ‘stick to the safe script’ for future work was a result of these negative reviews.

I hope not.

Can you have too much voice?

There are also writers who have a very unique and extreme voice for a variety of reasons. I once decided, in my infinite wisdom, to read the complete works of Jane Austin while working through classic works. Jane Austin definitely has a voice! And the thing about reading a writer with a strong voice is that it rubs off, and you find yourself writing like…Jane Austin! Given that I mostly write scifi or fantasy, even when I am just ‘play’ writing, it was a rather bizarre mix! And funny! But definitely not a good style!

It is good to recognise the importance of what we read, and to be aware of how it ultimately impacts what becomes our voice. There’s nothing wrong with reading Jane Austin, but perhaps with hindsight six books back-to-back was a bit of a style overdose.  🙂

Whether you are an advocate of the neutral voice, or prefer reading books that have a distinctive voice, we all have one ourselves, and we can choose whether to let it out.

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Update: Writing, Books…and Pods! #amwriting #writing #writerslife

Where we write…

I thought I would begin my writing update by sharing a little about my writer’s nook (or pod in my case).

The funny looking structure above is my writer’s pod (The bit on the left…the big bit is a bedroom). I call it a pod, because…it really is a little pod on stilts and the perfect place to hideaway and write.

Here is the view into the valley from my window, which of course I never look at because I’m so focused on my writing! Okay sometimes I peak.

The inside of my writer’s pod…it doesn’t normally look quite that tidy! And I am also normally squished onto one side of the desk to make space for my cats…and their blanket.

And this is Toby, who was snoozing beside me while I was writing yesterday.

Writing Update…

I’ve been busy with a couple of writerly things. Firstly, book three has received all the beta feedback, so I’ve made the changes and will let it settle for a couple of weeks before I tackle the final read and review. I’m very excited to see the trilogy completed! And very grateful for all the constructive feedback I’ve had on the book…including all my bloopers. Between ‘discounting’ a horse instead of ‘dismounting’ and ‘lunching’ instead of ‘launching’, I’ve kept my beta readers entertained for all the wrong reasons! 🙂

My second bit of writerly activity, has been cracking into a new draft. This is set on the same planet as my current trilogy, but with a new cast and explores the planet’s colonisation. I’m about 30% in, and going reasonably well…reasonably, because I never feel comfortable with a draft until I get to the end and all the bits come together.

About my beta readers!

We are all at different stages of our writing journey, and so I would like to finish by dropping links and bios on two of my beta readers who are published authors themselves.

Jason J. McCuiston’s story,  “The Wyvern” can be found in Pole to Pole Publishing’s new anthology, Dark Luminous Wings. It is a post-apocalyptic steampunk horror story set in the skies above a Mojave Desert filled with magic and dark memories.

You can find out a little more about Jason here in his guest post. Talking about sport and writing! Don’t let the title scare you, I am the least sporty person on the planet, and I learnt something new 🙂

And this is the lovely Cassandra Parker, who always has at least 3 writing projects on the go, but still finds time to read my book and give me feedback!  If you are looking for a little 70’s nostalgia with a wistful and endearing love story thrown into the mix then check out her book Harley & Me.

You can also find out more about Cassandra in her author interview here. Author Interview – Cassandra Parker

Wishing everyone happy reading and writing! 🙂

Guest Post: Today I’d like to talk about sports…& writing! @JasonJMcCuiston #SCIFI #amwriting

Today I’d like to talk about sports; specifically how they can make you a better writer of genre fiction. I think most of us (and I know this is a stereotype) who write sci-fi and fantasy are much more comfortable in a library than in a gym, or more at home at a tabletop playing an RPG than on a hardtop playing basketball. I speak from experience. No one will ever mistake me for an athlete, but that didn’t stop me from trying.

Let’s face it, in genre fiction, there are a lot of sports. As Grandpa says in The Princess Bride: “Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…” You get the picture. “So?” I hear you say, “How does that apply to me and my writing?” Well, I’m glad you asked. I’ll give you some examples from my life.

I played high school (American) football, so I know what it feels like to take a bone-jarring blow to the helmet. I know that smell of blood you get in the back of your sinuses when you get your bell rung. I know what it feels like to have the instep of your foot touch your inner shin (not good). I know what it’s like when opposing forces in pads (the modern equivalent of armor) crash together and try to break each other’s lines. I know how a field smells and feels different in the rain from one that is sun-scorched or nearly frozen with frost. And I know how it feels to see one of your closest friends carted off with a serious injury.

I played rugby in college, so I know what a femur sounds like when it snaps in half (a gunshot is a close approximation), and how the scream afterward is even worse. I know what it feels like to have your shoulder torn out of the socket. I know what my lungs and legs feel like when they’ve got nothing left to give, but somehow find a way to run one more sprint and pile into one more scrum. I know how thirty alpha-males act when they try to kill each other for an hour, and then party like brothers until the dawn (I will go to my grave believing that the spirit of the Viking raid lives on in modern times as a visiting rugby club).

I also took karate and kickboxing in college, and wrestled in high school, so I know what it’s like to grapple with another human being in close quarters, smelling their breath and their unfamiliar scent as they try to hurt or defeat you. I know what it feels like (because I didn’t make weight that week) to wrestle a giant. I know what it feels like to get hit so hard that you can’t breathe and your vision goes dark and hazy. I know how it feels to throw so many punches that you wonder who’s really taking the worst of the bout.

I am into target shooting, so I know that a real gunshot is RIDICULOUSLY louder than on TV and the movies. I know what burnt gunpowder smells like. I know that after a day at the range (or, one can imagine, a lengthy battle) your hands are black with burnt powder. I know that when an ejected brass casing hits your skin it feels like someone trying to put a cigarette out on you (or so I imagine – thankfully, that is one thing I have not experienced). I know how a gun can malfunction in different ways, and how to safely fix the problem. I know that real gun experts are never nonchalant with weapons, no matter how “cool” they might be.

So you see, sports can lend a level of verisimilitude to your writing that it might otherwise lack. Even if you just go for a walk or a hike until you can’t take one more step, that’s useful information you can draw on the next time you write about a long and arduous journey. Do as many pushups as you can until you want to puke, then you’ll get a sense of what your character is feeling when she is pushed to her physical limits. Run as fast as you can for as far as you can, and maybe you can use that when you write about your characters fleeing the alien invasion. And if you go out for a team, you might make it, and then you’ll learn about the camaraderie and fellowship of folks who push themselves and each other to be their best. That certainly can’t hurt, right?

So yeah, sports.

About our guest blogger…

Jason J. McCuiston was born in the wilds of southeast Tennessee, where he was raised on a healthy diet of old horror movies (both classic and of the B variety), westerns and war movies, comic books and old pulp magazines, sci-fi and fantasy novels, and, yes, Dungeons & Dragons. He attended the finest state school that would have him where he studied art before coming to grips with the hard truth that his heart just wasn’t in illustrating other folks’ stories. Following his matriculation, he embarked on a whirlwind tour of underpaid and uninspired career paths until finally realizing that all his forays into role-playing games, comic books, and creative design were merely the manifestation of his innate desire to be a storyteller.

So for the next twenty-odd years, he slogged his way through the jungles of terribly amateurish prose, waded the never-ending streams of form rejections, navigated through the cyclopean obelisks of scathing (yet often constructive) criticisms, and finally climbed the daunting peaks of Personal Growth, Craft, and Skill in search of his goal: the fabled Shangri La of becoming a published and prolific author of speculative adventures.

He can be found on the internet at:

His story, “The Wyvern” can be found in Pole to Pole Publishing’s new anthology, Dark Luminous Wings. It is a post-apocalyptic steampunk horror story set in the skies above a Mojave Desert filled with magic and dark memories.

His first published story, “The Last Red Lantern” can still be found in Parsec Ink’s Triangulation: Appetites anthology.

Writing: The Fate of Unfinished Drafts #writing #amwriting

Every writer has a cupboard or computer full of unfinished drafts.

But what if something were to suddenly happen to us and those embarrassing or poorly thought out scribbles were let out into the world?

I’m not a famous writer, so I don’t need to worry just yet about my estate getting into a wrangling about selling on my work, nor with publishers creating thousands of knock off novels based around the characters I created, but for some writers this is the case.

For all of us, our drafts are precious potentials, but just that and nothing more. I expect we can all compare our draft to our finished work and see the vast gulf between those early scratchings and the polished product at the end.

Even finished drafts can been difficult to let out into the world where we prefer our trusted few to read them with an expectation that they are still rough work.

A part of me is horrified that Terry Pratchett chose to crush his unfinished work, and another part applauds him.

Worth a read if you haven’t seen it already No wonder Terry Pratchett wanted to avoid the Stieg Larsson treatment (Link)

How writing has changed through the ages

Writing in the modern era is very different to writing even fifty years ago. Technology, lifestyle, attitudes, and education have all played an important role.

Writing today ought to be easier, better and faster. But is this really so?

Research…

Enclycolpedia

Not so very long ago if you wanted to research something you…

a) Asked someone older and wiser (and trusted that they were not making the answer up)

b) Went to the library (assuming it was opening time)

c) Dragged out your Encyclopaedia Britannica (if you were lucky enough to have the set—or half the set…)

Research is infinitely easier in the modern world, all courtesy of the internet. For example, the other day I needed to find out how best and practically to carry an unconscious body on a horse—voila! Thus, providing a demonstration of why a writer’s internet history should never be used in a court of law.

Writing tools…

vintage typewriter

As a scrivener fan, I like to think I have embraced the benefits of modern day writing tools. Not so very long ago you were lucky if you had Microsoft Word. Not much help in structure or planning, but at least it can fix some of the typos and grammar, and for many writers it still holds pride of place. Prior to the introduction of computers, you probably used a typewriter! And before that pencil or quill and paper! And before that a hammer and chisel!

Distraction…

Procrastinating

The modern world contains a vast and ever emerging array of distractions. To compensate we deploy a vast and ever emerging array of distraction mitigating techniques! Sometimes our techniques work, and sometimes they don’t…I am pretty sure me writing this blog post is a distraction…and so is you reading it!

Education…

Education

Education is not such a clear cut conclusion for me. In some ways, the modern world with all its spell checkers and text talk jargon has depleted our basic writing skills. But, there is also an amazing array of blogs (except this one, which is in the above ‘distraction’ classification), free education, books, and other material available via the internet, and to a far wider portion of the population.

The time to write…

time to write

If you were a 15th century crofter, the chances are you probably couldn’t read and were far too busy tending to your turnips to dedicate time to writing. Even a hundred years ago the average person worked a 7 day week with little energy or enthusiasm for embracing their creative side. But, for many people in the modern world we have plenty of opportunity to write, although many of us who are not full time writers would definitely still like a lot more 🙂

Attitude…

writing caveman

Whatever the time or place, there have always been storytellers. They just did not necessarily write. I think the concept of the story and the storyteller has been part of human culture for as far back as we have considered ourselves to be human.

Our attitude to writing has changed over the ages though, and I believe we are far more prolific writers now than we have ever been, and that makes me wonder where we will go to next. Perhaps we will simply project our thoughts onto pages, or perhaps writing as we know it now will ultimately disappear.

 

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