Occasionally we get a reader who has a writing issue, and we do our best to help them out. Here’s one poor lady who fears she may have lost her voice.
I can’t seem to find a voice in my writing, though, as you point out, perhaps I am too close to it. Or, after years of writing news articles and children’s non-fiction, is it possible I have successfully eradicated my voice?
Nope, not possible.
(We recently discussed finding your unique voice HERE, now let’ see about rediscovering it!)
You may think that because you write news (which surgically attempts to remove “voice” and uniqueness) and children’s non-fiction (which, well, I didn’t really know what that was, but after checking your Twitter bio it includes writing “for kids.” I’m guessing what you write there is slightly different than how you talk to your female friends after a few cocktails; fair?) that you have eradicated your voice.
You have not.
You have chosen to write in one venue that requires you to suppress your unique voice – news. Forcing yourself to adapt to the requirements of news reporting creates a writing habit. It’s supposed to be more factual, less creative, than other writing. That habit, which will spill over into your other writing if you allow it, is insidious – but so is creative writing that tries to be news. It’s apples and oranges.
Ask any stay-at-home parent whether they remember what big words are and they’ll crawl over broken glass to speak with an actual adult. Talking to kids is different from real world talking. Same with writing for kids – and you’ve done a lot of that. When you write a story that will be read by six-year-olds, you are envisioning a frail six-year-old’s sensibilities as you do, not Ramon the pool boy ravishing the wealthy socialite while her husband plots her murder.
Uh… I hope.
If we report to an office, we have to dress a certain way and act a certain way. (Can you scream “Fuck!” at your office? Can you at your house? I’m not saying your should, but…) You probably can’t fart at your office desk with abandon the way you can at home, and if you wanna get upset and scream at home, you can. The dog understands. The co-workers will not.
So, just as we adapt our manners for work, we adapt our writing. You simply change gears. Or, as we say in the wine business (and almost all writers are in the wine business, either selling or buying) have a palate cleanser.
In the movie Tom Sawyer, he exclaimed that after a visit to his aunt’s house he had to cuss for ten minutes just to get the taste back into his mouth. Same thing. Don’t expect to go from professional news writer to Hippie Cahier in 10 seconds. Kick your shoes off. Sip some merlot. Get into some comfy clothes. And then read something along the lines of what you want to write. Hopefully that’s something you wrote in your noncomformist days
That will allow you to re-find and re-discover your voice, but I bet it’s there.
Think about the days when your articles came back all full of red ink from the editor. He was deleting your voice. That was his job, to take YOU out of the article and make it Joe Friday, just the facts, ma’am. Maybe around paragraph ten you got to slide in a witticism.
So think back to what you used to put in that you’ve been trained to take out.
My guess is, news speak and children’s nonfiction is not how you and your gal pals talk when you get together, but I bet if they ever laughed at one of your comments, THEY KNOW YOUR VOICE.
You just need to find a way to change gears and amplify it.
Switch from work you to voice you. Here are some ways.
If you normally write in the same place in the house, stop. Voice writing you do on the back porch.
If you normally write as soon as you get home, stop. Voice write only after a glass of wine.
If you normally write in clothes, stop. No shoes, no long pants. NO SWEAT PANTS EITHER. Maybe put on a pair of running shorts or your jammies. Think Bull Durham. You want to be the opposite of your work self when you are your voice self, but only because work self requires strict adherence to nonvoice stuff. The more you change, the less worky you’ll be, the more voicey.
All that said, your voice wants to come out. It’s still a wild animal you’ve tethered. Your articles still don’t sail through without a change or two. Your children’s nonfiction stories still have a touch of your uniqueness (that’s why they’re popular), but if you’re writing in those venues, you’re going to have to play by those rules.
Not just where you write and what you wear, but what you write.
Write some flash fiction.
Write a sex scene. A really raunchy one.
Write about a justified murder from the eyes of the murdered.
Write about a bank robbery from Jean Veljean’s POV.
Be a drug dealer and hold the .38 and squeeze the trigger as you eliminate the rival drug lord from your territory.
Write a joke.
No kids are gonna see it, and nobody from work, either. Go crazy. Write the opposite of whatever you usually write.
There are quite a few sites that suggest random topics to you. Chuck Wendig does this a lot. Check Allison’s stuff, she’s a Wendig fan and she’s done it a lot, too. One time, she was a horny space man. Others included:
- a horror story that is holiday themed in 2,000 words or less.
- 1,000 words in Flickr’s “interestingness”
- randomly pick two subgenres from a list of twenty and mash them together like peanut butter and jelly.
- A 100 word essay on anything. 100 words is not a lot!
- a mixed drink randomizer; use the drink it displayed as the title of our story.
Or this one:
“My random number generator landed on the words “screaming” and “starfish”. I’ve been writing a lot of horror lately, so I’m shooting for a more romantic direction this time, in spite of the presence of ‘screaming.’ ”
You get the idea.
Writing is a muscle you have to develop like anything else, and different types of writing require different writing muscles – and different audiences in your head as you write. Flash will force you to build those other muscles and – lo and behold – you’ll rediscover that amazing writing voice that your editor loves but suppresses the hell out of.
I’m writing a YA fantasy at the moment. Prior to that, I wrote a romantic comedy sex romp, Poggibonsi. VERY different audiences in my head when I did those. For my YA, I have my niece in mind as the MC. Trust me, she was not ever in my head when I was writing Poggibonsi!
And I’ll double dog dare you to submit a flash story here. We’ve been talking about having more fun, and this is a great way to launch that aspect of our blog. Weekly flash fiction writing contests. Why not? I’ll post it and we’ll let readers tell you what they like about your voice.
They’ll see it, then you’ll see it – and you’ll wonder where it was all this time!
Go get ‘em, Lary!
Fans: what would YOU think about having a weekly flash fiction writing contest here?
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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Check out his other works HERE.