Thursday, September 1, 2011

Freeing Your Inner Writing Voice

Some of my blog readers already know that I have just completed writing a memoir. It’s taken years to write, rewrite and finish my manuscript to the point I can) say, “I’m done.”  At least for now. I’m proud of the book, think it’s good read, and feel it’s ready to enter the world. It wasn’t easy getting here. 

I'll talk more about the book content in another blog.

I didn’t write this book alone, which is one of the reasons I have the confidence to say finito. Along the way, I have been blessed with wonderful editors who guided me and forced me to look scrupulously at everything that goes into making a good story. 

Note to all serious writers: if you're working alone, invest in a good editor. Find one you like and trust. It may cost, but it's worth every penny. An experienced editor can turn good into great. And in this tight publishing market, good isn't good enough.

When I began writing my book,  I not only had to figure out what it was I wanted to say, but once I did, I then had to decide how to turn that into a story with a beginning middle and end, complete with denouement and climax.  Lives aren’t built on structures like that, unless you want to cover birth, middle-age and then death. I had to craft the bits and pieces from my life that I wanted to talk about into a coherent story. I can’t tell you the number of times I had to rejig the structure, rewrite a different beginning and construct a new ending. Unforrtunately, the  material I could work with wais limited. Go ahead, try talking about your life in one cohesive story.

Describing a series of events, no matter how interesting each might be, would not create a story that someone other than my mother would want to read. So besides creating an ongoing  and engaging story, I had to find my own style and way of connecting to readers who don’t know me.

To do that, I had to find my ‘voice’, which all writers know is no easy thing. I had to write and sound like the authentic ‘me’. It took the first year, at least, to find who that me was, in a style that would flow through my words and dialogue so the reader could get to know me.  Voice , essentially, becomes Character Development 101.

A lot of what I wrote in my manuscript during the first years ended up, rightly so, in the trash heap. Though I liked some, if not much of what I wrote early on, I realized, through the help of editors, much of it didn’t move the story along. Interesting stuff, maybe, but how does it advance the story, I had to ask.  If it doesn’t, kill it.

These charming, delightful, witty and clever bon mots are ften referred to as our  “little darlings,”We love them to pieces. But I was forced to be ruthless with the babes. They weren't easy to let go. They were so tremendously satisfying when I first wrote them. Yet out they eventually went, with me kicking and screaming as I pressed delete.

It was the same lesson I had to learn in my garden. Purge! Be ruthless! All those pretty little runners and seedlings and flowering weeds just take away from the overall look. They rob glory from the major plants that give backbone and coherence.

Life is so unfair.

Finding my voice has aided me tremendously in writing this blog, by the way. It took time, but I finally learned to write the way I speak. Though I’m forever editing what I write, I don’t censor myself. I don’t look for big words or try to sound smart. I write what I think and feel. Though the conversation is one way, I try to talk to people  not at them.

I encourage other people to find their writing voice, too. It takes time, but once you do, it really frees up your writing. Finding your voice will make you sound like you, no one else.

Here’s a little exercise I suggest to help you find your voice. Think of what you did last weekend, this morning, yesterday or last week. When you choose or what you did doesn’t matter. Then, write a 350 word (real or imaginary) letter to a good friend about your experiences. You may include how you feel about everything, what experiences meant to you, what you learned, what you liked, what you didn’t. You can describe people you were with, your feelings about them, etc.

Just make sure it’s a letter to a good friend, not a letter to your mother (you might censor yourself). Not to a lover (you might try to impress). Not to your child (you might want to come off looking ‘good’). A letter to a good friend you can tell anything to and who will accept what you did, think and feel. 

Ready, set, go. Let ‘er rip.

Keep going until your letter writing starts to flow  naturally. You may have to write and rewrite until you find an honesty in your words. You’ll know when you get there.

Let me know how it goes. 

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