Category Archives: writing

TIL 28: FYWV 7

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Okay, rounding off the last few chapters of section 1 of Finding Your Writer’s Voice! Start at the beginning of my ‘TIL/FYWV’ posts here.

Chapter 18 – Using the Journal Dangerously

You might think a journal would be the perfect place to find your raw, natural voice, but generally you’re more likely to find ‘comfort writing’ – a “safety valve not a pressure cooker”. However, there’s an easy trick to making your journal a better source for interesting discoveries: rather than writing a ‘what I did’ the way that you might describe your day to someone else, focus on stand-out images and feelings from the day. Even trivial events might have left a strong picture – white sheets in the wind, for instance, or the discomfort of a bank teller seeing you sweaty and disorganised.

Chapter 19 – Writing in the Pressure Cooker: Leading Raw Voice into the Story

Focus on just two or three elements and allow the restriction to push you in good ways. Try improvising, but don’t feel that elements are fixed into the story if they stop you from freely writing. Limits act as a pressure cooker for writing; tension opens up to opportunity.

Exercises include: writing a story that takes place over just five minutes, using three images or events from previous free-writing exercises; take two of your characters into the same setting and give them an hour only to solve an argument (trivial or otherwise); write a story where the character isn’t allowed to leave the path.

Chapter 20 – If

I’ve more usually seen this referred to as ‘what if’, but it’s perhaps got a slightly different feel.

‘If’ allows the mind to accept that the following story doesn’t have to be constrained by reality. ‘If’ arouses action. From the first ‘if’, more and more follow. When you get stuck, try adding an ‘if’ or two.

TIL 26: FYWV 6

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Coming to the end of this September Learning Challenge (I started late, so it will run on into October), I find I have a couple of ‘extra’ chapters to cover from Finding Your Writer’s Voice to finish the first section.

Chapter 16 – The Writer as Presence

There can be value in imitation, especially to a beginner writer who has yet to find their own voice. But only writing as ‘you’ will ultimately be any good – no imitation, however great, will put your heart on the page. When you write as yourself, you might think your work sounds too ordinary – but the reader isn’t you, and isn’t numbed to your voice the way you are. You are unique in person and voice, and this is what you must put on the page.

You may want to mute some aspects of your personality – a tendency towards logic and over-analysis, for instance – or you might even want to exaggerate them for effect. If you have a trait or quality that you don’t like about yourself, put it in a story and find the ridiculousness to it. You don’t need to study psychology to write, but be aware that you will reveal your own personality even if you never write an autobiographical word.

Another reason why it’s so important to finish work – short stories, poems, novels – is that it’s only when you examine the finished result that you can start to see where your personality is missing from the text. Writing is an act of courage.

Chapter 17 – Becoming a Prose Thief

It’s easy to find your voice taking on echoes of what you’re reading: a nineteenth century binge will leave ‘nary’ and ‘whilst’ creeping into your work, for example. Trying on other voices can be a great learning tool, but ultimately you’re using them to find your own unique voice.

Exercises include: change a scene from one of your least favourite writers – as ‘artistic director’ what changes would you make? Or write a page or so in a parody of your favourite writer – really exaggerate the voice. Try writing the same scene in the style of another, very different writer.

Borrowing another voice for a little while can be a great warm-up into your own story. It might help you find voices for your characters, or a story line you might not otherwise have found, or just help you find the tone before your own voice takes over.

My ‘FYWV’ posts started here, and the previous installment is here.

TIL 24: FYWV 5

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My notes on the book, Finding Your Writer’s Voice, by Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall. Working my way through the first part, ‘Voice’, as one of three main topics covered in my take on the September Learning Challenge.

Chapter 13 – Who’s Speaking? Voice and Character

As you ‘play with the chorus of voices in your head’, you can discover the amazing duality of projecting your voice like a ventriloquist, of being you and entirely not you at the same time as you inhabit the character you are projecting. Pay attention the next time the voice crops up, really interrogate the character and get a life story. When you do this, do you become the character, or do you sit across from the character and interview them? This might be a hint as to whether you should write in the first or third person.

Playing with personas, dramatic masks, can help with voice, especially if you let one push a characteristic to the extreme. Try experimenting, e.g. a voice of someone who holds an opposite view to one of your own deep-held beliefs, or a character who would actually carry out a relatiation fantasy you’ve harboured. Take a bland/superficial characteristic of your own which you dislike, and make it a big part of a character, or find a character who both repells but still rather intrigues you.

Personae can often present as caricatures initially. Don’t let this put you off – they might just need some time to grow. Try putting a cardboard character into a quiet setting, see what comes out about them.

Chapter 14 – Capturing the Inner Critic

No writer will be unfamiliar with the inner critic – the poisonous voice that tells us we’re not good enough and might as well give up. But why not turn the critic into a character, just like any other voice?

Channel your critic’s energy into your story, especially as it tends to rear its head at the most crucial moments.

Even if you think your critic has a good point to make, the harsh and nasty way you talk to yourself is never helpful. If you can find a way to constructively use that voice, fine; otherwise [cast a riddikulus spell on it ;)].

Chapter 15 – Learning to Spot the Imposter

“Noises that may sound pretty, may be executed with sophistication, but are not connected to one’s inner spirit.”

A fake voice can cover up nerves in a writer, just as in a singer. Relying too much on technique, slipping into an academic or ‘literary’ voice – writing from the head instead of the gut. Saying things like “His words set off defensive signals in my mind” instead of the direct “I was furious.” Detachment is deadly for a writer.

Your imposter voice might just be you settling into writing – you can learn to work through it. Or it might be a response to your inner critic – over embellishing to make yourself ‘more writerly’. Simpler is usually better. Spot the imposter voice by reading your work aloud, or exaggerating the tendency when you see it e.g. if your writing is too academic, try writing in overblown psychological jargon.

The good news is that imposter voices are like costumes which can be worn by your characters.

Suggested exercises include: letting a minor character be the main character in a short story; set a quiet and demure character against a loud, brash one and let them talk about writing, family, anything; remove all adjectives and adverbs from a piece of your writing – what difference does it make?

Find the earlier parts of the ‘series’ here:

TIL 21: FYWV 4

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From the book, Finding Your Writer’s Voice, with the TIL entries on that starting here.

Chapter 10 – Public and Private Voices

Children take time to learn not to simply tell the stories in their heads out loud, and will wander around making up tales, talking to their toys, etc. Practice saying your inner thoughts aloud (alone is fine!) and see if that frees up your voice.

Chapter 11 – The Sound of Colloquial Voice

A relaxed, informal voice of everyday conversation – you’ll probably not even remember what you say, never mind how you say it! Colloquial voice has vitally, gets straight to the point, and puts the reader at ease. However, watch out for ‘common knowledge’ assumptions that often don’t translate well to the page.

Often, trying to avoid the colloquial voice to sound more literary leaves writing dry and hollow. What you’re aiming for is a blend of the two: a polished version of your speaking voice. This takes practice.

Listening to how people – yourself included – speak is a great tool in developing dialogue.

Chapter 12 – The Chorus of Voice

You might be surprised to find your inner voice is actually a whole host of voices. Some of these can be enticed to tell their stories, others will fizzle out. There is always the danger, too, that the voice is ‘borrowed’ from somewhere else.

Like opening Pandora’s box, you should let all of these characters free. Often those that seem most untrustworthy will have the biggest potential. Become their scribe, give them a notebook. Set them in impossible situations, adorned in outlandish costumes. Milk them for all they’re worth.

The exercises involve ‘discovering’ some of the voices that speak up inside, and imagining various circumstances: e.g., giving them a lot of money, sending it on a secret mission, giving it a job interview, or just letting it ramble on about a hobby.

Previous installments:

 

TIL 17: FYWV 3

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First three chapters, and next three.

Chapter 7 – Distilling Voice

Following from the introduction of free writing in the previous chapter, this one challenges you to make use of it to develop your ear, your instinct for where your writing is ‘on’.

For a week, free-write for 10 minutes each day (new or continuing piece) as quickly as you can, no thinking, no judging. Then leave it in a drawer for a week, before reading it out loud and marking any words or passages that leap out and grab you. In the third week, repeat the daily 10 minute free-write, but this time start each session with one of your underlined phrase – this avoids ‘introduction’ and starts with something vital.

After another week off, repeat the reading aloud and marking provocative, interesting, and unusual bits. But this time, delete everything else. What’s left should really ‘sing’ – if not, repeat the process.

Chapter 8 – Inviting Accidents

Like drawing with ink blots, free-writing encourages ‘interesting accidents’. You;re looking to find something that sparks excitement. Most of what you free write will be completely disposable, but occasionally you will stumble across something that comes not from your brain but from your nervous system. Once you train yourself to spot this, you’ll find bits in your other writing – parts that should be kept and built on.

Chapter 9 – Listening to the Voice of Childhood

This isn’t about reliving childhood memories, but more about the way children tell stories. Everything is immediate. They grab inspiration between breaths, based on whatever they can see. Children haven’t cut themselves off from their passions: everything matters, from not being allowed to go to the circus to the jam tarts mum bakes to make up for the disappointment – think how powerful those stories, those memories, can be.

Along with some other suggested exercises, I liked this one: experiment with your senses. Listen to the sounds of a supermarket, observe the people at a music event.

TIL 14: FYWV 2

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First three chapters were covered here.

Chapter 4 – The Importance of Raw Voice

Available to everyone, uses natural language and a sense of urgency and honesty. Compare to the more polished voice it takes to tell a whole story. But the phrases that just float up to you, without conscious effort, are in raw voice; raw voice is a key to vision.

Beginner writers often try to jump straight to ‘story voice’, but you should learn how to play your instrument – raw voice – first if you want to write powerful, original material. Learn to trust it.

Chapter 5 – The Voice as an Instrument

Thinking of the voice as sound, the whole body can be thought of as the instrument – like the hollow body of a violin producing the resonance of the strings being played. Writing from the brain alone doesn’t allow this; there are reasons we refer to emotions coming ‘from the gut’, etc. The authors advise, “Let your stomach write a paragraph. Then your heart.”

Try some yoga-style breathing exercises, in contrast to writing a paragraph while holding your breath.

As an exercise, try writing structured, resonant nonsense. That is, a grammatical sentence where the words used don’t have any conscious association. For example:

“Although spoons create kymographic leaves, the undulation verve of the bracken riveted rice, and wen the callous failed, luminous clacks vied the loom with a sandwich”

This can spur a sense of cadence and rhythm, as well as silencing the inner critic.

Chapter 6 – Inner Listening

“Don’t reach for voice. Let it reach for you.”

Some people are lucky in having innate faith that they have an inner voice – they wake up with a sentence running through their head and turn it into a story. For others, the best way to find the inner voice is ironically by starting to write. Abandon yourself to the moment, forgetting outcome. Perhaps try free writing – write whatever nonsense comes from the energy of the pen’s movement, for five minutes. Revel in gibberish.

When a sentence just comes to you – rejoice at the offering. Otherwise, help cultivate voice by doing anything playful that gets you out of your head, before you start writing. Try writing in the dark, putting on a special writing outfit, meditation, aromatherapy, using the ‘wrong’ hand, drawing before you write, or cutting up your words and rearranging them. Try deliberately writing when you’re tired or angry or upset – what changes? Experiment. Be playful.

TIL 10: Finding Your Writer’s Voice 1

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Most recent book-about-writing purchase, Finding Your Writer’s Voice by Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall, is the topic of today’s TIL – well, the first few chapters, anyway!

“Voice is nothing fancy. It’s simply the way you, the writer, project yourself artistically.”

Chapter 1 – Telling Begins in an Atmosphere of Urgency

Is that a lovely title? 🙂 Imagine the way strangers exchange stories in heightened atmospheres, situations that allow for excitement and privacy – no back story, no extraneous details, no convolution. Readers are strangers: tell them what’s important and compelling.

The writer must create this ‘unusual circumstance’ atmosphere for themselves – “When you write you have to take a leap and live in an atmosphere of urgency. Urgency that creates instant communication. Urgency that allows for excitement.” Avoid writing from a sense of obligation.

Chapter 2 – Voice: Your Most Powerful Tool

“Your voice is how you write when you don’t have time to be elegant.”

Your voice isn’t static, it will change with the audience, the story, the circumstances. But voices are as individual as fingerprints.

‘Discovering’ your voice is hard, partly because it’s so familiar. But take time to examine the familiar. Look for words to describe the things that are mundane to you.Keep note of phrases and images that just occur to you, especially as you’re falling asleep – the things you might dismiss can hold emotional concepts. There are ideas and inspiration in the things you take for granted.

Chapter 3 – The Writer as a Singer

Opera singers (and babies!) use their whole bodies when they sing. This short chapter recommends trying singing as a writing tool. What kind of singer – jazz, blues, rock? – are you? Sing some of your writing – what kind of music is it? Try singing someone else’s writing. Throw your whole body into it. Shake it out, loosen up.