Tag Archives: finding your writer’s voice

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 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.