Friday, December 17, 2010

10 Tips on Voice--and a Beary Good Giveaway!

A writer's voice is not character alone, it is not style alone; it is far more. A writer's voice--like the stroke of an artist's brush--is the thumbprint of his or her whole person--his or her idea, wit, humor, passions, rhythms. --Patricia Lee Gauch

Bear Snores On, by Karma Wilson, has fast become one of my picture book favorites. I love to read it with Angelica, and anticipate reading it to the newest family member Adrian--unless, of course, his big sister beats me to it. And, not surprisingly, it has found it's way cross-country to little Nicholas, too.

Recently, after yet another reading, a whimsical  thought hit me. The story is also a metaphor for that elusive quality writers look for in their writing: "voice." After all, Bear SNORES ON until (without giving anything away) a series of events come along and he WAKES UP--and uses his voice as only he can. Which is what we writers are trying to do: wake up the voice that is only ours to speak.

Voice. A variety of definitions exist for voice.  Chip MacGreagor calls it your personality on the page. Laura Backes says voice is the way each author approaches the art of writing. Voice is "you," according to Graham Salisbury. Others say it is the identity of the writing, the way words flow, what makes the piece unique. I personally like Linda Fraustino's definition: "voice is attitude with rhythm."

Personality. Uniqueness. Attitude. Rhythm. The way words move and flow. The writer's thumbprint. Who you are. In other words, the life that a writer breathes into words.

The past year's been good for me in exploring the idea of voice--in writing and in blogging. Along the way, I picked up some tips that have been beneficial. I list them here in hopes they will help you as well.

1. Practice. Write. Write to your word count goals. Write character sketches. Free write. Journal. Write, as Backes says, simply for the pleasure of writing and not always necessarily with an eye toward publication. "Over time, with lots of practice," she says, "your voice will emerge, if you let it."

2. Let Go. I recently read an article in which Patricia Lee Gauch related how, as a young writer working for a local newspaper, she had an experience that helped her understand voice. A story she had submitted came back with these words from the editor: "This piece has no energy, no pizzazz...I want to hear your Voice." She said he looked at her to make sure she was listening. "You are going to have to let go when you write." Helpful words to us all. Let go. Self-conscious, "trying-to-get-it-right" writing will come across in just that way. Relax. Let the words flow.

3. Close Your Eyes--and Write Like You Talk. Again from Backes: " The best voices appear when authors write as they speak. (So) try typing your writing exercise with your eyes closed so you can't see the computer screen. Closing your eyes also helps you focus inward where the story is conceived. Then you'll be guided by how the words sound and feel, and that's the closest thing to your true voice."

4. Give it Time--and Be Patient. Allowing your voice to develop is a process--and it will be hampered if you try too hard. Backes: "Give it time, and remember that each of you already possesses your destined writing fingerprint. If you're patient, you can place that fingerprint on your work."

5. Expect to Write a Million Bad Words First. This comes from agent and's Mary Kole, in a guest post at Guide to Literary Agents (11/23/10). Daunting, but so true. "In order to get published or anywhere near publishable," Mary says, "you've got to write about a million bad words. That's right. A million of 'em. Only after you write a whole bargeload of BS will you: a) start to recognize what's good, and b) start getting a handle on the craft. Writing is a thing to be practiced, just like everything else. Write every day. Do it diligently and without ego until those milion bad words are behind you."

6. Be Persistent. I especially love this piece of advice. "To understand voice," according to Salisbury, "you must invest long hours of hard work. You can eat an elephant a bite at a time, and that's how we improve--a bite at a time." I don't know about you, but I'm determined to eat the elephant!

7. Be Yourself. Les Edgerton, in Finding Your Voice, says it this way: "Your mama was right: just be yourself, honey, and eveyone will love you, pimples, bad haircut, gap teeth and all. Just be yourself, compassionate or ironic, flirtatious or embarrassed, imperfect and real; with your style, your tone, and your sense of humor...Loosen up, improvise...Your words, your language. Not language borrowed."

8. Listen, and READ. Listen to others. Listen to the way you talk. Listen to other writers by reading--and read alot. "Really listen to people talk. Listen to yourself. Read all kinds of writing, from comic novels to journalistic essays, and think about how the voice works," says Editor Amy Flynn.

9. Read Your Work Outloud. "Read your work out loud to yourself and to audiences and clean up all areas that falter." This from Wendy Lamb, Editor.

10. Play with Words. "Play with words. Play the same scene from multiple perspectives...Practice the possibilities and know where your best writing flows."--Linda Fraustino

So voice comes down to this: write, write, write; read, read, read; practice; play. Repeat. To paraphrase a line from the movie Field of Dreams: if you write it, voice will come.

Now to a giveaway! I have a copy of Bear Snores On I'd love to give away. All you have to do is post a comment here by Tuesday, December 21. The winner will be announced the next day, Dec. 22. Two chances if you are a follower. You and/or the one to whom you read it are in for a real treat.

"...Ultimately if we are to succeed, we must discover and disclose our own voice...sense of style...particular embrace of language and information. Consider by way of explanation these words: authentic, nonformulaic, rhythmic, properly detailed, nuanced, musical, magical, bone-and-sinew touching...Consider writing that pulses with a heartbeat of the writer--his soul, her personality--something that connot be duplicated because it comes from within someone." --Peter Jacobi


  1. Good post! Love these tips, thanks so much, Kenda. :)
    Weekend blessings,

  2. This was an excellent post on voice. I'm going to send your link in emails to a few writer friends who are newbies.

    This was the line that meant the most to me because it is the hardest for me to do:)

    "You are going to have to let go when you write."

  3. Thanks, Karen and Catherine! And it tickles me, Catherine, that you want to send the link on to friends--that's pretty cool :-)

    BTW-letting go is a hard one for me, too. Still working on it...

  4. Fantastic post. And I really love that line also. What a difference letting go might make. I'm going to remember this - thank you!

  5. What a great piece on voice! So many great suggestions. :) I sometimes have to say a scene outloud to even get words on page. It really helps. And reading it out loud afterward is a must for me.

    I just checked out Bear Snores On from the library, and I would love to own it! :)

  6. Really great post, Kenda. These are the advices we learn, then forget, then relearn, then forget again. But oh so necessary if one wants to keep perspective as a writer!