On “Finding” Your Writing Voice by Denise D. Young

Voice seems to be the most elusive and hard to define aspect of writing. A Writers Digest article defines voice this way:

What the heck is “voice”? By this, do editors mean “style”? I do not think so. By voice, I think they mean not only a unique way of putting words together, but a unique sensibility, a distinctive way of looking at the world, an outlook that enriches an author’s oeuvre. They want to read an author who is like no other. An original. A standout. A voice.

In short, it’s what we choose to notice, the words we use, the phrases, the types of sentences. Voice is not only difficult to define; it’s tough to teach.

Over the years, I’ve written a number of different works: poems that explore my connection to the goddess and nature; short stories following a character through a harrowing, life-changing moment; epic novels about saving a world from impending doom; blog posts chronicling my journey as a writer.

And I no longer worry about writing voice. Because somehow, through all the practice, it’s just there. It’s in the words I choose to describe a character or setting. It’s in the settings I choose for my characters, the cottages and cabins and castles and gardens and ancient forests. It’s in the stories I choose to write (or the ones that choose me, depending on how you look at it).

Many of you have found your voice the same way. You wrote your first million words, anything from flash fiction to sprawling 100,000-word novels, and you discovered your voice along the way.

And if you’re new at this, still in the first stages of your journey and you hear people talking about this thing called voice, and you hear agents say that they’re looking for “a distinctive voice,” or you hear that what really captivates readers is a strong voice, my advice is to write. Write often. Write a lot. Even if you’re just scribbling a few lines here or there. Even if it’s in a journal. Just write.

Because I have learned that writing voice cannot be found when you look for it. It is discovered during your journey as a writer. One day you will look back at a body of work and realize your voice has been there all along.

So go forth. And write. Often. And a lot.

What about you? How do you define “voice”? How did you discover yours—or are you still discovering it?

~*~

Denise D. Young

Summer Writing by Fallon Brown

There are times of the year that are better for some things than others. In the winter, I can do a lot of knitting. In the summer, I don’t even want to touch yarn, or rather have it touching me.  When it’s already hot out, and I’m dripping sweat from doing nothing more than sitting (and this is in Pennsylvania-don’t want to imagine summer in the South), that’s the last thing I want, even the lighter yarns. What does this have to do with writing, you’re probably asking yourself. Well, a good bit really. I find the same to hold true, though mostly in reverse.

I’m not sure exactly why it is, but it does seem like I write more during the summer than in the winter. I’d think this would be the opposite, as we usually have more going on in the summer. There may be a few reasons for this, though. One is that, due to my husband’s job, he’s laid off from at least Thanksgiving until usually sometime in March (sometimes this starts sooner, depending on the weather. It hard to do any road construction when the snow starts flying). With him home, my whole routine tends to get thrown off. Another possible reason for this difference is that a lot of the writing challenges, aside from RoW80, that I participate in, happen during the spring and summer. There’s Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July, Story a Day in May (and September, but I haven’t participated in that second one yet), JuNoWriMo in (you guessed it) June. The official NaNoWriMo is the only one that occurs outside those two seasons. And that’s probably another reason. Most of the other months, when there isn’t some kind of writing challenge, are when I concentrate on editing. Therefore, my numbers are lower.  

Even though I tend to write more during those months, summer has some challenges specific to the season. First, the kids are home pretty much all day. My kids are pretty independent even at 5 and 8. But, there are still times they need my help with something, or I need to break up a fight (which has been pretty common just in the first month of summer vacation). Then, there’s all the get-togethers: birthday parties (we have ones in May, June, August, and September, plus any the kids are invited to for friends), graduation parties, family reunions, and anything else that comes up. Thankfully (for me) most of these are on weekends, and I do most of my writing during the week. The other challenge, at least for me, is the weather. I don’t handle the heat very well, so when it gets hot, sometimes I just don’t want to do anything, even sit at the computer to write. Just one more reason I like to get up early. I can get most of my words in before the temperature climbs.

There are some things that can help get the words down even with these obstacles. One of these is writing sprints. You can usually find someone on twitter running sprints, or ask if someone wants to join you in one. I’ve actually been using the word sprint page at mywriteclub.com for my own writing. They run for the first twenty-five minutes of each half hour, leaving a five minute break between. Of course, you can continue to write during those breaks if you wish to. This works best for me when there are other people there actually writing so I can try to stay ahead (my competitive streak kicks in at the oddest times). You can set it up to save automatically to dropbox, so I go there and copy my words back into the document I’m working on. I used to use write or die, but I’ve found I like this a lot better. And, of course, there’s all the WriMo challenges I mentioned above. Having other people to write with and a particular goal to reach for, helps keep me on track.

Sometimes, getting the words down means having to be flexible. You may have to switch around your usual routine. Usually when the kids are in school, I’ll get most of my words done then. It’ll be a little different this year since both kids will finally be in school all day. I’ll still probably shoot for meeting my writing goals in the morning. This summer I’ve tried a few different things to make sure I get my writing and everything else done. At the moment, I’m writing to the end of a mywriteclub sprint then doing something from my to-do list during the break then picking back up with writing for the rest of the next sprint. Eventually I get everything done. And sometimes it’s necessary to work among distractions if you can’t avoid them completely. I’ve been taking my computer outside to the table on our porch while the kids play. And right now I’m listening to a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon while I type this. If I really need to concentrate, I put my wireless headphones in and music playing on my phone, but I’ve found that I can write even without that (like when my headphones die & I have to charge them). The words usually flow better when I have the music, but I don’t “need” it.

I’ve found that I work better at different things during different times of the year. But, that’s just the thing, it’s what works for me. Now, that may not be the way it works out for you. My techniques for getting words down even during those distracted months may not work for you. The important thing is finding what does work for you. In the end, that’s what really matters, finding a way to get the words down.

~*~

Fallon Brown

Branding and Re-branding Yourself by Steph Beth Nickel

Slightly altered versions of this post will also appear on InScribe Writers Online and This & That for Writers.

 

Ask These Questions

 

What can you see yourself writing about five years from now? Ten years from now?

 

What is the overarching theme of your writing? What fires you up? What can’t you stop talking—and writing—about?

 

How do you want to be known? Close to home and out in cyberspace?

 

If you can narrow your focus in these areas, you just may have found your theme, your tagline, your brand.

 

Narrow Your Focus

 

The name of my blog was originally “Steph’s Eclectic Interests.” That should give you an indication of how not focused I am. A dear friend and fellow writer said, “Each blog you post is focused on a single topic.” Talk about gracious!

 

A few years back, another dear friend said my tagline should be “Riding Shotgun.” And although I gave her a funny look, when she explained her reasoning, I was humbled and honoured. Because I “come alongside” others and assist them, she thought “Riding Shotgun” would be descriptive of that.

 

Not being a country music fan (don’t hate me), I never did go with her suggestion, but I don’t suppose I’ll ever forget it.

 

Like so many other people, I’m what I call “stupid busy.” It isn’t that I don’t like what I do—to the contrary. But it is long past time that I had a singular focus. And recently, I found it. <bouncing up and down, clapping>

 

A lot of factors came together to make it happen.

 

On June 25, I attended the Saturday sessions at the Write Canada conference. There, Belinda Burston stopped me to take my picture. Brenda J. Wood joined me in the shot. And I’m so glad she did! That picture is now plastered across the Web. It’s one of those shots that makes me grin—me with my newly dyed burgundy hair and Brenda with her flowered hat. (Who says writers are a stuffy, serious lot?)

 

That picture was a significant contributing factor to what followed. And late Thursday night, a tagline popped into my head. It was perfect: “To Nurture & Inspire.” I headed off to Dreamland flying high.

 

I spent the best parts of Friday, July 1, re-branding myself online. I had to find the right background (thank you, pixabay.com), the right font and the right graphic (thank you, picmonkey.com).

 

Follow These Quick Tips

 

So, to close, I’d like to recommend five quick tips for branding (or re-branding) yourself:

 

  1. Keep an eye out. You never know when inspiration is going to strike. Re-branding myself wasn’t on my To Do list, but one thing led to another and then another, and finally, “Poof!”

 

  1. Get creative. Explore sites like Pixabay and PicMonkey. Let your Inner Creative out to play. It’s amazing how much fun you can have. I admit that I’m more of a “pantser” when it comes to these kinds of endeavours. However, if you like to be more deliberate in your planning, you can find how-to YouTube videos on just about any subject.

 

  1. Know when it’s time to hire a pro. You may not have the time or the know-how to create your own brand. However, you will want to work hands-on with whomever you hire. You want to be able to say, “If I could have done it on my own, this is exactly what I would have come up with.”

 

  1. Your brand isn’t forever. At least it doesn’t have to be. If your focus narrows or changes, even if you just get tired of it, it’s alright to rework it. Don’t get me wrong; if you’re well-established, it may take some time for your readers to adjust, but I would venture a guess that most of them will.

 

And …

 

  1. Enjoy yourself. Even if your message is a serious one, I believe there’s something satisfying about choosing a profile picture and tagline as well as colours and graphics that are an extension of your message—and further, an extension of yourself.

 

Do you have a brand? Are you pleased with it or is it time for some revamping?

~*~

Steph Beth Nickel

Overbooked and Overwhelmed by Lauralynn Elliott

I don’t know where to start. And that’s true for this post AND the circumstances that prompted me to write this post. But start I must!

 

For the past year or so, I’ve found myself so overwhelmed that I just don’t feel well. It’s taking a toll on me physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. And if I feel this way, I’m sure many of you are experiencing the same thing. This can lead to total burnout if we’re not careful. We are writers, and sometimes it seems that writing comes after everything else.

 

So let’s explore what might be happening here. Why am I overwhelmed? And why might you be overwhelmed? Here’s my take on some of my problems (not all of them, but a good sample).

 

  1. I let my day job get to me. When that happens, I don’t feel like doing things when I get home, so I’m not very productive.
  2. I’m also a line editor, and I have the hardest time telling clients that I’m booked and can they push back that deadline. I have one client who is very prolific, and she’s loyal, so I’m always going to get her books done first. And she gives me plenty of time. But then I try to squeeze other clients in too small of a timeframe because I don’t want to make them wait. This leads to lots of stress because then I’m terrified I won’t meet a deadline. (I haven’t missed one yet.)
  3. I get so stressed about this other stuff that I don’t feel like I have time to get exercise and healthy eating in. So I grab something quick and don’t get on the treadmill.
  4. I don’t take time for my daily Bible reading, so then I feel guilty. Which also leads to lack of productivity.
  5. I can’t say no to anyone, and I end up taking on even more things!

 

Now think about yourself. Make a list like this for you. Do you see any similarities, or is your list completely different?

 

Let’s see how I can fix some of these things.

 

  1. Think of the day job as just a job I go to for a few hours, and don’t sweat it.
  2. When a potential (or current) client asks if I can edit their book, I need to think carefully about time and let them know when I can do it instead of trying to cram it in.
  3. Take at least 30 minutes to exercise. I’ll be more productive if I feel better. Make meals ahead on the weekends so I’ll have them through the week.
  4. Take 15 minutes to read the Bible. It helps me feel renewed.
  5. Learn to say no! The world won’t end!

 

Okay, now you do the same thing. Look at your list of things that cause you to feel overwhelmed, then list a possible solution for each one.

 

I already feel better, don’t you? Isn’t there something about lists that make you feel more in control? I would love to hear your thoughts and see your lists.

~*~

Lauralynn Elliott

Celebrate Your Software By Deniz Bevan

The Library in English, here in Geneva, Switzerland, recently held its annual spring book sale. I picked up a small pile of books — who could resist?

Among my finds was a book called The Complete Works of Lord Byron:

It’s about as long as my forearm and as wide as my shin, a real doorstop of a book; hardcover, of course.

But the feature I’d like to talk about is it’s publication date: 1835.

1835! The book is over 1,000 pages long and includes an index. 1835!

I can’t stop thinking about all the labour that had to go into its publication.

Someone had to write out a clean manuscript from Byron’s scrawled copies and from previously published works.

(There’s a reproduction of one of his letters in the book; not only is his handwriting all over the place, but the ink is blotchy in some parts and thin in others; the whole is a transcriber’s puzzle of the first order.)

Someone might have copy edited the MS. Someone — possibly many someones — typeset, letter by letter by letter, the entire tome.

Once the galleys had been printed, someone proofread the entire thing and someone (the same as the proofreader?) created each entry in the index.

The index was typeset. Letter by letter by letter…

The book was printed. A new group of people had to bind it, including the reproductions of the manuscript pages (how did they do this back then? Some sort of early form of photo offsetting? A cursory Google search suggests they might have done it by using the technique of lithography).

It’s amazing to think that the work was ever completed in a reasonable time frame — and this is only one book! Hundreds, if not thousands of books (both new and reprints), were published every year by this time in England alone.

Which all leads me to the process of writing, typing, and printing (and cutting and pasting — and recovering!) we take for granted today.

Whether you use Word, Pages for Mac, some other software, or the best option, Scrivener, don’t forget that it is a massively capable tool, with many features. Learn as much as you can of its tricks, its abilities, its shortcuts.

Lots of people complain about their software. They lose their documents or the software eats their words or introduces indents and fonts that they never wanted and can’t fix, and so on.

But all of this can be controlled, and all of it customised, by you — with a fraction of the labour required by a massive printing machine, fiddly blocks of lead type, and paper that costs an arm and a leg.

The best part of twenty-first century word processing software is that you don’t need to think about it at all (especially Scrivener). Don’t fight the software, fight with it! Make the programme do what you need it to do, and then forget about it. Open a file, and start pouring out your ideas.

Here’s to the painless preparation of stories!

Fear of Failure by Elizabeth Mitchell

Kait talked about bravery in her opening post for Round Two. I want to build on Kait’s thoughts, because I needed to break it down for myself.  When I think of bravery in writing, I think of Malala, persecuted for writing about her views on educating women,  or Salman Rushdie, targeted for writing about Mohammed. Thus, my instinctive response, although I agree wholeheartedly with Kait, is “Nope, not me, there’s no opportunity for me to be brave.”

However, when I think more deeply about it, I find that there are small acts of bravery in writing at all.  The writer whose memoir may not paint a family member in the best light, or may not align with other family members’ sanitized history of a loved one; the writer whose day job as a kindergarten teacher may be jeopardized by her writing erotica; the writer who stares into the shadows of her own soul to find all sorts of uncomfortable monsters there. All these situations require bravery.

Then Kait really shot me in the heart, with “You have to be brave enough to fail so that you can LEARN.” I’ve always been the square peg, resisting the round hole with every cellulose fiber, but that is not failure, that is resistance, which can require bravery. Being open to failure is a different kind of bravery. I am the mistress of opting out. When friends convinced eight-year-old me to climb to the high dive, I teetered on the edge, panicked, then fought my way back down past all the people crowded on the ladder, ignoring the lifeguard’s admonition to jump and be done with it. Funny how one’s upbringing surfaces in such unexpected ways. My father would brook no failure. He did not know of Star Wars or Yoda’s famous dictum, “There is no try. There is only do,“ but it could have been emblazoned on his coat of arms. I find it hard to accept failure as a learning experience, although I know logically that it can be, and is not the end of the world. Without the possibility of failure, I am paralyzed just like I was on that high diving board decades ago. It is only with accepting failure that I am freed from my paralysis. If I truly feel what I have to say that is important, I must gather all the grit I can muster to put it out there.  Does it scare me enough to raise the fine hairs on the nape of my neck? You bet it does.

Kait’s post made me realize that I do not learn as much as I could because I do not try.  Failure takes all kinds of bravery and boatloads of it. Failure requires investment and “skin in the game.” Now I have to ignore how scared I am of failure,  because it is the only way I will learn. I commit to embracing bravery this Round, and will revise my goals to reflect that commitment.  Who’s with me?

~*~

Elizabeth Mitchell

Do You Want It Bad Enough? by Chris Kincaid

In 2006, Alyssa Lampe made history in Wisconsin when she became the first girl to place in the WIAA wrestling tournament. She finished second in the boys’ state meet, at 103 pounds, becoming the first girl in history to earn a medal in the event.  From there, the Tomahawk native went on to wrestle in college, then in international competition. She tried out for the 2012 Olympics, but didn’t make the cut. Earlier this spring, she made yet another bid for Olympic gold.

I’ve met this young woman from my home town, and if I didn’t know the facts, I would never peg her as someone to get down on the mats and wrestle competitively. She’s a very sweet girl, but not so sweet that she can’t take on anything. Anyway, she once again missed out on going to the Olympics and at 28 years old, this was probably her last shot.

When I asked a friend of hers what happened, she told me, “She just didn’t want it bad enough.”

Didn’t want it bad enough? How can someone not want to go to the Olympics bad enough? In one interview I read, her coach said that she had told him her goal was to be number two. Number two? Who settles for number two?

Well, as proud as I am of Alyssa for making it as far as she has, I am not in her head. And I’m not supposed to be. I am in my own head and need to ask myself, “Would I want to make it to the Olympics? Would I want it bad enough?”

Am I willing to work that hard, make those sacrifices, miss out on the fun stuff other people do, because they don’t have their eyes on the same prize?

What about you? Do you want to write that novel bad enough? Do you want to publish your book bad enough? Sell twelve articles this year? Win NaNoWriMo? What goal is at the top of your list and what are you willing to do to get there? Or are you willing to settle for being number two?

And even though you can write well into your old age, isn’t it time to go after it now?

~*~

Chris Kincaid

Write Anything–Even If It’s Wrong by Eden Mabee

Hi, all! Hope you don’t mind, but you are now my test subjects for an experiment. I want to know: Is it really better to “do (write) anything, even if it’s wrong“?

See, my husband spouts this (witticism) all the time: when we’re discussing plans for the new kitchen design or what we might like to plant in the garden, where would we like to go on vacation… basically for all things. A lot of it is in retaliation… self-defense(?) for my Analysis Paralysis (and his, and our son’s… it’s really a family epidemic here at Chez Mabee).

So, as I’ve been suffering another bout of The Other Writer’s Block lately, I figured I’d do something about it this time, and I would take you all with me as I did. I am going to try out Writing Anything, even if it’s Wrong. Because if I wasn’t writing this post, I have nine drafts I started and tossed in my recycle bin on such topics as: Writing Begets Writing, The Process of Habituation, Is Too Much Positivism Hurting Your Progress, Why So Negative

Any single one would be an excellent sponsor post. But each time I pull one out, I reach a point where I can’t get beyond my research and note taking to condense the expansive ideas into a coherent post. Perhaps they haven’t percolated in my mind enough yet; perhaps I don’t understand them as much as I feel I do; maybe they just aren’t speaking to me… no, I wouldn’t have gotten as far as drafts, if that were the case…

No, in this particular case, I know exactly what is wrong.

I know (meaning I feel) I can’t do them (or you all) the justice they deserve. These are such important topics, after all. And this is a sponsor post, damn it! I can’t just toss out some word, half-cocked and hope that they’ll come off as something meaningful. I owe it to you,, to my craft to be careful, to make sure all my Is are crossed and my Ts dotted–wait!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimera_%28mythology%29
Ain’t it cute?

The point is, to use Shan Jeniah’s wonderful phrase, I have this obnoxious pet in the house called the Chimera of Perfection (don’t get one if you can… they eat everything, take up the bed every night, sit at the corner of your vision demanding attention and fuzzles when you most need to get some work done). I don’t know how he got here. Yes, I do have a bad habit of caring for strays (as anyone who has ever read my blogs about the backyard cats and strange couch-camping roommates can attest, but I think I would have at least seen this thing before it moved in.

I admit, I’m a bit intimidated by this guy. How do I get him to move out without risking life and limb? It’s not like I can refuse to feed him; he just raids the cupboards on his own.

But something needs to be done. I’m a sponsor this ROWnd, and part a sponsor’s duties involve writing a post to inspire our fellow ROWers. Why did I accept being a sponsor if I knew this post was going to be such a trial? I mean, I struggle with this issues every time I sponsor. I dread it. I waffle, I bitch and moan, I make a ton of “possible drafts”… I always submit my pieces late (Kait just loves me). But I do it. I’ve done it several times. And I’ll keep doing it.

What does one feed these anyway?

Because I find, even when I struggle with the post, that the act of making myself write something… even when it’s wrong, inspires me to try harder. Because getting those words down is a powerful act. Determination and action are the basilisk’s* stare to the chimera’s talons. And though it can be hard to move that rock that’s been holding you down out the door and into the yard for the birds to perch on, it’s energizing. You won’t believe how strong, how capable you are after you’ve done this.

Wait… one need a gorgon to do that. Ah, well–just proved the point…

Write something, write anything… even if it’s wrong.

(*Don’t worry… you can always get rid of these by judicious application of weasels!)

 

~*~

Eden Mabee

Why I Love Camping by Steph Beth Nickel

There’s the sleeping outside no matter what the weather … No, that’s not it.

There are the l-o-n-g walks to the bathroom … Nope, not that either.

There’s the wide variety of wildlife you may run into on your way to said bathroom, especially at night … Hey, I like wildlife, but not creatures like raccoons, skunks, and bears who may not take kindly to being surprised.

How about the coin-operated showers with boxes just a little too far to reach when you’re soaking wet and need to add another quarter because the shampoo is still in your hair? Not so much.

Wait! Maybe I should have given this piece the title “Why I Don’t  Love Camping.”

But there is a type of camp that provides almost all the fun and none of the inconveniences of actual, real-life camping, the kind without soggy tents, distant bathrooms, skunks, bears, and soapy hair.

In case you haven’t guessed, I’m talking about Camp NaNoWriMo.

Unlike the original NaNoWriMo, camp takes place twice a year: once in April, when nobody (or only the extremely hearty) wants to go camping in my neck of the woods (pun intended) and July (for those of us who aren’t out doing “the real thing”).

Instead of committing to writing 50,000 or more words in a single month, Camp NaNo allows you to choose a goal as low as 10,000 words, much more doable. Another perk: As I understand it, the powers that be at NaNoWriMo expect you to write 50K words in the same project. With my eclectic sensibilities, writing a total of 10-15K on a variety of projects works way better for me.

Like out-in-nature camping, you can choose to be in a cabin, either with a group of friends or random strangers. Thus another advantage over the OIN variety. Actually sharing a cabin with total strangers could very well prove to be a bad idea—dangerous even. (Plot idea!)

And with a cabin full of fellow writers, they’re gonna notice if you’re not writing—as long as you don’t fudge your daily word count tally. This accountability and the arrow that moves closer and closer to the middle of the target are great motivators.

The stats page shows not only the individual’s progress but also the progress of the cabin. Are you and your fellow campers on track to “win” the challenge? I like working toward common goals and attending Camp NaNo is another way I can do that.

The wind can howl. The snow can fall, which it did a short time ago. The critters can roam freely about. No problem from my perspective.

I’m in the midst of Camp NaNo and having a blast. No bears. No skunks. No raccoons. (Though there is the frequent chirp of crickets, but those are for my daughter’s bearded dragon.) And one more thing: my bathroom is right downstairs.

Why not consider joining me in July. Hope to see you then. Maybe we can share a cabin. (It’ll be safe. I promise.)

Find out more at campnanowrimo.org

~*~

Steph Beth Nickel