Is Your Writing Voice Masked?

Everystockphoto_204443_mYeah, so, that headline is a clever attempt to tie this post into Halloween.  In case my efforts are obtuse, mask=costume=Halloween.  I know, I know, a bit labored. Except that writing voice is an important subject. (Along the same Halloween theme, last week I wrote about Fear and Focus.)

And writing voice is a topic that sometimes causes writers angst.

Because everyone wants a unique voice.  Every writer wants to write in one, and every agent and editor wants to discover one.  After all, there's really nothing new under the sun, as the saying goes, so  the ability to write in a fresh way is truly important.

However, like all desirable things, voice can be elusive.  You put words on the page and they sound blah and dull.  You despair.  You wrestle with the words a bit more and they sound even duller.  You despair some more.  And then slink off for a little nip.  Thus ending your writing session.

Ah, but it doesn't have to be like this.  There are ways to encourage your natural voice to come out.  How, you ask?  Let me tell you how I think it naturally arises, in a two-step process:

1.  Glumping, as in glumping it all on the page, letting the words flow out of you in a mad rush.  This can actually seem counter-intuitive to finding your voice, because let's face it, when you write like this, sometimes what comes out is crap.  But within that dung are jewels to be found, and these jewels continue glimmers of your true voice.  The more you allow yourself to write, just write, the more these tiny glints of voice will shine.

2.  Honing.  After the first draft, wherein you glump, you write another draft and another.  As many as it takes to get the story right.  And then you get to the point where it's time to tinker, when you are looking at every single word and every bit of grammar.  This is where you polish your voice.  A wonderful editor, Chris Reardon says that "writers smother their voice in ineffective writing habits."  Those habits would be things like using a lot of adverbs (I, myself, am the queen of them), writing in passive voice, using cliches, and so on.  Learn what your bad habits are and edit them out. 

As you can see, the process is one of expansion and contraction.  You throw the words on the page and then you go through and edit every single one.  And, most importantly, you remember always that these are two very different processes and keep them separate. 

Et voila, a sparkly, shiny voice will appear.

Do you worry about voice? What do you do to encourage it?

 Photo by clarita.

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8 Responses to Is Your Writing Voice Masked?

  1. Zan Marie 10/30/2012 at 08:46 #

    Oh, yeah, passive voice is one of my problems. It’s a hang over from all my academic history writing. Off to “glump”. ; )

  2. Carole Jane Treggett 10/30/2012 at 09:42 #

    Charlotte,I love the word and the concept of glumping you write about here. I really wish I’d let myself do that with wild abandon. I’m often like an eager puppy spontaneously running (writing) after whatever captures my curiosity and attention, only to be abruptly yanked back every minute or so by my inner critic/perennial editor. What a creative drag! I find this happens especially when typing, rather than writing by hand.

    However, I’ve adjusted the settings in my Word program to track changes as I work in my document rather than delete them outright. I’ll be doing a whole lot of glumping in November and also using another one of your great suggestions of sitting down to focused writing for 30-minute intervals. So no more deletions, just strike-outs I can cringe about later when I start to hone my draft and hopefully have the willpower not to edit them before then lol.

  3. Alvin 10/30/2012 at 10:40 #

    Oddly, I’ve never worried about writing voice, perhaps because I’m not really a fiction writer. In my prose, I just write. Instead of worrying about creating voice, I just seek language that aptly expresses my ideas, images, tone…. Instead of creating an artificial voice, I seek only to hone my natural one. I do have some pet words (that) I need to be wary of, and I also try to be alert for personal coding–language which makes sense to me but might not make sense to my readers. Am I editing out aspects of voice? Perhaps, but clarity in meaning takes precedence.

  4. Charlotte Dixon 10/30/2012 at 10:52 #

    Passive creeps into writing very easily, Zan Marie, I constantly battle it myself.  Hope you enjoy your glumping!

  5. Charlotte Dixon 10/30/2012 at 10:54 #

    Carole Jane, it does take a certain mindset to be able to just write with abandon and not go back and edit.  Once you start doing it, though, it gets a lot easier.  As I've mentioned on this blog a few times, I'm writing my next novel by hand and that actually makes it much easier not to go back and correct and change, because it is onerous to do so!  I'm so excited for you to be starting your novel!

  6. Charlotte Dixon 10/30/2012 at 10:56 #

    Hey Alvin, thanks for chiming in.  I think that you make a good point about clarity and that working for it is actually part of honing.  It's so important.  Sometimes I read over things I've written, even something like an email, and realize how unclear I've been, when I thought the meaning was obvious. 

  7. J.D. 10/31/2012 at 05:09 #

    Recently, I’ve tried to update my musical taste. I spun the dial and stopped on a channel that sounded very fresh to me. A particular song caught my ear, “All I Want” by Toad the Wet Sprocket. The song sounded vaguely familiar, maybe because it was from the 90s. So much for fresh. Old or not, it struck (sorry for the pun) a chord with me. The lyrics of this love song didn’t fit with what I imagined a band with that name would write. Maybe it was voice they never envisioned when the band was formed. I don’t know how to nail down voice, but I think it’s a little like pornography–I know it when I hear it. And Chris Reardon will be happy to know: not a single adverb in the entire lyric.

  8. Charlotte Dixon 10/31/2012 at 07:33 #

    It's a great idea to study song writing, J.D.  I think I used to listen to Toad the Wet Sprocket.  As a matter of fact, I now that "All I want" in my brain and probably will all day.  And, indeed, I'd think with songs that sometimes it might come out in a different voice than originally envisioned, seeing as how you're also dealing with music.  Chris Reardon would be proud of ole Toad, no adverbs!

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