In a recent blog interview, I shared that when my high school English teacher asked me why I write, my answer was “because I have something to say.”
I seem to keep stumbling across a writing-related theme recently: does writing require talent? If so, what is it, specifically? If not, why do we keep torturing ourselves with it?
I think writing is about finding, then refining and amplifying your voice.
On finding your voice:
Finding your voice takes serious guts. Not everyone is going to like your voice, or even understand it, and some will positively detest it. Writing in your own voice, and then sending the piece to be read, and critiqued, by (gasp) others is a people-pleasers’ worst nightmare.
It also takes time and hard work. I was told that most people who start a story never finish. Finishing your story is your voice is very, very difficult. I’ve lost count of how many times I almost deleted my first draft of CYRION and THE BURNED BRIDGES PROTOCOL.
It’s too difficult, I told myself. People hate it. Novellas/MG is out of fashion – no one will even look at it. It’s too complicated. It’s too dark. It’s been done to death. I can’t do this.
Then, I walk away from my laptop, spend some time to collect myself, and dive back into my WIP. Repeat, until the tale is complete.
On refining your voice:
This is where things get really tricky. On one hand, it has taken a lot for me to find my voice, so compromise is not an option. On the other hand, I want to become a better writer.
I suggest the following experiment for illustrative purposes. No, no one else has to know but you. Find the busiest, noisiest street corner you can find, and then sing something into your phone/recording device. Sing the verse/line/song with your normal volume. Repeat song in your bathroom/any room with reasonably good acoustics. Finally, if you can, repeat in a recording studio.
Study the results.
The irritating background noise obscuring your song when you were at the street corner? That’s what poor grammar, typos, and miscellaneous line errors are doing to your prose. The bit of the song where you were a little flat/sharp/off key? Those are conceptual missteps in your prose. Notice how you can’t even hear those details when they were still buried under traffic noise? Refining your writing means removing the ‘noise’ and then reinforcing your melody, so your voice comes across strong, clear, and beautiful. That’s it.
Safely delete any critique failing this purpose.
On amplifying your voice:
I was recently reminded that pace and descriptive prose have an inverse relationship. When a burning plane is about to crash land on the roof of your MC’s house (for example), your MC is not going to spend time studying the sunny sky, the fluffy clouds, the spring breeze ruffling his/her hair and the clean scent of fresh-cut grass. No. S/he is going to be groping into the pockets of his/her dressing robe, praying that the pocket lint his/her questing fingers has found thus far would somehow materialize into a cellphone, so s/he could call 911. Or so s/he could record the whole thing for YouTube purposes.
Unless, of course, your MC is the antihero who masterminded the entire plane-on-fire-landing-on roof debacle. In which case, the descriptive prose might work exceedingly well. The YouTube bit would also make a lot more sense.
My point: there is a time and place for descriptive prose. In the right time and place, descriptive passages can amplify your voice – which is what you want. This applies to all the rules of writing. Well, they’re really more guidelines, aren’t they? Use them if they help. Otherwise, feel free to toss them away.
Any thoughts to share? Do feel free to comment below 🙂