"...everything in life is writable...if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt."..... Sylvia Plath

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Getting back to business

 ...the business of writing, that is. For the past two or three months, my memoir has been sitting on an obscure corner of my desk upstairs in my office...out of sight...out of reach...out of mind. I haven't gone near it. What I have been doing is trying to figure out what in the world is wrong with it. Why do I only like Chapter 8 and Chapter 12?

I have three fourths of the book complete. And now I see that I have to do a major re-write on it. Why? Well, I finally figured it out. I can't hear my voice...at least I can't hear it all the time. It comes through in different places, like in Chapter 8 and Chapter 12, but it does not infuse the entire book. And that really bothers me.

So, what to do about it? Well, I finally retrieved my manuscript from my desk on the third floor...that's a start. Then I divided it into four sections. Each section has around four chapters. Now, what I am doing is re-writing every day for a set amount of time. I am going chapter by chapter, sticking with it until I have it the way I want it...looking for my authentic voice and planting it on the pages one sentence at a time.

Just what is writer's voice anyhow and how do you find your own? According to Wikipedia,“Writer’s voice is a literary term used to describe the individual writing style of an author. Voice is a combination of a writer’s use of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works). Voice can also be referred to as the specific fingerprint of an author, as every author has a different writing style.In creative writing, students are often encouraged to experiment with different literary styles and techniques in order to help them better develop their “voice.” Voice varies with the individual author, but, particularly in American culture, having a strong voice is considered positive and beneficial to both the writer and his or her audience.”

Finding your writer’s voice may be compared to expressing your personality in real life. It's that authentic way of thinking, speaking and telling that each one of us has. “Confident writers have the courage to speak plainly; to let their thoughts shine rather than their vocabulary.” says Ralph Keyes, author of The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear I strongly believe that one way one can find their true voice is through blogging on a regular basis. When I first started blogging a few years ago, I focused mainly on the content of what I was writing and was not too concerned about the way in which it was presented, as long as the grammar and punctuation was correct. I was not really writing to connect with my readers.

In the Elements of Style, Strunk tells us that "style is an expression of self, and [writers] should turn resolutely away from all devices that are popularly believed to indicate style – all mannerisms, tricks, and adornments." I believe that if one continues to blog, their voice will eventually be freed. “As you become proficient in the use of language, your style will emerge,” writes Strunk “because you yourself will emerge…” so the more comfortable you are with the rules for good writing, the more your writer’s voice will shine.

I have found this to be so true. And, it wasn't until I felt my true voice starting to come out that I even entertained the idea of writing a memoir. I wanted that memoir to be an expression of "me". But somewhere along the line, in trying to complete my work, I lapsed into my old ways of focusing on the content, not on my reader. And that's what I'm trying to get back.

Now, I am working that out, chapter by chapter. I am reading my writing aloud to see if it really sounds like me. This is very helpful, by the way. I had already stopped comparing my writing to other writers. Comparing how you write or your writer’s voice to other writers is destructive and suffocating. So, my motto is: admire other writers’ styles but nurture your own. And focus on ways to improve your confidence as a writer.

*A final tip: try picturing one specific reader — one that you're not trying to impress – and just communicate with her.

if you enjoyed this post, feel free to leave a comment


  1. Really excellent tips on improving one's own writing style. I agree, we need to each focus on our own writing style.

  2. Excellent advice all through - and especially about the reading aloud. (Love the photo of the lady writer - from an era when stoutness was allowed to take its course instead of making us leave the desk to get running or walking to keep the pounds at bay!)

  3. Jewel: Thanks for the nice comment. It's nice to know pthers understand where I'm coming from.

  4. @Deborah: I'm with you about the weight and exercise thing. It sure puts a lot of pressure on us

  5. Don't know what happened, but I had 12 wonderful posts from Blogger Ball writers. I found them lurking behind this page, but haven't figured out yet how to get them to appear.

  6. Wow, Nancy, it sounds like you are really well into the process, congratulations on getting so far!Having just returned to "creative" writing after two decades of doing "other" writing, I am still at the beginning of all things, and working mostly on finding my "real" and "authentic" writer's voice. Blogging is leading me there, I think, but I found Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall's book Finding Your Writer's Voice: A Guide to Creative Fiction, helpful because it has some really helpful "sayings" that I have printed out to remind me to write "real." They write: "What is voice? Does every writer have one? How do you go about finding it? Your voice is actually a very ordinary thing: It is just who you are, projected artistically. It is often linked to your speaking voice, and your breath, and the rhythms and sense of pace that you draw on when you are too absorbed in what you are saying to listen to yourself from a distance. It is also linked to your body, the language or dialect you spoke in childhood, and whatever naturally interests you. Your voice is how you write when you don't have time to be elegant." Sorry, that's kind of long for a comment, but I was happy to be reminded of this advice.

  7. Dawn, I love your comment...long or short. Your discussion of voice is very helpful and I think I am on the right track. One thing that helped with me identifying myself was to read some of my writing aloud. I could tell right away if it sounded like the authentic me...sarcastic, somewhat funny, and a tad jaded...actually, pretty recognizable.

  8. Hi Nancy,
    A very encouraging post. I work on my memoir in fits and starts -- sometimes daily for months, then I get discouraged and stop. Then I start again. I have probably written over 150,000 words -- no joke. Sometimes I just wrote to get something down on paper. About 12 chapters are written about my family chronologically -- again, just to move ahead. It's based on the treasure trove of letters and diaries (many of which I had to decipher from old German and then translate) dating back over 100 years, the discoveries I've made, and how those revelations helped me unlock family resentments. I, too, started a blog to just get my voice out there and keep writing - and sharing my amazing discoveries through personal essays and posted photos. As I write, I'm finding I have lots of different voices (Just like we have different friends and interests). The trick will be to find the consistent one for the memoir - and that means -- keep writing. Thanks for your post! It's got me revved up again.

  9. Linda, so glad to hear that you're revved again. Sometimes it doesn't take much. I too have written about 150,000 words...but think the book will end up with around 50-60,000. Since I started re-writing, I've really tightened it up. Keep at it. One of us is bound to make it soon.