Let Your Voice Be Heard (Or Read)

I don’t really play many Christmas songs for myself. Generallly, I get enough of them from the world around me in stores and in commercials. But for some unexplained reason I found myself at iTunes this week searching for Christmas music and discovered Christmas with Weezer. Whether it’s the crazy distortion on the guitar or just the moody tone, the band has stayed true to these classic songs while giving them new life for me.

And that’s one of the great beauties about art. Musicians, like other artists, can add their personality to their craft, making it their own so that no one song will sound the same when performed by two separate artists.

Writing is the same. Voice is so important to what we do. Writing voice gives our work personality. Character voice makes the players in our story stand out from each other. Two writers can tackle the same story with the same plot and characters and come out with different versions, completely unique thanks to the voice of the writer. Agents love it too as many of them say strong voice is what they look for in a writer’s work.

So how can writers perfect the art of voice? I often wrestle with this. I have the tendency to write out the voice in my writing. By this I mean, I appreciate craft and know this is also something readers and the publishing industry both value. Good writing is essential. But when I am too conscious of the craft of writing, the voice is dull. If I’m not careful, my focus on the structure can kill voice when I sit down to write.

So I try to find a balance, knowing I must have both. I’ve always felt the best way to write with great voice is to give myself permission for imperfection. Then the voice comes. After all, when the first draft is finished, I can go back and fix things that fall under the umbrella of craft. Most important to me is that the writing has personality and that the audience has read something from a unique perspective. So I hope you find inspiration in the arts this season and here’s to letting our voices speak.

 


Writing Targets

I’ve been experimenting with writing targets. It’s not for everyone but writing and I get along best when I’m in charge. Some writers prefer to let inspiration come knocking on their door. I like to chase it into a corner or the project will run on and on. Like any creative process, different methods get different results for different writers. This one works for me at the moment.

This target has changed over time, but I think (without jinxing it) that I’ve found the right number. I have a daily goal of 1K, as measured by the target bar in Scrivener. It’s reset at the beginning of the first session of each day. Love that target bar. It goes from red to green, a visual reminder of my progress to that number. 1K isn’t much. Some days it’s enough, and others it’s just the start of a much longer writing session but it’s a goal that allows me to have balance with other things in my life. So I toil away until the bar is green, then either call it a day, or keep writing.

Most jobs require set number of hours worked in a day or week, mine does too. It’s not necessarily because I have a deadline, it’s just that without keeping track, I don’t feel done, I don’t give myself permission to do other things, including reading which often gets slapped on the back burner. This way I get balance. So whether I reach my target by noon, or hammer it out between the hours of 10 pm and midnight, the target is a tool that works for me.

But what about when targets are missed? After all, we are not machines. Life sometimes gets in the way of best laid plans. The problem with writing targets is the guilt trip associated with not achieving a daily target. This will happen. I try not to feel like it’s me vs. the writing target, like I need to conquer it, like I must win. This will lead to frustration. The target for me is a partner in the process, just one tool I use to get words on paper (or the screen). Then when I’m having a target-challenged day, I tell myself tomorrow might be better.

Do you have writing targets? How do they work/don’t work for you.


Where a Story Starts

When I start a new writing project, I like knowing where the story starts, where it’s going to end and all the hot spots along the way. I do extensive character profiles until I know what their favourite breakfast is. Then when I’m ready to start writing, it makes sense to hammer out chapter one, scene one. Except, that’s not always the case.

Sometimes at this early stage, when a new novel is on the cusp of taking its first breaths, it’s all about one scene, and it’s not always where the story begins.

When I think back to some of my most loved books, it’s often one scene that jumps at me. It doesn’t have to be a pivotal moment, just one that is important to the character, and it usually involves dialogue that pops (I read it aloud if it’s really good).

As a writer, I have my favourites too, knowing when a scene I write is a winner, one I hope others will remember.

At the moment, I’m here at the start of a new project and there’s a scene that has to be writtten first. It happens one-third of the way through the plot but it has to be first out of the gates. It may not be the beginning of the book, but it most certainly is the beginning of this creative journey.

 

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A Seed Thought

I came across a poem lately that can mean a lot of things to many people.  They are beautiful words about accepting the growth process of things in life, including ourselves.  But I also hear something in this poem about the writing process.

It speaks to me about the evolution of a story, about how we may be frustrated along the way but to trust that there is a story somewhere developing to its full potential.  All writers get frustrated with the growing pains of a story but it’s liberating to think of the process in a less hostile way, that everything is as it should be, growing into itself. I hope you find something inspiring in this poem, whether it’s for your writing or some other area of your life.

 

A Seed Thought by W. Timothy Gallwey

When we plant a seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as ‘rootless and stemless’

We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed.

When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don’t condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear.

We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development.

The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies.

Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly alright as it is.


Peeling Away the Layers

How much of a character’s backstory should a writer know?  I’m not talking about the main character whose history, even though not always a necessary part of the story, is something you would have in your mind.  I mean the secondary characters.

I’m in the process of re-writing a large portion of a novel and found myself drawn to a secondary character whose role in the story is key but limited.  But then I got wondering about her, about her relationship with her dad (who is also a small character in the book).  Who raised her?  When did she first decide to turn her back on her legacy?  I wonder if this is how it starts when authors write short stories about characters in their novels because I can totally see a short story in the works for Gabrielle.

But what I found when I resumed writing her scenes is that the whole backstory question added a component to her that I had been missing.  She took on new life.  All the questions about her that I’d figured out in my mind, even though what I reveal to the reader is only ten percent of what I know about her, filled her out and made her real.

I do character profiles, internal and external, for the main characters in my stories.  There are lots of details about these people that you may never need but when it comes time for them to make a decision, even if it’s as simple as what they order in a restaurant, it helps to know them inside out.

But I get lazy when it comes to the other guys, the minor characters.  My light bulb moment may have changed that.  Even if it’s not a full blown character profile, I think I will be spending some time with all the faces in my book to look into their backstory, peel away their layers, so that they are real each time they hit the page.


Community

I guess you can be a writer on your own without the support and friendship of others writers, it’s just harder…and not as much fun.

I was introduced to someone recently who is almost finished writing her first book.  She was eager to speak to another writer, someone who speaks the same language.  I listened as she explained her book’s premise and fielded her questions, as best I could, on writing courses and next steps.  But she wasn’t part of a critique group.  I thought back to when I was in her position. It wasn’t long ago, exactly a year since I joined the online writing group at Kelley Armstrong’s forum. I’d finished a book six months prior and didn’t know anyone who wrote, knew nothing of the industry, little fish in a big pond.  But connect with other writers who know how hard it is to get published, who understand writing, who will listen to your rants and suddenly the pond feels smaller – or at least more manageable.

Then there’s the critique itself.  I won’t even read my original first draft anymore (yet somehow can’t bring myself to delete it).  I never imagined how much my writing could change and improve once I let my words loose in the hands of other writers.  But how can you tell someone whose baby is about to be born after a long labour that the hard work is just beginning? Tough one.

Then there’s blogging and twitter. More community, more support, more connections to the world I love. All those writerly types out there who share a passion and commitment.  So I ask myself…the legendary authors of the classics, the ones who wrote before the age of the internet…how did they do it without the resources we have now?  Somehow they managed, it probably just wasn’t this much fun.


Scribbles Blog Hop

This week I am participating in Scibbles Hop and along with fellow writers and bloggers, will share the role my journal plays in my own writing practice.  Below is a list of other Scribbles Hoppers.  I hope you have a chance to visit them all and read about how their journals add to their writing experience.

A journal is also a tool for self-discovery, an aid to concentration, a mirror for the soul, a place to generate and capture ideas, a safety valve for the emotions, a training ground for the writer, and a good friend and confidant.  (Ron Klug)

To some people a journal is some of the above, to others it is all this and more.  But I think everyone would say their journal is REFLECTIVE.  That’s the key for me.  It’s the personal element of putting pen to paper, the slower pace of forming sentences that forces words to gel in a way it might not when hands are flying across the keyboard. 

I scribble lots of unrelated things in my journal, from a quote that inspires me, to a tip I heard about plotting.  I’ll also write portions of a whole such as a paragraph for an important moment or an exchange of dialogue.    While I rarely write large pieces by hand, I will plot out a scene in my journal before I write it on my laptop.  I will jot down the sequence of events in point form, any foreshadowing I want to include, even a line of dialogue that I have in my head.  By the time I set fingers to keys, this first step keeps the scene flowing, making the writing more fluid and the writer more focused.  Whether I have to refer back to the page or not, the scene is clear in my head, along with all the hits I need to make.  Before I started doing this, I often remembered something afterwards that I missed in the heat of the writing moment, even a subtle interchange that was important but then it’s hard to go back and interrupt what’s already written.

Below is a photo of a page from my journal of a scene that had to be just right, an example of how I plot the scene before I write it.  (Spoilers for those of you following my critique posts.) 

I couldn’t resist sharing another writer’s journal.  With special permission from my six year old daughter, I have included a page from her writing journal.  This journal is sparkly pink with a big “A” for “awesome” because her initial was sold out.  I think she’s pretty awesome, and so is her writing.  This photo is from her WIP “Kitty and Natalie.”

 

Leave a comment and tell me how your journal helps you.  And don’t forget to check out the other Scribbles Hop Bloggers and their insights into the use of writing journals:

Danielle La Paglia

Anne Michaud 

Victoria D Griesdoorn 

Ren Warom 

J.A. Campbell 

Tammy Crosby 

Maria Kelly 

Chrissey Harrison 

Natalie Westgate 

Tony Noland 

Larry Kollar