Work Out the Writing Voice

Like many things — design, baking, napping — writing is a craft, and you gotta work at it to keep it sharp. Keeping a regular schedule is a good start, but it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. There’s little way to avoid it, writing is a very solitary activity — and sometimes your brain can’t see its own forest through the word trees. Or…something like that? Let’s roll with it.

Writing Workshop - My Notebook
A snippet of various writing exercises.

Fortunately, there are ways to break free from that mind forest. This past weekend I attended a one-day writing workshop, run by a friend and coworker. This guy — he’s involved in so much, I seriously don’t know how he does it. He writes, he plays music, he hosts entrepreneur workshops at his job. My only theory is that he’s actually some sort of zombie hybrid that requires little to no sleep. IF ONLY I COULD GET THAT BUG.

Ahem. Anyway. One of my favorite sessions was about disruptive thinking. We were challenged to take a story we’d written previously and reframe it — put it in a different light, cast it in a different genre. And MAN. I was shocked at how difficult this was for me. I mean, really, I shouldn’t be shocked — I don’t deal well with change, and apparently that extends all the way to my writing style. I hadn’t realized it, but I’ve become so set in a very particular voice that it was extremely difficult for me to break away from that.

Writing Workshop - Story Pitches
A great exercise – writing and bidding on story pitches. Which, OH MAN. I need to work on. Pitches are HARD, guys.

Now, I know what you’re going to say — but Laura, having a voice is good! Writers spend years trying to develop “their voice”. And yeah, I know. It’s good to have a writing style that’s distinctly you, that works. But it’s also good to a) know why that style works for you, and b) freshen it up every once in a while. Neither of which can be done if you’re continually writing in the same tone, the same voice, never stretching those writing muscles and going out of the comfort zone.

I doubt that my “main” writing voice will change too much (I mean, never say never, I got a whooole lotta writing years ahead of me). But I am going to be more conscious of testing out new styles, voices and genres in short stories. They seem the perfect playground for experimentation — what fails, what works, what sticks. Who knows, maybe I’ll create the perfect Hemingway-Atwood-Faulkner lovechild. Only time (and practice) will tell.

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The Writer’s Door

Fun fact! I attend a writing group that meets once a month. Monthly deadlines are a useful weapon in combating sloth-like tendencies. It’s a rather ragamuffin group of experienced writers and amateurs, men and women, poets and prose writers. An odd mix, perhaps, but I find that mix provides interesting feedback.

I’m currently working on a story (book? novel?) that is proving to be MUCH longer than originally anticipated. Or perhaps more accurately — it’s taking me much longer to write than anticipated. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is somewhat maddening when you’re in the middle of it, slouching towards Bethlehem.

Overall, I’m pretty shy about my writing — which translates to never letting people read it. Which, you know, doesn’t work if you’re a writer. Being in a writing group helps me get over that hangup since, you know, the whole point is to have other people read your work.

This means that my group has read my current work-in-progress, section by section, over the past…ugh, almost two years. I’m embarrassed to admit it’s been that long. They’ve been along on the journey, seen the plot develop, the characters come into their own. They’re seeing the guts of the beast, as it were.

Some writers are FIRM believers in the “closed door” policy. I’m calling it this based on Stephen King’s advice in On Writing:

Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.

The idea being that you need to get through the entire first draft — the initial creative process — without any input or adulteration from the outside world.

There’s merit there. I’m normally a fan of the “closed door” policy. You can let out the crazy and let that freak flag fly. In fact, this is the first book that I’ve allowed people to read as it’s being written.

And the result of my “open door” policy? Too early to tell. I can see how it would be distracting for some — if your story doesn’t have firm footing, having other writers chime in could probably sway your original intent. But it is useful to have someone point out a sticky plot point early on, the various inconsistencies that come with any first draft. I feel like I’m able to correct some things earlier on in the game. I guess the only way I’ll know for sure if this “open door” policy has worked out is after the whole damn thing is written.

Fellow writers — and, hey, other creative types, too, as I’m sure this applies — what’s your policy? Do you like that door open or shut? Do you think outsiders can derail the creative process, or is it guided by some internal source that can’t be swayed?