What is voice?

finding your voiceAh, voice. As writers, we hear about it a lot. Lately, I’ve seen discussion of it crop up on social media, and I’ve been scribbling a lot of notes about voice in the margins of the manuscripts I’ve been editing.

We’ve all heard the advice: Write what you want to read. And this, I think, has just as much to do with voice as is does plot. A lot of finding your voice has to do with telling the story you want to tell in such a way that only you could tell it. Your voice is the particular tone, style, technique, and word choices you use to tell your story, but it’s also the unique perspective, personality, and flavor that only you can bring to it. How you approach the world, how you interpret your surroundings, and how you filter it all onto the page is your voice.

You’re totally clear on what voice is now, right?

This is why we can procrastinate and resist writing. This is why we’d sometimes rather comb the cat or clean toilets than park our bums and just write. Because if you start to think about voice, or more precisely, if you start to wonder what voice is and how does one find such a thing and what if you don’t have one, not much writing will get done because panic will open the door for that inner critic, and the inner critic will win.

First of all, you have a voice. You do. But we always talk about finding that voice. Here’s a trick: go back and read old writings, whether they be journal entries, blog posts, whatever, but read them chronologically. Start with the oldest piece of writing and work your way to the present. I bet you’ll see a thread of recognition in each one, and I bet that thread gets more vibrant the closer you get to your most current writings. That thread of recognition? Those telltale signs that some bit of writing is yours and yours alone? That’s your voice. And it’s not your voice because it’s brilliant or quirky or offbeat or astoundingly new, though it may be. It’s your voice because, even when taken out of context, it’s your style — your particular makeup of word choice, flow, rhythm, cadence, personality, and perspective.

A good voice is original and credible. A good voice has the ability to remain consistent even as the plot shifts. A good voice carries the reader through to the end of the piece, essay, novel, etc. but doesn’t overshadow the story.

So here’s how to succeed in finding your voice: don’t overthink it. This is why freewriting can be so powerful. Get out of your own way, write a lot, and most likely your voice will find you. Be mindful of the narrative techniques you tend to gravitate toward (metaphors, hyperbole, foreshadowing, backstory, etc.) but don’t obsess over them*, and try not to veer wildly off course. (i.e. Sophie Kinsella said that she once tried to write a thriller wherein she had written a cast of really nice people who suddenly started killing each other.)

*In the process of finding and cultivating your voice through journal entries, first drafts of novels, picture books, essays, etc. it’s fine to fall back on devices like metaphors and backstory, etc., but once you move on to subsequent drafts you’ll need to take a critical eye to the piece and try to recognize when something is overplayed.

Discovering our voice means we have to write the story we want to read in the most authentic way we can, which is the only way it’s going to be a success. Scratch that. It’s the only way we’ll write to the end.

If you’re interested in learning more about the editing services I provide, click here. I’d love the opportunity to work on a project with you. 

Hope Begins in the Dark

Joy Lovely Joy
I don’t know when it happens or how it happens or sometimes (like now) how to get out of it. And I suspect if you’re a writer — particularly a freelance writer working with set guidelines and a slew of editors — you’ve been here too. This is the place where you beat your head against the desk and you stare at a blank screen and you find any excuse to not work on the project at hand (or under contract) because you’re just not hitting the mark. This is the place of paralysis. I dread working on this project, and trust me, if I were to explain the project it would seem simple, fun even. Let me assure you – it is not fun.

I wrote the above words yesterday, hoping that by writing it out — as is often the case — I could purge myself of whatever was holding me back and pick myself up and move on. No such luck. In fact, the opposite happened and I found myself in a dark place by nightfall, both literally and figuratively.

I don’t often talk about my faith here because I fear alienating readers (maybe I should get over that), and my relationship with God is a deeply personal one. My running dialogue with God is a continuous thread woven throughout the fabric of my everyday routine. I pray constantly for  my children, my family, my friends (whether real or online) and neighbors. I’ll drop what I’m doing and pray for a child whose struggle/fight/disease/disappearance I learn through Instagram or Facebook or the news. If you’re a part of my life and you’re carrying darkness, or you’ve expressed something you’re struggling with, or you’re contemplating something huge, chances are high that I’ve sent up words to God on your behalf. Yet I struggle with praying for myself. I fear that I’m being selfish. I rationalize this by telling myself that no one knows me better than God, so I don’t need to tell Him my struggles and worries. He already knows.

Last night, when I found myself in the dark, it wasn’t just about this project. I can now see that this has been boiling for sometime — I’ve been simultaneously stretched thin and stuck, not knowing in which direction to turn, where to place my attention or priorities, and suddenly all my failures, all my shortcomings, all my second guesses, all my worries and fears and regrets spilled over into one sticky puddle at my feet. So I sank into it. I surrendered. I pushed my prayer-censoring self out of the way and finally brought some things before God. And then I watched that puddle slowly dissipate.

Hope begins in the dark.

-Anne Lamott

This morning, I awoke with a clearer focus, a more positive mindset, a mental list of actions I need to take to get this train back on track, and I’ve managed to accomplish more on this project in a few short hours than I have in two weeks. God answered my prayers with a vision of my life and priorities and goals as a neatly compartmentalized pie chart, and I now see the things that need my attention most, the areas where I need to kick it up a notch, and the places where I need to cool it for a bit.

I’m not saying my prayer session was miraculous — there are still things under the surface that could pull me under if I let them — but it did gift me direction and grant me peace for the time being. Is it a coincidence that the sun is splashing light across a blue canvas of sky today? I certainly don’t think so.

Confession: I feel a bit exposed writing this post, and publishing it will push me out of my comfort zone, but sometimes such vulnerability is essential for growth, so here goes…

Watch, Now, How I Start the Day in Happiness

hello sun in my face

image via

“Hello, sun in my face.

Hello you who made the morning and spread it over the fields…

Watch, now, how I start the day in happiness, in kindness.”

-Mary Oliver

I think I was doing pretty well with my pledge to post every day and then Mia came down with some kind of bug, then that bug found me. It was a pretty mild bug but it lasted for what felt like forrr-evvv-errr.

That little bug also took with it my drive to wake up early and write and if I don’t do this I can pretty much count on not getting much writing done for the rest of the day. This is because it’s usually the largest chunk of the day I can devote to writing. It gets the train moving and sets the tone, writerly wise, for the remainder of the day. So just like that, I fell out of a habit I was only just beginning to form.

But all is not lost! Over the past few days I’ve been rediscovering this little blog I had when Mia was a baby. I hadn’t looked at this blog in years. I started that blog when I was in the thick of the infant days and wanted to feel less alone. I ended the blog after I wrote a post that was supposed to be celebratory, if a bit raw and vulnerable, but I discovered too late that it failed in execution, and the result was exposure at an uncomfortable level. So I stopped blogging and life went on.

When the boys came along a few years later, I was catapulted back to that lonely place. Times two. That exhausting up-all-night-every-night, spit-up-in-my-hair-don’t-care, just-shoot-the-coffee-into-my-veins, someone-needs-something-from-me-every-damn-minute-and-good-God-can-I-please-just-take-a-shower place.

You know the one?

And the whole time my creative itch needed scratching and my mind needed to work some things out the only way it can – with the written word. So around the boys’ first birthday, I finally felt like some fog was lifting and instead of waiting around for life to knock on my door, I decided to rejoin life (my life, anyway) and see just what kind of world I would open myself to if I started writing again.

First, I took a shower. Then, I started this blog.

It didn’t take long to realize that blogging, when you devote yourself to it and keep at it, can create this wonderful, rich, creative, connective world where all the little moments can be magnified and shared, then wrapped up in tissue and preserved until they’re taken down from the shelf, dusted off and revisited, experienced time and again. And the people you connect with become more than connections. They become this community where everyone inspires and encourages each other and you can’t help but marvel at all the ways God brings people into your life.

So after a bit of reminiscing on that old blog (it feels like a lifetime ago), I’m ready to get back to this one. We all need to find our way back to Memory Lane once in a while, and I might republish some of those old posts simply to indulge my nostalgic side, but not yet. Not today. I’ve only been away from this space for a week, but today sort of feels like that first day, that first post.

Today feels like a beginning.

A post a day in 2014, starting now

blog every day

image via

For a while now I’ve had myself believing that anything written here needs to follow some sort of theme, maybe a moral, all tied up at the end and presented as a package, a gift, whole and one piece. But the truth is, sometimes my mind just doesn’t work that way. Sometimes my thoughts aren’t linear — there is no moral, no grand discovery, merely musings, scattered fragments of my days that made me pause. After all, isn’t this how life goes — snippets of laughter and anguish and contemplation and contentment and joy and sadness and fear? They all make us pause.

The truth is, I wish I was someone who could write effortlessly in the full, round beauty of an essay, but essays don’t come naturally to me. It is only later, after I hit publish and reread it sometime later, that I discover the truth of what I was trying to say, and that I could have pushed it further in order to mold it into something worth treasuring. I’m beginning to forgive myself this flaw as a writer/blogger for the most part. Essays are admirable creatures. They give you something to sink your teeth into, something to turn over and examine and contemplate as you load the dishwasher or fold laundry, but I’m learning that every blog post doesn’t have to be an essay. Sometimes a post can be lighter in content. Sometimes the images can take center stage. Sometimes a post can be an excuse to snatch a bit of time in the midst of a crazy day.

So going forward I’m going to honor these moments, whether trivial or grand, not caring so much how it appears to the interwebs. I began this blog for me, a little carved out space for memory keeping, and I need to keep that in mind going forward. I’ve decided to post something every day for the rest of the year. I’ve gone back and forth about this. I’ve tried to talk myself out of it. I’ve thought about not proclaiming it here and just doing it, but I feel like I need to put it in ink here in order to stick to it. (That didn’t work out so well last time, but more on that to come.)

My posts won’t always be meaty. Sometimes (a lot of the time) they will just be moments from my day: something my kids said/did, a photograph, a book review, something I witnessed or read or discovered. If you read this post, you know that I’ve been floundering in this space for some time, not really knowing the direction in which I want to go with this blog. The point of this challenge is to show up every day, and hopefully at some point I’ll discover why I’m here.

Click-clacking through the day

It is 2:30 in the afternoon. I began today by waking up at 4:30 this morning to write. I was productive, though not so much with writing story, but with character development. I got the kids up afterward, got Mia off to school and then went for a run and a stop by the grocery store. I gave the boys lunch and put them down for a nap. I’ve done laundry and dishes. I have to pick Mia up from school at 4:20 and it’s quite possible that the boys will sleep until we have to leave, which gives me almost two more free hours. I want to spend this time writing, but I can’t seem to get into it. For a few reasons.

One. Mia pleaded to wear her cowgirl boots today (“I really love the way they click-clack down the hallway. I sound like a lady wearing high heels.”) But the forecast said rain so I made her wear rainboots. The sun has been shining all day without apology. It’s silly, but I can’t get it out of my head — how I wish she could have click-clacked her way through the day.

Two. Is it just me, or is there something about this time of day? My mind is scattered, unable to focus. I’m learning more and more that I prefer the early morning darkness for writing, but I don’t want to be a writer who can work only in the morning, or only at night, or only when the temperature is just so. I don’t want to wait for the time to be right, I want to command whatever time I have to my benefit. But lately, once I stop writing after those early morning hours, I let it go. I forget to begin again. And maybe, for now, this is okay. After all, living is still writing if you’re paying attention and asking the right questions.

Three. This space is on my mind. I need to devote more time to this space. I want to devote more time to this space. I’m figuring out how and when to do this. Until then, if you hear someone click-clacking down the hallway, it’s only me tap-tapping through an unbearably bright day.

Happy hump day.

xoxo,

Lara