Three Ways to Spark Literary Magic–Voice Part 2

Last week, we started talking about voice. Voice is the essence of our writing, and having a strong, original voice can be the ticket to literary legend. I believe most of us are born with a storytelling voice. All humans are storytellers, and, in fact, humans passed on information, history, and stories orally for thousands of years and “voice” is actually a holdover from this oral tradition.

Humans are a story people.

Narrative structure is hard-wired into the architecture of our brains. This is how even a three-year-old can nail us when we skip part of the bedtime story. Unless one has suffered some brain trauma or debilitating psychiatric trauma, all humans are storytellers. Just like, unless one has lost a limb or suffered a major injury, all humans can dance. Now, all of us aren’t necessarily good storytellers (or dancers). Natural talent can make some of stand out from the crowd.

But is talent enough?

To quote Stephen King, Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.

There are no shortcuts to publishing success. Yes there are strange literary savants who write one book and it’s perfect, but they are the odd outlier, not the norm. Go tell your family this so they stop hassling you.

We’ll wait.

So success in writing, like all other arts, comes with a lot of hard work, even if you happen to be graced with natural talent/voice. Yet, all new writers (I did it, too) believe that we can write one book and be the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. I am here to offer some tough love. Just because we hold a basic command of our native tongue in no way prepares us for professional publication. Sort of like a high school Home Ec class doesn’t prepare us to take over as head chef at Claridge’s. I know your friends and family might think college Literature 101 is enough to rocket you to the NYT best-seller list, but they are wrong. Learn to ignore them.

Every art requires training. Just because I run out to an art store and buy supplies doesn’t make me an artist. All art forms have basics that are drilled in over and over and over. I spent seven years in ballet, and all dancers begin with the basics–learn the five foot positions. If I decided to “skip all the boring stuff” and ran out and bought toe shoes on day one and just took off dancing Swan Lake, not only would it look more like Wounded Chicken instead of Swan Lake, but I could also expect a lot of pain and lasting deformities.

Same with writing.

Now all of us, I do feel have a natural writing voice. Then friends and family step in and make snarky remarks and this dings our confidence. Then, on top of that, the world is full of scared, boring people too chicken to follow their own dreams, and will always find time to criticize ours. Learn to tune them out or they can affect your natural voice and keep it from growing stronger.

Aside from ditching or cleverly avoiding family toxic people, the single greatest way to develop voice is to learn our craft.

#1 Know the Rules

There is a difference in being courageous and being reckless. Our job as writers is to learn the difference. How can we know the difference? We must study.

I recently went to an art exhibit here in DFW at the Kimball Art Museum. The museum is showing one of the largest collections of Impressionist paintings, and yes, I am the person who reads every one of the little placards along the way.  What I found interesting was that all of the masters like Monet, Degas, and Renoir spent extensive time studying the great painters of their day and even those masters who’d come before. Yes, they broke with all the traditions to become successful in their own rights. But…

They knew the rules so they could break the rules.

I can tell in less than five pages if a writer reads and if he or she has taken time to study their craft. People who know the rules and them break them are called artists. People who don’t know the rules and don’t seek to learn them are called amateurs.

#2 Understanding our Craft Creates Confidence

During the days of the emerging Impressionists, it was popular to paint noble subjects. Artists would stage elaborate sets in studios where they could control the light and arrange or rearrange the scene if they needed to. Painters like Monet, opted rather to “happen upon subjects” and they preferred the common and unexceptional to the lofty subjects of “popular artists of the day.”

The Impressionists painted scenes of ordinary life–a woman drawing water in a river, the steamships unloading timber, a factory churning black smoke into a summer sky. These artists made the mundane magical, but the only way they could do this was to know the rules so they could break them.

If our writing voice comes from confidence, then confidence can only come from knowing the rules. Sure I could hand any of you a clarinet and maybe one person in a hundred thousand could pick up that clarinet and be an instant prodigy. Most of us, however, need to spend time learning to read music and doing scales. When we are so accustomed to the “rules” that we know them in our sleep? When our fingers naturally move to position on the instrument? When we have studied the great musicians and know them so well we can instantly take off on a creative riff?

This is when magic sparks to life. This is true with a clarinet, a sketch pad and yes, a computer keyboard.

#3 Practice Indeed Makes Perfect

Writers don’t do scales or sketches or work on the barre, but we do write. We write good, bad, brilliant and boring. We write and write and write and write until we know the keyboard by heart. We work hard and it is through this sweat equity that we earn our right to be called an artist. We are all writers the second we put words to screen/paper. We have to train and suffer to become artists.

Each of the great Impressionist painters painted thousands of paintings and made thousands of sketches even though only a handful ever made it into the galleries. Renoir didn’t paint one painting and expect to make a fortune. Knowing the rules comes with practice. Practice creates confidence, and confidence creates artists.

Sorry, no shortcuts. Yeah, I’d be lying if I didn’t confess this bummed me out just a little, too. So we just keep writing, keep reading and keep connecting with the masters of our art and trust that one day the magic will ignite.

What are your thoughts? Do you have any books you like about voice? My favorite is Les Edgerton’s Finding Your VoiceWhat are your thoughts? Struggles? Experiences?

I love hearing from you!

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of March I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Winner #1 from two weeks ago is Pauline Baird Jones. Winner from last week is Anne Stanley. Ladies, please see your 1250 word Word document to me at author kristen dot lamb at g mail dot com. I am still working on a new web site so we’ve had all kinds of issues with my other e-mail. Thanks for your patience.

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.


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  1. I do agree with what you say. I do find, in the mystery genre, however, that everyone says follow the genre, but every mystery has its weaknesses, in how the mystery is revealed. I’m reading Agatha Christie, as a primer, and even some of her capers are not truly explained in a way that the reader can say, “oh, I remember that…” New information was revealed at the time of the “unfurling of the mystery.

  2. Holy flying crap, batman — I’m the first person to leave a comment??? I’m usuall #105. Thanks Kristen for another wonderful post and yes, creating art is hard. But the payoffs are wonderful. painting thousands of paintings seems to go along with Malcom Gladwell’s statement that before you become successful you have to put in 10,000 hours. Practice, practice, practice. But what makes that hard work easier is knowing there are people like you to help cheer us on through the tough parts. THANK YOU SO MUCH for all the wonderful work that you do.

  3. Isn’t it great that all this hard work can now find a path through to the reader, without being blocked by hidebound publishers forced to obey their accountants? We find our voice, and make it heard!

    • lynnkelleyauthor on March 26, 2012 at 3:36 pm
    • Reply

    I’ve learned the hard way that sometimes shortcuts lead me to dead ends or dangerous territory, or I get lost and the shortcut ends up taking twice as long to get to where I was going. Hard work does pay off. I hope. We all hope. It definitely helps to read what the masters have written and to compare notes with our fellow writers. Your comment about not listening to family – funny, but so true! Nice post, Kristen.

  4. I think you are absolutely right on with voice. I also think after writing our hearts out, reading craft books as Maass and other authors, you have to say, to hell with the letter saying you need a stronger voice etc. Make it your own and tell the damn story your way…I bet your voice comes out. I hope so. Is that confidence you think? Thank you Kristen.

  5. I just bought Les’ book. After seeing him in action, I know that’s a guy who “gets” voice. 🙂

    The first books I bought that gave me an inkling what this writing thing was all about was Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones” and Jesse Lee Kercheval’s “Building Fiction.” Since then, I’ve read a ton of books on writing and none of them are worth a damn if you don’t sit down and write every day.

    Just my $0.02.

    1. And a very valuable $0.02! No doubt about it – WRITE.EVERY.DAY.

  6. Wow, reading a great blog post and get to bottom to find out I got picked for a critique! Can’t tell you how excited I am! Voice was a real struggle for me when I first started writing. I HOPE I have it down better. Guess I’ll find out. LOL thanks so much for the post and the pick! I’ll be in touch!

  7. Yeah ‘voice’ is an interesting thing. Thanks for writing about it. Somehow it fascinates me. I think, looking back over my work the last 27 or so years that a kernel of my voice was always there. However it used to be hidden under elements of style, which basically comes down to almost mimicking the tone of whatever author I was reading at the time. As you say, with time and work and practice things improve. The more I’ve learned and the more I’ve listened, I have found that these attempts to be someone I’m not have fallen away. And that same original voice that was always there, hidden beneath, has been given air.
    Yvette Carol

  8. I’m totally distracted by the Impressionism flashbacks. I used to love wandering around art galleries in Paris picking out who painted what. I love Renoir and Cezanne et al. Of course it is a slower process reading craft books over three genres. I split my time over novels and I make sure they help with poetry, poetry books, craft of poetry, craft of picture books and craft of novels. Yikes that will make me get it by about 2050 😉

  9. “They knew the rules so they could break the rules,” a golden sentence in any language, and maybe the most valuable statement about writing there is. Once again, Kristen, a beautiful essay–I didn’t want it to end–voice, clear and pure.

    As for books on craft, Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott) and Stephen King’s On Writing, Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones was groundbreaking as was Donald Murray’s Write to Learn in the mid to late ’80s. Reading Virginia Woolf, Joan Didion, E.B. White and William Strunk’s The Elements of Style were early references for me.

    One of your finest, Kristen.


  10. I was told during a flash fiction Writer’s contest that I ‘had a voice’. That pleased me to no end, although, I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant. So, I am on a mission to discover the definition…thanks for your part in my journey, Kristen!

  11. The rule I have trouble with is the one that says we have to have characters and/or situations thatare out of the ordinary. I get so tired of stories that push the envelope; that itself becomes trite. I am just sure there are amazing stories to be told about normal everyday people in normal everyday situations. There’s drama there, too…it just takes the right voice. That’s what I want to write. Those are the stories that come into my mind. And the “you have to follow the rules before you can break them” feels like a sock in the gut every time I hear it, because hard as I try, I can’t figure out a plot premise that doesn’t fit the mold I described above. I can’t tell you how much I worry about that…

    1. One of my favorite all-time writers is a guy named Nevil Shute, who is most famous for the most depressing story he ever wrote, On the Beach. Nevil Shute wrote about reasonably ordinary people who were usually, if not always, in fairly normal situations. A lot of his books are about flying and pilots, but many are not. You might find two of his books particularly interesting, given what you have written above: The Far Country and A Town Like Alice.

      I’m sure Kristen will have excellent advice to offer and I’m probably jumping the gun a little here, but for my money, just write the stories that come into your mind. That’s probably your nascent voice whispering to you, “Hey, Kathleen, psst! How ’bout this one?” Obviously that’s the kind of story you care about, so write about that and see how it works for you. Sometimes you have to break the rules before you can learn what they are, anyway.

    2. Normal and everyday isn’t good fiction. If we want real life, why bother reading a book? We don’t have to write about spies or people with telepathic abilities to be interesting. But we can’t just have a person thinking, and musing, and pontificating. Writing is therapeutic, but it isn’t therapy. There have to be HIGH stakes (personal or external or both) for the fiction to be good, or there is no way to build tension. Any conflict will be contrived melodrama.

      Think of “The Help.” Those were normal people placed in extraordinary circumstances with high stakes. Everyday normal people make some of the best heroes, but fiction is the path of greatest resistance. There needs to be a core overall story problem in need of being solved before the clock runs out.

      I hope this helps :D.

      1. Yes, I go round and round with exactly what you said. Maybe I’m using the wrong adjectives–because all people go through dramatic situations and high stakes at some point in their otherwise ordinary lives… Maybe I’m writing higher stakes than I think I am.

        Tom–thanks for the suggestions. I read On The Beach, but it’s been a long time. I’ll check out the others.

        1. High stakes don’t necessarily require world-shattering stakes. To each of us, our own private dramas are utterly compelling. Our own conflicts and problems are every bit as crucial to us all as any grander conflict.

          It’s easier to get the reader to care about a huge asteroid slamming into the planet. Certain levels of “high stakes” require less investment in the character, because readers will automatically feel involved in those stakes.

          The more personal the stakes are, the more critical character development becomes. If the stakes involved are wholly personal, with no external consequences for failure by the protagonist, then it becomes incredibly important to deeply involve the reader in the character. If the only person who will be hurt by failure is the character, then the reader *has* to become emotionally involved in the character for the story to work.

          1. James Scott Bell has a really great way of describing what every story needs to succeed–the risk of death. That death, though, doesn’t need to be physical. It can be emotional death. professional death, relational death, etc. Whatever it is, however normal the people involved are, they need to feel like a part of them will die if they don’t succeed.

        2. These are such great comments, everyone! And it really helps me to wrap my head around the topic in a new (and much-needed) way.

    3. Hi Kathleen, one of my favourite authors is Rosamunde Pilcher who does exactly that – she tells awesome stories about ordinary people in everyday situations. Also Maeve Binchy. So if that’s where you’re going, keep me posted, I wish there were many many more authors like them.

      1. Thank you for the author names, djmillerja. I will check them out. I see my writing in this category, at least right now.

  12. Errr…OK, at the risk of looking stupid, I still have to ask. What are the rules of writing? I’ve heard a lot about them over the years (well, decades!) but … What are they? As simple as Heinlein’s “three rules of writing”? As complex as every primer of grammar and spelling you ever cried over and cussed at in school? Each recommendation by every “accepted” writer ever published (said recommendations to be considered individually and en masse)? I agree WHOLEHEARTEDLY that “work/struggle at your craft” is a rule/principle/guideline but what are the rules? “Never give up” is a pretty good one … after 40+ years I can do that one in my sleep. Or is it like engineering back in the days when it wasn’t systematized, and every engineer had his rules of thumb and his favorite materials to work with?

    Or am I just asleep at the switch here, which I humbly admit may be the case?

    Look at Kathleen’s comment above. She sounds like a talented young writer, just starting out, frustrated as all hell (and I can’t blame her, I was/am in her position!) with the fact that everyone says “BE HEMINGWAY/AUSTEN/PICKYERFAVORITECLASSICALWRITER!” when they should be saying (as you did in your post about Voice) hey, don’t worry about them, be Kathleen!

    You’ve done such a wonderful thing with this blog, Kristen, if only because you really do seem to be attracting a community of people united by their love of writing and their determination to carry that love wherever it takes them.

    1. There are some rules of writing that we should try to stick to, namely because they help the reader. For one, most new writers don’t understand narrative structure and it shows in the first 5 pages. Narrative structure, 98% of the time is awesome. The wheel works. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Aristotelian three-act structure has been here for thousands of years because it WORKS. Hero’s Journey is fundamental and even little kids know it intuitively. Even little kids know that stories have a beginning, a middle and an end.

      Then new writers need to know what a scene and sequel is. These are the building blocks of conflict and when we learn to master these, we can create mind-numbing page-turning tension that makes our readers beg for more.

      Many new writers don’t understand POV so the reader feels like she is strapped to Hell’s Tilt-A-Whirl trying to keep up with all the perspectives. Sure, in our head it makes sense, but we need to follow certain rules so that we can recreate what’s in OUR head in the reader’s as well. POV should not be chosen on whimsy. All POVs have strengths and weaknesses. Choosing a POV can change the entire essence of a story. Choose the right POV to deliver the story the best way that works for THAT story and even for you as a writer.

      Also, new writers are really guilty of purple prose. Less is often more.

      Not all adverbs are evil, just redundant ones. “She yelled loudly.” Um, duh.

      New writers also use ellipses and italics for drama. Your writing should be strong enough to not need these props. Weak writers have to coach the reader. Also readers are smart. “He slammed the door in anger.” Um, again, duh.

      I have an entire series called “The Deadly Sins of Writing” that go over some of these fundamentals. These are mistakes WE ALL make. I made them too. But when we get past these newbie errors, then our voice can really shine.

      1. POV was a revelation for me about six years ago when I first started reading about writing. We definitely have to pay attention to those rules–but at the same time, what romance novel have you read that DOESN’T jump from head to head? Not very darned many. It drives me nuts, knowing what I know now, but the fact is a lot of people make a lot of money head-jumping. So I guess there are exceptions to every rule.

        1. They do a bit of head-hopping, true, but usually it is just between the two protagonists–the heroine and the hero. I have read newbies who let EVERRY character hold the POV camera and we can’t stay in one head long enough to get attached. And the better romance writers do the head-hopping with such seamlessness that we don’t notice…ideally LOL.

        2. Just keep in mind that it’s not head hoping if the change happens at a chapter break or even with a clear demarcation within a scene. That’s about having two clear POV characters. It’s only head hopping is you pop back and forth more than once in a scene with no clear signal that the change has happened.

          1. Having POV characters who have full scenes is not head-hoping. Most romances have a hero POV and a Heroine POV (though not all). In each scene, ONE character owns that scene and the POV stays with them. Head-hoping happens when the camera jumps for person to person AND its not an omniscient voice, but literally jumping from one person POV to another. As a romance writer, I LOVE going between Hero POV and Heroine POV. I even did one scene where I switched POV in the middle of the scene. My editor had no problem with it because it was actually a push/pull between characters so as the Hero gave up control and ther heroine took control it made sense to switch the POV.

          2. See…what she said. Make it seamless :D. When it is done well it is so natural but blow it and we feel like we are trapped in the Blair Witch Project.

      2. Excellent! Thanks, Kristen, I figured it was something like that, but then there always seems to be something one misses, and I wanted to be sure. 😉

        1. Head hopping is OK. It’s definitely called for in many stories!

          Head hopping in mid-scene is *usually* a bad idea. Again, look to the books – the really good ones especially – and study how those writers did what they did. Read for *craft*, not just for the story. Look at the techniques.

          The fundamental rule of POV is that if the reader is ever even the littlest bit confused about whose head you are in, then you’re doing it wrong. Beta readers are a big help in assessing this in your work.

    • mliddle on March 26, 2012 at 5:42 pm
    • Reply

    Kristen –
    I thought your post was so helpful by the way you use analogies to help your readers (Me) to understand better your point of how to develop voice in story-telling and writing. For example, I have wanted to be a painter for so long because I admire the way artists can communicate themselves to the world – through color, medium, texture, and more. However, I have not taken lessons or even attempted to teach myself the basics of painting. This, therefore, has limited any painting or drawing I have done. With my piano playing, I took lessons for 8 years as a pre-teen/teenager. But I did not practice enough and therefore have lost my ability to resume playing 23 years later. I still have my piano and could practice again, but I want to dedicate my time to something else. I want to write. I want to be a writer. I have spent 25 years writing term papers, theses and other more academic writing that I struggle with fiction and even finding my voice as a blogger. As I read your post today (and other similar blog posts), I almost feel relieved that practice is part of what will make me a better writer. The relief stems from my questioning of whether I even have the talent. So, I am hoping (and practicing!) that the more I write, the better I will become.

    Thanks again –

  13. Kristen,

    What a great post! I’ve found that confidence in my writing, and learning the “rules,” so to speak, has been improved so much just be reading a LOT. I find that the more I read, and become intimate with other authors’ voices, the more I learn about storytelling, and how I’d like to tell my own story.

    It’s always great to be reminded of the benefits of working hard. As a writer, it’s something that needs constant reminding.


  14. Reblogged this on Writerlious and commented:
    Great post by Kristen Lamb about creating confidence in your writing and finding your voice. Such a great reminder that the best thing we can do as writers is to WRITE. A lot.

  15. Thank you for the timely reminder. Sometimes I feel like Laura Ingalls rolling across an endless prairie with no change and no destination in sight. Thank you for reminding me (us) that writing in and of itself is the thing.

    • Joy Held's Writer Wellness Blog on March 26, 2012 at 6:55 pm
    • Reply

    Luv, U, Kristen, but I cringe when someone says, “break the rules”. As an editor, it’s tough to work with someone who has heard this and thinks that the editor is a b*&^% for not letting them “break the rules.” Is there a definition of “break the rules”?
    Keep writing is good advice, however.

    1. I totally hear you on that! LOL Well, for instance, generally a book will pick a POV and be consistent through the book. But, Linda Castillo in “Pray for Silence” used first person intimate for the protagonist and then third-person shifting for all other characters and it worked BRILLIANTLY because Castillo really understands POV and why one should be used and how. She does this MASTERFULLY.

      The problem is we have too many amateurs who don’t even know the rules running out and breaking them willy nilly and calling it “art.” I know because I used to be one until I got a good pop on the snoot from … an editor. LOVE editors, LOL.

      Most of the time, the rules work. They are there for a reason.

  16. Ack. I’m stuck right now in my fiction WIP. I don’t know why. And I don’t know how to move forward. My normal characters in their extraordinary situations ha e gotten stuck in the mud. That probably means I need to hack something and start over.

    Maybe I need to re-read Aristotle. Le sigh.

    1. put it down and take a break!
      BT Dubs.. I am grateful that you read my WIP excerpt and gave me a raw kick in the arse about the tense!!!!

    2. Hi Renee, can I pass on a bit of advice I was given once? I was stuck midway through writing my book. Another established author said this was called ‘the halfway hump’. She said the key is to ‘keep writing’ because if you stop now you’re dead in the water. If you just force yourself to keep going you will get through it. I know I did!
      Yvette Carol

      1. I think I pushed through. I was having trouble with something that wasn’t feeling psychologically true. I found a better example rather than being locked into my “little — and I’ve got it. I just had to talk it through with someone who understood the dynamic. Thank you so much! I am so not dead in the water. 😉

        1. So glad you burst through. More power to your pen Renee!
          Yvette Carol

  17. Hi Kristen, I really enjoy your blogs and find them helpful. I’m an avid reader and I’ve wanted to be a writer as long as I can remember and filled notebooks with poems and half finished stories until marriage, seven children including one with a disability sort of overtook me. A couple of years ago I had a melt down about where I was going and for 18 months I’ve been writing. Category romance in general because marriage and kids and love is what I know. I’ve completed 9 manuscripts, none published, but I feel they are helping me learn my craft. DH naturally is waiting for me to make money out of them especially as I gave up quite a bit of paid work to be able to concentrate. Reading your blog made me think about what I want from my writing and while money to make DH happy would be nice…(dreams a little dream ;-] ). What I really would love is for someone, without agenda, to read something I wrote and maybe laugh a little, cry a little and hear my voice and like what they hear.

    • Donna Jean McDunn on March 26, 2012 at 8:08 pm
    • Reply

    Hi Kristen, your blog was so true, at least for me anyway. I’ve spent nearly ten years becoming a 3rd degree black belt in Songalm Taekwondo. In the art of martial arts there are tons of rules that have to be learned and practiced. In the art of Taekwondo which means, in Korean, The Way of the Hand and Foot, the black belts range from 1st degree to 9th degree and those artists, even at 9th degree, still practice everyday.

    It is the same with the art of “voice” in writing. Without practice our art (writing) becomes stale and looks like the work of an amateur. In a true contest with masters, an amateur would probably lose, but those who have practiced have confidence and determination and even if we lose (are rejected) we still have the dignity of knowing we gave our best and even though it wasn’t possible today, it might be tomorrow. Donna

  18. Another great blog, thank you Kristen.
    The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler was the first book on writing I ever read and it had a big impact on me. I’ve read others since and most have been very good, but you always remember your first don’t you? 🙂

  19. Is this coincidental that I had the confirmation, just before reading your blog, that 10k hours of practice are key to mastering a musical instrument?

    Ah yes, finding a voice. Having a voice.

    What I’ve witnessed is that people (me included, years ago) hate their voice. Their spoken voice. So what about their writing voice? It was even worse.

    I can say that I hated my spoken voice enough to take classical lyric singing lessons. It was very awkward. I first hated my voice even more, then came the time I realized I had no other choice than building atop what I already have.

    I was reluctant to live in a classy villa atop a crumbling basement. I worked hard at embracing my identity and the flaws that made me who I am. It was long, daunting, draining, grueling, but I kept plugging.

    At the same time I struggled with my very being, I had to practice all of those seemingly unnatural, ridiculous at best, exercises for lyric singers. I’ll spare you the gory details.

    It was 6 years ago. Wow. Time flies. What’s really odd in this story is that I became a full-fledged singer… In a metal band!

    By working harder than ever at something I didn’t really believed in in the first place, I came to a conclusion: we have our own voice, yes, but our personality and our temperament (very different things) draws us to be multi-faceted in most cases. Yet we retain this personal voice we worked so much to get, and still work hard to maintain.

    Just my 2 cents. Your post struck a chord in me.


    • Karen McFarland on March 26, 2012 at 9:26 pm
    • Reply

    Thanks Kristen!

    The art of Voice seems to take a lot of learning and practice. And practice. And practice. But just like exercise, I feel that as we grow stronger, our voice grows stronger if we use it, like our muscles, the right way. We won’t tone up if we use it improperly. Does that make any sense?

    Keep these posts coming! 🙂

  20. My voice expands with my experiences. For instance instead of just attending romance writer seminars I like to attend general writing seminars. It is always refreshing to hear what other writers are doing. Also film festivals are great tools for learning. In September I attended the Woodstock Film Festival and went an Actors Dialogue class with Vincent D’Onofrio, another class on Amazing Women in Film, and spoke to a director on choices he made in bringing East Fifth Bliss from book to screen.

  21. I had to earn money at my day job, so I got here late today, only to find out that I won! I won! Course that means that now I have to suck it up and actually let you read my first chapter. Oh, no! It probably breaks all of the above-mentioned rules and you will rap me on the knuckles and tear my baby to shreds. Still, if I am truly going to turn into a good writer, I need to have someone beside my friends read it, and I am thrilled you will be the first. Just don’t make me eat puffer butt!
    Great blog. I am learning at warp speed, not to mix metaphors, and reading Storycraft and Save The Cat right now. Simultaneously.

  22. Hi Kristen,
    What a great post on voice! I love your comparison to the impressionist painters (especially since I’ll be visiting France for the first time in May and will definitely be visiting galleries and absorbing the ambiance in general). For me it’s visual cues that spark the best creativity in my writing so the more I travel, the more fodder I have for my writing. I’ve been playing around with a lot of different genres in an attempt to find my voice…the search continues! The publisher of my first book (a non-fiction) read the novel I’m working on and she said she thought I had found it. I hope she’s right!
    Anne 🙂

  23. A great essay, Kristen. Two little bits I wanted to comment on.

    “We work hard and it is through this sweat equity that we earn our right to be called an artist. We are all writers the second we put words to screen/paper. We have to train and suffer to become artists.”

    When a person sits down and writes, they’re a writer. When a person sits down to create a painting, they’re an artist. And because writing is a form of art – when a person is a writer, they are an artist.

    Like you have said before about writing, one doesn’t aspire to be an artist. One is an artist because one creates art, just as one is a writer because one writes. The sweat equity has to be put in, yes – because without that, we can’t call ourselves writers OR artists. But the two go hand in hand. You are a writer because you write. You are also an artist – whose medium is storytelling – because you write.

    I wonder about the whole suffering thing, too. 😉 We have to train, absolutely. We have to work at our craft, our art, our skills. But since when did hard work automatically become synonymous with suffering? 😉 If you’re truly suffering to create art (to write), then perhaps another line of work might be a better idea…! It’s not like any art is an *easy* road to success. There’s a ton of work involved. If that work isn’t fulfilling and fun, then maybe it’s a bad path for you.

    Everyone has days that are just BAD. In any profession. But if what you’re doing doesn’t make your heart sing, then you’re probably in the wrong line of work no matter what profession you’re trying to do.

    The other bit: you said “So we just keep writing, keep reading and keep connecting with the masters of our art and trust that one day the magic will ignite.”

    Keep writing, yes. Keep reading, yes. Keep studying the work of others, yes. Those are the paths to improve your skills, and I think all three elements are important.

    But my impression isn’t that if you do those things, suddenly all will become clear one day, and everything will click, and your writing will be magical thenceforth.

    There’s no ignition.

    Just a long, slow, winding trail of gunpowder without a keg at the end. 😉

    I don’t think improving at any art is so much about a destination as it is about the journey. No one masters an art to such a level that there is no way to improve and grow. Thank goodness! Rather than a load of hard work with a magical ignition at the end, my feeling is that it’s more like a steady progression of improving skills, day after day, year after year. Improvement is incremental, not explosive.

    Or to put it another way, the magic ignites every time each of us touch pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, From the first time onward. We just gain the ability to make that magic do more wondrous and beautiful things; slowly, over time, with training and practice, we shape the magic into more and more beautiful and powerful work.

  24. Successful writers are the hardest-working people I know, Kristen. A must-read post for new writers.

    And voice – I recently bought a load of new books for my Kindle. Lying back in the bath I thought, time for Susanna Kearsley, clicked and thought no… this is Eva Ibbotson (and was immediately hooked); but a writers writing voice is as distinctive as her speaking voice – and when a much-loved author, like a hug.

    • thedailyreject on March 27, 2012 at 5:01 am
    • Reply

    Thanks for the reminder about ignoring the unhelpful comments people can make 🙂 It’s good to know it’s not just people around me who are like that and that it’s ok to ignore them because they’re not right 🙂

  25. Thank you Kristen for your lovely voice that I love reading….I read two writers this month who moved me with their voice- Theroux and Pico Iyer….both travel writers….

    • EllieAnn on March 27, 2012 at 6:42 am
    • Reply

    awesome post!
    Voice is probably the thing that keeps me reading no matter what, even if I don’t like the characters or plot! I think that’s how Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler) got away with writing 13 books with the same plot (A Series of Unfortunate Events) because he had such a phenomenal and witty voice!
    And I love your advice on the matter. thanks.

  26. My experience is that I have learnt a lot since I started writing books. I wrote my first book way back in 2000, which I didn’t do anything with. My first published book was in 2009. I have learnt even more since that came out. Reading what I wrote then, I can see so much wrong with it, which is why I plan to sometime soon rewrite some of it with what I now know about writing in mind. When I first wrote way back in 2000, I didn’t know my voice and what I liked writing. I now do. It is books with magic and fantasy and mystery in. So, what I write now has those elements in and I can write that sort of thing happily. Whereas, back in 2000, I just wrote after having an idea.

  27. Great post. I’m still learning–looking to those above me on the ladder in an effort to improve, and reaching down to those below me to help them up. Writing is fun, but it’s also a lot of work. ; )

  28. Kristen… I write and I write and I wriiiiite.. blog entries, journal entries, 750 word entries, now I am gearing up for the A-Z Challenge in April and I am revising my NaNoWriMo project that needs some serious tweaking. And then I read like 20-25 blog posts a day plus books..

    I love King’s “On Writing”.. and I am also now reading “The Art of Subtext” which is helping… a lot.

    My point is (yes! I do have one) that sometimes I just feel like I am beating a dead horse with a dead fish…. is that normal? I mean, I am sure my writing must be improving.. but is it????

    Does anyone else ever feel this way?

  29. Great post, Kristen!! Voice is something I see others struggling with. I try not to ponder my own too much and just “let” it happen. I think some writers over analyze themselves too much. At least, I’ve seen it in my writing friends. It’s hard to see them rake themselves over the coals wondering if their voice is just what it is. I try to encourage, recommend craft books and practice, and then step back and let them have at it. I believe Voice happens “naturally” for an author, but there are things we can do to help it along/to help it grow.

  30. Too many people wear ignorance as a badge of honour. As if there is something admirable about not studying the craft. Honestly, it’s like being at school where the “cool” kids never listen in lessons or do their work.

    1. I hear you. I’ve met many writers who are proud that they never read *head desk*.

  31. Great Post

  32. After reading THE TALENT CODE — which cites a study that all experts need 10 years or 10,000 hours of practice — the light came on. No wonder I’m a better writer now than I was at 20. And I need more hours to be FABulous.

    As to voice, I sometimes have to remind my family that other people laugh at some of my humor that causes them to just cock their heads and stare at me. It’s my voice. 🙂

  33. Great post, as usual. I always get so much out of the post and the comments. Educating myself is something I am always working on. I think we should always strive to improve, our writer’s voice is forever evolving. It’s the only way to be the writer we want to be and are capable of becoming. I read my favorite authors constantly hoping their style will soak in. The craft books, I do my darndest to put their teachings into practice. It’s the only way. Never-the-less, I see myself as a WIP for years to come.

  34. I think I found an oasis of knowledge for improving my craft. Thanks for the great job you do.

    1. You are most welcome and thank you!

  35. Discovered this blog recently- I love it. Thanks from Jamaica.

  36. Thank you, Kristen, amazing as always. These three rules basically sum up why I became a structure fiend (And oddly, the only one in my writing group!). Now I have somewhere to point people to explain why I do things the way I do them!

    • Brianna Soloski on April 3, 2012 at 9:00 pm
    • Reply

    For me, writing comes naturally. I am definitely not the next Rowling or King, but I constantly have stories forming in my end and getting them down on paper is the easy part. It’s the editing and polishing that I sometimes have difficulty with. I am definitely going to try to find a copy of Les Edgerton’s book.

  37. This is awesome! I have no idea if my voice is good or not, but hey, it’s MY voice 😀

  38. I was tired from work and didn’t feel like writing. I know, we must write everyday and all that stuff, but we can’t force it. Then I read your blog and it inspired me. Gave me just the right amount of brain energy to form a conscious thought. Thank you.

  1. […] Three Ways to Spark Literary Magic – Voice Part 2 by Kristen Lamb. […]

  2. […] Lamb has a great series on her blog at the moment about voice (part one is here and part two is here). The quite fabulous Chuck Wendig also talks about it […]

  3. […] for sure–as well as makes you laugh in the process. Here is a recent post this week I loved, Three Ways to Spark LIterary Magic–Voice. For example, you can break the rules, but only if you bother to learn the rules […]

  4. […] Three Ways To Spark Literary Magic-Voice Part 2 from Kristen Lamb. YES! […]

  5. […] and even what might be standing in the way of us developing a unique and powerful writing voice. Part Two offered three tangible ways to improve our writing voice. Today we are going backtrack a little due […]

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