One of my new favorite movies is the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris, and I feel all writers should watch this movie. Gil Pender (the protagonist) is a Hollywood hack who longs to live in Paris and become a real writer. He yearns to leave his rich and accepted life as a screenwriter and, instead, finish his novel about a man working in a nostalgia shop.
His fiancee is less than thrilled and never loses an opportunity to snipe Gil and his dream. She deliberately crushes any silly fantasy that might get Gil sidetracked from his healthy income in L.A. She is accustomed to a certain lifestyle that “Gil the in-demand commercial movie genius” can provide. “Gil the novelist” threatens that comfort.
Gil, on the other hand, believes he is a man born too late, that if he’d been born in another time, his life would also be different. He believes the perfect era for him would have been Paris in the 20s. If only he’d been part of the Roaring Renaissance of the 20s, his life would be better…no, perfect.
Fortune and a strange ripple in the space-time continuum permit Gil to step into this “Golden Age of Paris” and finally experience what he believes has passed him by. It is on this adventure that Gil makes friends with all kinds of artists from Paris in the 20s—Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Faulkner, T.S. Eliot, Picasso, and Salvador Dali, to name a few. Through this adventure, Gil begins to understand what is really wrong with his life.
He lacks courage.
In Gil’s real life in 2011, he doesn’t have the courage to claim what is rightfully his…his right to want to become a novelist. He endures the constant jabs and barbs and apologizes for his dream, his novel, his less-than-glamorous protagonist, and even his existence. Gil is so insecure, he can’t see the truth and betrayal before his eyes.
Over the course of the story, Gil learns that the problem rests with him. It isn’t the time period or the choice in mates or even the occupation of his protagonist that are the problem…he is. Until he finds courage, nothing will work. No time period will “fit,” no love will be “right,” and his writing will always be beige.
It takes great courage to write great books. Find your courage and find your voice.
The Writer Inferiority Complex
Many writers suffer from a terrible inferiority complex. We believe we are not “real writers” until we have met some outside standard of approval. Even though we have logged hundreds of hours over a keyboard and written thousands of words and queried dozens of agents, we still aren’t real.
This inferiority complex is dangerous.
If we aren’t writers (one who writes), then what are we? Until we name it and claim it we are merely hobbyists, dabblers and dreamers. Writers write. Confidence leads to better stories. Confidence doesn’t feel the need to parrot J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer. Confidence is at the heart of every sort of art. Our confidence must always be dancing along the ledge of danger for our works to be thrilling.
Weak, scared writers don’t dance on literary ledges.
As long as we are pitiful and wimpy and apologizing for having a dream, we won’t take risks and writing without risk is called “crap.” I love the line in Midnight in Paris when Pender is having a conversation about his novel and apologizing that his main character is not more sophisticated. Hemingway responds with this:
No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.
We don’t need to set our stories in Paris, or make our characters bazillionaire double-agents to be interesting. We don’t need to “write for the market” to get published by New York or to become successful indies. We need to find then hone our writing voice, and it is that voice that will make even the most mundane magical.
But this comes with courage and courageous writers don’t waste time “aspiring.”
How Do We Find and Develop our Writing Voice?
There are all kinds of ways to discover then develop our writing voice. Next week we will start exploring them. Yes, I am working on shorter blog posts. Anyway, over the course of this new series, I will do my best to offer tangible, doable tactics and even point you guys to some of the best resources. Yet, I will be blunt with you because I care. No matter how many craft books or classes, a great voice can only be birthed from fearlessness.
Voice Makes All the Difference
Whether we are an indie author or we long to be a successful traditionally published author, we have a choice of what kind of writer we long to be. There is no shame in admitting we don’t care to win the Pulitzer. Yet, even those writers who want to write pulp fiction will find greater success if they develop a voice that readers love and can’t wait to buy more of. Voice is important for ALL writers. Yes, even the NF authors.
Voice is what will make us distinctive from the competition, which is why we are going to spend some time understanding voice. Ah, but when it comes to finding and developing our writing voice, we need to ask the tough questions before we proceed:
Am I humble enough to admit I don’t know everything?
Can I check my ego long enough to learn from those who know more than I do?
Can I face rejection and criticism and keep going?
Can I be happy writing even if I never make money?
What kind of writer do I want to be?
What is most important to me?
How do I define success?
How hard am I willing to work?
What am I willing to sacrifice to live my dreams?
So think about those and we will talk more next week. What are your thoughts, feelings, questions? How do you work on your writing voice, and are there some resources you would recommend? I would recommend Les Edgerton’s Finding Your Voice–How to Put Your Personality in Your Writing to read in the meantime.
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!
Note: I will announce last week’s winner later this week. I am having problems with my web site and e-mail and my web people are working to remedy the problem. 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.
Very solid helpful writing advice. And I watched this movie on a flight to India. Loved it! It really made me think. So does this post. Now, I’m going to read it again and soak it up. Holly
I saw your tweet or something recently about Midnight in Paris. Gonna watch it now. As I gear up for another crack at fiction I’ve been reading Donald Maass. Of all the important elements of fiction–character, setting, stakes, etc…–I think I might trust my voice the most. I am comfortable in NF anyway. Those questions you ask at the end are key.
Looking forward to this topic. I know Les. Neat person, great book. I’m curious to what your take will be on voice.
This will go in my leatherbound reference library. In the unlikely event that you do draw my name, I prefer my Truth heavily varnished.
Great topic! I’ve been told that my ms has a nice voice, but I sometimes worry that my MC’s not courageous enough or that she’s too nutty or that it’s going to be rejected a bazillion times because the female protag is a recovering sex addict. I’m going to go with the movie Hemmingway’s encouragement.
Sometimes I ask myself, “Who are you to think you can write a good novel?” Then I realize that I do have my own voice. It just gets squashed by my Ego that tells me to stop being fearless because I’ll never amount to anything. I’d do better if I just stick to writing copy for websites. I need to have more courage. Thanks for this blog post. I will find my voice and I will use it to drown out my Ego.
Well said. Ego, prepare for drowning!
This is a wonderful film. Gil needs to do what Joseph Campbell calls ‘following his bliss’, that is, following the path he should be on, being true to himself. Only when he is really in touch with himself can he write well.
All our characters are really aspects of our selves. Once we are in touch with all these parts of our selves, we can write dialogue that is true to our selves!
Jane Bailey Bain
Great post, Kristen. (I think I start every comment to you this way).
Blogging has helped me develop my voice immeasurably. Due to the speed of writing, the brevity, and my genre (humor), it’s given me a space to try it out and then reason to trust it.
I can’t wait for the series. Off to google the book title you suggested.
Over and out from Canada…
I couldn’t agree more. If we’re afraid and checking ourselves every step of the way, our voice will never find its way through. I read a blog post a while back by Susan Bischoff on how blogging helped her become comfortable with being herself in public and that in turn helped her develop her voice. I think that’s also why we’re so often admonished to write the first draft for ourselves. It gives us that chance for fearless freedom.
Thank you. This post was reading my mind and what I needed to hear today. So back to 1869…to hear me sing.
What an inspiring post. Gil needs to do what Joseph Campbell calls ‘following his bliss’, that is, following the path he should be on, being true to himself. Only when he is really in touch with himself can he write well. All our characters are really aspects of our selves. Once we are in touch with all these parts of our selves, we can write dialogue that is true to our selves!
Jane Bailey Bain
If anyone can help me understand this thing called voice, it will be you. More than once, when I was flailing around trying to find the bottom of the swamp with my toes, you’ve come along, waved your magic wand and suddenly I’m standing on firm ground again. What the darn heck is voice anyway?
I loved reading this and am excited for the posts to come! I never thought blogging would allow me to find a voice (if majoring in Creative Writing in college didn’t, how could blogging?), but I think it’s done just that. Though I have a LOT to learn, and need to work on finding the strength to let that voice shine in other types of writing, I think I have a better idea of where I need/want to go now. Similar to the lesson Gil learns about courage, I whole-heartedly agree that happiness lies within ourselves, and not in any outside influence!
I think if you find the courage not only to write, but to write from the heart; to write that story your heart longs for you to write, that story that will make you more You the Writer than ever, then voice comes with the package. If you learn to listen to your heart, then when the time comes you’ll know the sound of your own voice.
What a great post. I adore Midnight in Paris and felt it addressed the fears and fantasies of most writers. Great analysis of how it does that. And great advice on voice. Voice, like all aspects of good writing, takes two things: courage and time. For some writers, the courage to take your time may be the biggest challenge of all.
The courage of your voice. The voice of courage. As a newbie this post is so beneficial. I am EXCITED about the opportunity of being part of this conversation (although, I’ll just be listening). Looking forward to next week’s offering. Thank you!
I plan to watch the movie as soon as I get a chance. Sometimes I need all the motivation I can get, and that is one reason I enjoy your blog so much. There is lots of inspiration, along with some great writing and marketing tips.
Thank you so much for the shout-out of my book, FINDING YOUR VOICE. Readers may be interested in learning that Writer’s Digest has sold out the book and my agent has acquired the ebook rights to it, so we’re working on bringing out an ebook version in the near future. You can still obtain used copies on http://www.abebooks.com, but within a few months a new version will be available via Amazon and other online vendors.
“No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.”
Thank you, thank you, thank you….for this post and for the quote above. The quote confirms my belief that I need to stick to my ‘guns’ and not be swayed by those who insist I sugarcoat the truth.
This is not onlye important in writing but life as well. STill finding my voice.
“one great way to write short stories” by ben nyberg is an excellent book on writing that can be applied to all writers. i too adore “midnight in paris” – gil is my hero.
I guess I’m lucky because I cannot remember ever NOT writing. Courage has nothing to do with it; it’s just what I have to do. I have always written without regard to publishing or making money; that’s all gravy to me. The stories just have to be set down. And I feel more than lucky that I seem to be unable to write “commercially.” If I try to write what publishers want, it’s crap and I throw it away. Often my books cannot be pigeon-holed, which makes them difficult to market, but I don’t care. They are what they are. Hmmm, maybe that’s my voice? Never thought of it that way, but it could be. I’ll be very interested to see how this series unfolds. Thanks, Kristin.
I started reading your blog recently and it is wonderful. I keep learning more from each one. I’m currently reading “Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer”. Fantastic! I wish I had started reading your advice earlier. It would have saved me some pain. I’ll keep on moving forward. Thanks!
Kristen, I am most pleased to report that I have found my “voice”–and I have never been happier–and never worked so hard with so much satisfaction. You are completely correct in all you say here about the writer finding, and then having the courage to stick to, their very own unique voice.
Great post and really well written. Thank you.
I’m a photographer but your bit on confidence and the inferiority complex can trancend to photographers as well. Wonderful. I will definitly re-read this. A picture is worth a thousand words but I try to add some substance by writing about my big projects to engage the audience even further.
Great blog! So often we let our fear of criticism kill our dreams before we even get started. Thanks for the dose of courage.
I’ve been meaning to see this movie for ages – I will go and get it now! And you have given me inspiration for my next blog post. I have a theory about the connection between oral storytelling and written ‘voice’ – but I can’t go into it now, I have WIP work to do! I’ll save it for next Monday’s blog, when I will definitely be linking to this post!
The knowing just enough to be dangerous phase, the time when you’ve decided ‘yes, I can do this, I want this, I can work for this’, has been a period of insecurity for me. I’ve taken so many classes, followed tons of blogs, re-written and revised and questioned what excited me about sitting down to write because it didn’t follow how things were supposed to be done.
And I’m done with *that*.
Your blog is one of the keepers. I always learn from you and feel better about where I’m headed after reading.
Awww, thanks. So great to hear that!
Oh, thank Bob. I’m not the only one who has this problem.
I love reading about writing, taking classes, and learning all I can from those more experienced. But then I’m always getting hung up on the specifics. I really wish I could just let it all go…
And I agree that Kristen’s blog is inspiring and uplifting.
Brilliant post, Kristen. I definitely want to watch that movie now. I love the focus on fearlessness. Your advice is priceless!
I just added “Midnight in Paris” to my Netflix queue. Thanks for the recommendation!
Great list of questions! I’ll be on the lookout for the voice posts because voice means different things in writing–it means our voice as the writer poking through, but the characters (if you write fiction) have voices too.
Kristen, I loved that film too. It so unusual of Allen to make such a film. It’s so simple yet profound and full of love for literature ))) Something to watch again and again
I’ve been worried about this this week. I’ve rewritten the first two chapters three times trying to find the voice. I’m still not there. How will I know when I am?
Try reading it out loud, Marianne. Your ears are a great tool for finding ‘voice’! Also, don’t stress too much. It is possible to overwork things. Leave it for a bit and do something else. When you come back you might find you have already found it.
Marianne, I think once you find it, it will be obvious to you. To paraphrase Dolly Parton, “If it’s not YES!! then the answer is no.” Good luck!
A useful tip is to have someone you trust to tell you the truth who knows you really well to read and see if it sounds like ‘you’.
So appropriate, and always straight forward. Thank you.
Reblogged this on Bellesapepper37's Blog.
Thank you so much, Kristen, for saying we must “stop apologizing for having a dream.” It shocked me to realize that I still do that with friends who want more of me and don’t have their own dreams.
Until we understand what we are doing, we can’t do something else.
That’s what I’m going to do now. Something else.
I’ve been off the grid and missing your posts. While I love Woody Allen, I didn’t think this was his finest movie. I found it too simplistic. I was like “Duh! When is Gil is going to figure out that he doesn’t love his loser fiancé.” I’m kind of surprised you liked it that much. That said, the characters were interesting and, even if I didn’t find the story compelling, I certainly wanted Hil to be happy in the end.
Off to check out that book title!
I am just finding my voice. I learned a ton from your blogging course last November, but I lacked courage to put my heart into my blog posts. I didn’t want anyone to really see me. Everything was high concept but fluffy. This last week we lost a young member of our family and it really gave me the push to write from a deeper part of myself, the attention is showing in my stats already.
Thank you so much for this post, Kristen! Once I let go of the fear, my writing only became better. You wrote everthing I have been learning these past few months. Thank you for inspiring me – again.
Again, thank you for inspiring and pushing me along. These are importanat points I have been paying close attention to lately. Your post is very timely.
Great post, Kristen.
Looking forward to the rest of the series. Confidence is the key here and that’s something that seems to ebb and flow. I have a big notice on a pinboard in my writing space it says “Write With Confidence and Authority – Tell The Story”
It manages to keep me focused and ‘real’.
I love writing but now I’m thinking about it, I have no idea what my writing voice is. I’d like to say it’s strong and to the point. I like to be clear with my writing while still being about to ‘shock’ the reader. I don’t know. You’ve read some of my work. What do you think my writing voice is?
You have a strong natural voice which is the main reason I rescued you from the Writer Shelter, LOL.
Courage is indeed a necessity to be a writer. It gets you passed all those snide remarks, the critics, and the rejections. It pushes you to succeed, to tell that story no matter what. Great post, Kristen!!
Hi Kristen, this is a great post that poses really good questions. Each of the posts on my blog, Writing Between the Lines, is an exercise in voice. I strive to make my point in 500 words or less, although the word count sometimes approaches 600 words. I strive to provide useful information to writers using storytelling and humor. Your book, Are You There, Blog, This is Writer, was really helpful in establishing the blog, and it has taught me so much about voice. Thanks for helping with the launch, and thanks for a great post.
Great post. You did a wonderful job covering the depth and meaning for this must see movie.
Hi, Kristen. Running into those pesky WP comment problems again, so I’m logged in from Twitter. Thanks for the movie recommendation – it’s going on my TBW list. I love movies (and books) about writers, and this one seems like I’ll pull quite a few nuggest of truth from it, too.
But boy, what a list of questions you gave us! Some I had answers for right off, and some will require some deep thinking this week. Looking forward to a whole series on voice.
Reblogged this on cashzilla.
Thanks for the post, Kristen. I totally get what you are saying. It took me a while to find my own voice, and even longer to nail my MC’s voice.
When you know you found your voice, it’s heaven. 🙂
What an awesome post, one that is definitely a keeper.
Thank you Kristen for a wonderful post. I have only just started blogging and am still learning the ropes as it were. I feel so lucky to have found your blog as it so motivating.
“Weak, scared writers don’t dance on literary ledges.”
That part really resonated with me. I am currently reading and researching for both my current WIP and for a future one while my rough draft is being alpha read by my writing partners. I stumbled upon videos of Amy Tan talking about her creative process and why she writes. She said that she writes to find the answers to “What was the meaning of life? And what is its meaning to me?” Finding that personal meaning in moral ambiguity.
That really hit home because I realized that I was holding myself back while writing, that I didn’t quite let myself explore/discover all the implications of my characters’ world. I was (and am) afraid of letting myself really feel…and I’m afraid that all I have to offer is a bunch of stock characters in a beige world.
So, at least I have this knowledge now, and know what I need to focus on during rewrites.
I’ve found that the more nervous or unconfidant I am, the more typeoes I make, and the more indistinguishable my voice is. Writing, blogging and declaring myself a writer have done wonders in this regard. When in doubt, write!
Thanks for this fantastic post. Helpful no matter where we are in the journey. 🙂
Writers are what writers do: write, write, write. Read, revise, write. Write, Write, Write. Read, Revise, write.
*laughs a bit weakly* Trust,,, That’s what it comes down to. The idea that we know our voice out of all the possible sounds we can create with our words… all the sounds others tell us they want to hear, but don’t once they actually read the words on the page.
Yep, trusting one’s voice to be true, even when it feels right, is harder than it seems.
This is a great reminder. It can be easy, in the midst of al the words and pages and rewrites, to start to doubt yourself. I’ve liked this post so I can find it again when I’m having a bad day. Thanks!
Reblogged this on amberdover and commented:
Happy Hear the Writer Roar! Tuesday 🙂 Enjoy this reblog from Kristen Lamb. God bless & remember The High King Lives~Amber Dover
Hi Kristen, I loved this post. I’m with everyone above, so far everything I’ve read in your blog has been exactly what I needed at that moment. I’m definitely going to watch Midnight in Paris. You are so right about needing courage to be a writer, especially in this day and age, we can’t hide behind closed doors anymore. We have to be seen and heard and we want our readers to hear our voice and long to hear more. Everything you teach goes hand in hand with being a writer. Thank you for all the encouragement you send all of us with your “voice”. Donna
Wonderful post as always, Kristen. You may be blunt at times, but it’s a fresh & open honesty that we all need to hear, and it’s inspirational! Keep harpin’ away at us!
“Courage”, wow that’s huge. Yes, I’ll say a lot of courage is needed.
But I think that blogging will help give us courage. It’s like a form of exercise for our writing voice. I keep hoping that the longer I blog, and the more I write, I will get stronger and develope more courage.
BTW, thanks Kristen for your help and encouragement today! It worked. 🙂
Karen, I love this “I think that blogging will help give us courage.”
Actually, blogging is one of the best tools for developing courage/voice, and it is why I am such a HUGE proponent of writers learning how to blog. You are welcome! Any time.
Hi Kristen, that list of questions is a wonderful one. I’ve gotten the impression that far too many beginning writers dream big, but lack conviction in their dreams (or perhaps don’t enjoy the entire spectrum of the writing craft, from initial draft to final draft, to persist).
Writing is a wonderful thing, but understanding what you expect from it and are willing to put into the craft is is almost as important as putting words on the page.
Thank you for this. Not only for referencing Midnight in Paris, but for helping me realize that it’s okay to write what I want, that I don’t have to conform to what the world wants.
I’ve never seen “Midnight In Paris” but it sounds like a great story and something I must watch.
Shorter posts? What are you thinking??? Tell us who complained about your post length so they can receive the flogging they deserve!
Seriously, though… your posts are great, and always give plenty of stuff to think about. I look forward to hearing more of your input on this subject.
And feel free to use as many words as you need!
Required reading, all the way through. Thanks. I know all this but it is good to be reminded, especially when the agents and publishers aren’t clamouring as you believe they should be.
Thank you, once again, for an excellent post. The questions you posed are good questions. They remind me of the ones asked on job and grant applications. They are a pain in the arse, but/and/because they are difficult questions that matter, because the answers are personal and unique and to answer well we cannot hide from ourselves.
And thank you for reminding me that “a great voice can only be birthed from fearlessness.” Tears welled in my eyes when I read the description of Gil in “Midnight in Paris” discovering his problems lay within himself, in his insecurity. That really is it. When we tell our own story, it sounds good, no matter the content, if we are honest. We cannot honestly tell another person’s story.
I never realized how much I struggled with this while writing my first draft until I started blogging. Blogging showed me that I do have a voice that is all my own and has helped me grow comfortable in sharing that voice. Whether or not that has translated into my WIP yet, I am not sure. I look forward to this series, Kristen.
Fabulous, fabulous post. LOVE this: Weak, scared writers don’t dance on literary ledges. Love. And it is so true. We will never be great unless we can be greatly true to ourselves. There are already too many books of everything else out there, everyone trying to break in by trying to write like what is already published. Thanks for sharing this!
Great Post Kirsten,
I am copying it for my writers on writing file. Sometimes I just need encouragement to make writing my priority.
While researching sites to recommend in my talk to my writing group I found your blog post(s) on the writer’s platform-how to build it and why we need it. Finally someone who can put ‘platform’ in words we can understand. Can’t wait to read any subsequent posts. Thank you. Of course, I couldn’t stop reading there! Now I’m on your Writer’s Voice series. Also great. Obviously you’ve found your platform! I’m hooked now as much as your regular readers who already knew about your blog.
As someone who recently signed onto this blog cruise, I found your reminder on the importance of “courage” to be timely, helpful and valuable.
This blog is so helpful and honest! I have to find courage to share my work and step out on the ledge. Thanks for this blog on “voice”, can’t wait to read more.
I went right down to the library and borrowed this movie. Thanks for that tip. I’m gonna try to take this challenge on. I think I may have been writing a little bit scared. Time to toughen up.
Thanks for that tip too.
I’ve been studying voice for a few days and this article opened a door for me. It put words to what I’ve been feeling – that writing voice comes from showing who you are in your writing, which takes courage. I’m definitely thinking differently about the concept.
And your mention of Midnight in Paris was unexpected. I’ve always liked that movie but I never identified with it as a writer, for some reason. But now I see that movie in a new light!