Voice–The Key to Literary Magic Part 1
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.