The Maiden of Whoville
Happy Friday! I hope you guys really enjoyed learning more about writing voice from the master, Les Edgerton. Right now, I am packing and making ready to fly to Tuscon, Arizona to teach, so today, I’ll be brief and just offer some final observations about voice.
We Must Write for the Right Reasons
Motive is very powerful, whether it is in social media or even our writing. If we are writing to make money, we will have a rough road ahead. Courage comes when we let loose of the fear that our work will ever make a dime.
When “making a living” no longer holds us prisoner, our muse can breathe and our authentic voice can surface. I’m not saying that we can’t desire to make money, but it cannot be our motive or it will adversely affect our writing voice.
First, our writing voice will come from fear, and, because it is a fearful voice, it won’t take risks. It will try to sound like The Hunger Games or Twilight or Harry Potter in order to be “marketable.” We will lose our uniqueness to become a bad copy, the “Rotex” of authors.
Be a special you, you are the only one out there. If we lash ourselves to our art, then this is when genius can spark to life.
For Great Reward, Expect to Suffer
I wish I could give you a formula for success that didn’t involve waiting, rejection and moments of self doubt, but it doesn’t exist. Yet, I will remind you that if we aren’t failing, then we aren’t doing anything interesting. Learn to fail. Better yet, lean to fail big. We learn more from failure than we ever will success.
Also remember that those who uphold the status quo. Those who gave up their dreams for the safety of a 401K and a “real job” don’t want you to live your dream, because then your actions will make them look bad. They won’t be able to believe their own self-delusions that their dreams were impossible. So learn to ignore the masses. If we aren’t being criticized then we aren’t doing anything remarkable.
At the beginning of this series addressing voice, we talked about the Impressionist movement. The early Impressionists broke rules, but success hardly came free. Back in the 19th century, the only way an artist could make a living was through commissions. Wealthy patrons often commissioned artists of the day to paint one of their family members or maybe their estate.
Also, painting, up to this point, had always featured noble subjects. Yet, the Impressionists often would paint the loading docks or women washing laundry in a river. Sure we think those paintings are lovely now, because they are over a hundred years old. Yet, if we think back to how those scenes were viewed at the time, it would be akin to an artist painting the front of a Home Depot or a scene from a laundromat. The Impressionist artist faced harsh criticism for what they defined as “art.”
I am certain there are many artists of the day who compromised. They wanted to make money and have the esteem of their peers. Fitting in, making a living, and avoiding criticism were the primary goals…and no one remembers them.
Art Takes Risks
Art, real art, takes risk and often faces rejection. Hopefully if we work hard and hone our skills, our career will take off. H.P. Mallory, a true indie recently made the USA Today best-selling list. She didn’t have vetted back lists for sale. In fact, she couldn’t get an agent and so she gave up her day job and self-published.
Mallory braved rejection and did it anyway. She wrote more books and better books and created her market until NY took notice. She didn’t write one book and magically POOF! to stardom. By being brave and creating her art, she honed her voice. Now she is reaping the well-deserved rewards.
Expect Pain and Criticism
When we are true to our voice and brave enough to break rules, this is no guarantee that others will instantly respond favorably. Many of the now-famous Impressionists lived impoverished lives and had to recycle materials and stretch their own canvases. Many were not highly regarded until the ends of their lives, and they faced years of criticism.
Impressionism as an art form was seen as sloppy and crude. The authorities of the age felt the Impressionists weren’t doing “real art” because they wasted time painting common people and ordinary settings. Yet, I have to say that the painters who caved and made money by painting portraits, the ones who played it safe…are lost to history.
Sure, they made a living, but they didn’t make art.
But the ones who were brave enough to stay poor? The ones who took rejection square on the chin yet kept painting? These are the artists we will remember for all time.
So what are your thoughts? Opinions? Do you find it hard to remain uniquely you when trying to publish commercial fiction? What ways can you find to be more brave in everyday life? Any tips?
I hope you have enjoyed learning about writing voice, and I have to scoot off now to go pack teesny bottles of face wash so they don’t think I’m a terrorist. I’ll see all of you on Monday!
I LOVE hearing from you!
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of April, 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 April I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!
As a Reminder!!!
Many of you who follow this blog already know and LOVE Les because I talk about him all the time and make you buy his books . So please, for those of you who have loved Les’s work, please go vote for him in the Spinetingler Award. I know you guys have a ton of books, but you have until the end of April to read and vote for The Bitch… *giggle*.Just go to the link. I hope you guys can show some WANA support for a writer who has done so much to help use newbies grow into trained professionals.
All of this applies equally to ambitious writers of smart non-fiction. The greater challenge is to fit the costly hobby of writing books that typically earn you very little income (relative to your needs or those of your family) yet incrementally if you’re lucky or suddenly (rare, but it happens) add to your sphere of influence — and through that your income and appeal.
My new book’s voice (sassy, rude, critical) about working a low-wage retail job has equally brought me some nice extra cash from retailers willing to hear some tough truths — and scared off those who want to be told it’s a great way of life working PT with no benefits or set hours or raises.
Find your truth and speak it loudly. You will gather a crowd of people hungry for your voice.
After reading Les’s guest post, it gave me the courage to do a huge rewrite. I had been writing my book in my own voice, but there were a few times where I tried to be all poetic-like and it didn’t sound like me at all.
I may be different than most writers in that I didn’t get a degree in it and really just started a year ago. I really want honest feedback on my WIP since I feel like I am so behind and don’t want to publish a piece of garbage. I have already deleted huge parts, moved things around, changed names and places.
And to think a year ago, I was reluctant to change a sentence in a blog post! 🙂
Have fun at the conference Kristen!
Regardless of our vocation in life, it can be hard to remain true to ourselves. I know so many people who fall into the trap of defining success based on money, house, car, job title. Or worse, they live to please other people. Don’t get me wrong, a certain amount of financial security is nice. But financial security without happiness is a big fat waste of time–and of a life.
I’d go further and say it isn’t just about finding our authentic writing voice, following our intuition instead of market trends; life, in general, requires us to be bold, to be fearless (within reason), to risk failure, and to defy the odds. True happiness means forging our own paths and not defining ourselves by temporal things.
As a newer writer, it is easy to get side-tracked with hopes of writing the next best-seller, even when reality shows me that it is very unlikely, there is still pressure to fit within the narrow “marketable” areas. This post is a healthy and helpful reminder to stay true to who you are, and keep your voice. Thanks for sharing this and all of the other posts on voice.
Having an authentic voice is so important. I have been approached for my first interview. All morning I have been thinking about what I would like others to take away. What failure can teach us is high on my list. So glad to see you talking about it today. It is a lovely post and will encourage others to embrace their own authenticity.
Kristen, for me I don’t think this post could have been more timely. Sometimes we just need to hear despite feeling like we’re always failing (or maybe not succeeding fast enough) that great reward often first comes from great failure.
And I have to second, third, quadruple your thoughts on criticism. I see too many unseasoned/new writers at writer’s groups and conferences that full on brawl with feedback. My editor friend always said when it comes to feedback, the professionals ask questions, the amateurs raise objections. I used to be one who was too afraid to let people look at my work, I feared the criticism. But as soon as I got over it, it seemed like magically my writing improved. So all you aspiring writers out there like me, listen to Kristen well, especially this post. If you want to be a great writer you’ve got to face criticism, but more especially learn from it.
I’ve never tried to sound like anybody else…I’m not even sure how I’d go about doing that. But I do have trouble unwinding enough to let my voice shine through. I have to remind myself constantly to let go. It’s very liberating when I’m able to do it!
I have just taken this journey that you describe here. First as a teacher, then as a marketer and copywriter. My art suffered, first because I was trying to squeeze writing in after a full day of work or on the weekends. Then, I decided to devote 100% time to it, but my motive was still “making a living,” not particularly writing what was in my heart. I wish I had been brave enough to do this from the start, this writing without fear. When we do that, it is amazing what happens. For the first time, I have attracted the interest of an agent and am working with a very fine editor to structure, plot and write the memoir that’s been in my head for 15 years. Thanks for the inspiring post, Kristen.
When I read the “how-tos” and the “rules” and the “what makes good fiction” I can get so hung up on all of it that I implode. (I’m a rule-follower by nature, I have to fight legalistic thinking — I was a Christian for over 30 years before I finally realized GRACE was for my everyday life, not just salvation). I have breakdowns, want to just chuck the whole writing thing, burrow under the covers and give up. But my husband asked me the other day, “Do you want to be a cookie-cutter writer, or do you want to be YOU?” Made me stop and think. I am HUGE on individuality. So, no, of course I don’t want to sound like everybody else.
So I’m learning to pick through the rules, glean the good stuff, and then write MY story in MY voice. Sometimes there are good “guidelines” out there that I need. But when I start getting tangled in the ropes, it’s time to cut loose and be the ME God intended me to be.
Thanks for the posts on voice. I feel vindicated. ^_~
Wise and witty as ever, Kristen. Have a great time.
I think my comment got lost when I logged in to post, so I apologize if this is a duplicate. Anyways, Kristen, wow, yes, thank you for posting this! It couldn’t have been more timely for me. Sometimes it’s hard to keep moving forward when it feels like success isn’t coming fast enough (does it ever?). Thanks for the encouragement. After all, great successes often don’t come unless we’ve experienced great failures–or perhaps what we perceive as failures.
I second, third, quadruple what you said on criticism. I see a lot of aspiring writers at writer’s groups and conferences who absolutely fear or fight any kind of feedback. (I had to learn the hard truth that gold doesn’t drip out of my pen on my first drafts either, lol.) I remember being afraid of letting others read my stuff for fear of criticism. When I learned to embrace feedback it was amazing how quickly my writing improved. For all of you aspiring writers out there (and I’ll say it to myself again) please heed Kristen’s advice. As my editor friend likes to put it on feedback, the professionals ask questions, the amateurs raise objections.
In mastering our craft, we’re going to get bumps and bruises along the way. Wear them with pride and keep moving forward.
Another wonderful post on voice.
It’s sometimes hard to be brave and take risks and try new things with my writing.
But then, I get into the story world. I learn about characters. I hear them speak. I plot the villain’s action. And then suddenly, prose and dialogue and voice is flowing because I’m writing about those characters who matter to me.
“If we aren’t being criticized then we aren’t doing anything remarkable.”
What a great statement. That was just what I needed to hear. I can’t get over the mixed reviews my first book has been getting — it’s been called everything from ‘Brilliant’ to ‘Bizarre’, and often for the same reasons. I’d never imagined as I was writing that my words would be so very polarizing, though friends keep telling me that’s a good thing.
I actually had a nightmare last night that I began writing a story deliberately to avoid anything controversial, based upon some of the negatives I’ve read about my characters and their actions — essentially making them bland, powerless and dull. I woke, vowing that was the last thing I’d let happen, and a fan letter I received this morning reminded me that for every reader that hates my characters, there are others who love her enough to write me personally.
Thank you as ever for your ongoing wit and wisdom, and for once again reminding me to stay true to myself in my work.
Powerful thoughts–brilliant/bizarre trumps safe/bland any day.
Thanks for the reminder that art takes risks. I believe that the reason my query letter gets rejected so often is that the protagonist is a recovering sex addict, and the genre is women’s fiction. Thoughts of trunking this novel and focusing on the next have become extremely appealing because I’ve come to believe no one wants to read about a woman who once struggled with such an addiction. It’s time to pick myself back up and keep going.
Fantastic advice. There is a huge amount of pressure out there to erase your voice and become a copy-cat. I’ve had numerous agents along the way tell me they’d consider representation if I’d just be “less clever” or “write in more traditional romance voice,” and “cut out the humor: humor doesn’t sell.”
But I couldn’t do it, even though I honestly did try to erase my voice for many years. It wasn’t until I started blogging that I discovered 1000s of people love my voice. That gave me the courage to send out the books as I originally wrote them–and they immediately found a publisher. Now I have several books in the top rom-com lists in the US and the UK and moving up. So I agree 100% with everything you’re saying here. The unusual thing that may turn off the 19-year old intern reading your book at an agency might be exactly the thing that will draw readers when you publish.
“If we aren’t being criticized then we aren’t doing anything remarkable.” AMEN!
As I read this post, I was reminded of one of the reviews my first book (the others were much more positive :). The reader gave it 4 stars and then said it was not her cup of tea because the protagonists (male-female platonic friends) were too touchy-feely for her tastes. She then said the plot was predictable, the characters were shallow, but it was well written, so she gave it 4 stars. Hunh!
I appreciated the 4 stars but the criticism stung. A friend (and beta reader) put it in perspective. “You made her uncomfortable by challenging her perceptions of male-female friendships. Wasn’t that your point?” It was indeed my point. I thanked her for the reframe.
And thank you for the reminder. Bring on the criticism, World; it means we are doing something remarkable!
I’m new in the blogging world and sharing what I write with others. I’d say I’m still in the “someday I’ll write a book” phase. Your posts have been helpful for me in discovering myself as a writer. I loved your message today especially!
Wow, this is SO true.
I LOVED writing until it occurred to me to try to get published. Then it started to freak me out. The problem is, once you’re writing for someone else, it isn’t YOU any more. It’s such a visceral task to drag yourself back every five seconds, but you have to. Because if you don’t love it, then what’s the point?
P.S. I ADORE the corset!
Great post! I have to say, the more I rely on my authentic self—my thoughts, personality, instincts, passions, etc.—and less on my perceived expectations or trying too hard to please others, the better my writing becomes. It flows better, sounds like me and seems to gain others’ kudos more often. I still have LOADS of work to do, but I that’s a great thing, too. Resistance is part of the process. If we embrace it, it can strengthen and empower us. And besides, not growing or struggling to some degree could get boring. 😉
This post reminds me of one of my favorite Indigo Girls’ song lyrics: “The prize is always worth the rocky ride.” (And, I’d add, much of the “prize” is in the journey.)
Excellent advice. I would say that in the final analysis, one needs to write something which not only did you enjoy creating, but which after tinkering you yourself can read with pleasure. Doubts about it being ‘commercial’ are wasted. Doubts about whether it is what you wanted to do and how you wanted to do it are valid and should be addressed, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Great advice. I took a big risk when I walked away from my first career. Sometimes, I really miss the financial safety (and some of the other aspects), especially when the mortgage is due, but I wouldn’t give up my freedom for anything. I would never had have the time to do all of this writing if I had kept at that driving pace, and I think I would have been half alive instead of excited.
I’ll admit that, when I got my first critiques, I felt like something was wrong with me, since I had poured so much of myself into my stories, but I have re-framed them as a free writing school. Now I think it’s fun to find out what people have to say about what I wrote, and I hope that I’m learning from each critique. At least I don’t get grades, so I won’t be flunking out of this school.
I soooo LOVE your words of wisdom, Kristen. Thank you so much for all you do for us writers. You are amazing.
Awww, thanks for the sweet compliment! I am happy to help :D.
Seriously… you guys are brilliant. (You and Les, I’m talking about.)
Reading through your posts have really given me a good kick up the ass. I have even re-quoted you today on FB, just to reinforce to some of my peers that what you are saying is what they need to listen to every once in a while. Writing is NOT about making money. It’s about internal satisfaction and the ultimate happiness of telling a good story. A story that will provide others enjoyment. Anyhoo. That’s enough blabbering from me. Hope you have a good trip.
AS usual Kristen, you leave me inspired! 🙂
Excellent, excellent stuff, Kristen, thanks! Enjoy the conference. I’ll be zooming through all the back-posts about voice!
Great post and I’ve bookmarked it. Les gave brilliant advice about being true to yourself. I voted for him. Have a terrific conference. I’m sending you many hugs for all your help and support over the past eighteen months. One day I’m going to make it across the pond and all the WANA’s can get together over a margharita or three.
I loved this post. Many of the same points can be made for life itself. I follow these guidelines in writing and life (or try). It is about letting go of fear and being authentic. Wonderful words. Thanks much ~ Sam 🙂
“Yet, I have to say that the painters who caved and made money by painting portraits, the ones who played it safe…are lost to history.”
That line reminded me of a recent discussion on J.P. (the foily-covered 17-book-a-year man) who grinds them out and makes a mint. Will he be remembered? I doubt it.
Excellent post, as always Kristen. Thanks for helping all of us. Hope you have some delicious gluten-free during your trip.
Brilliant post. Letting go of fear and being authentic as Aspergers girls so succinctly puts it. I live this way and now I’m finding the courage to write this way. Thanks for the thumbs up.
Hi Kristen. Thanks for reminding us to be ourselves, feel the fear, and do it anyway. This post is relevant to anyone who wants to live life on their own terms!
Reblogged this on Elle Stephens – Author! and commented:
I dare ya!
This is a truly helpful post. As I travel around and write on my blog developing my narrative voice, my authentic voice is what’s most important to me. I haven’t lost sight of that because it’s still the beginning and it’s all new, but I could see how easily I could forget to constantly stay authentic. It be so rewarding as I do. Thank you.
fantastic post. I shared it on Twitter because I think so many of us fear really letting our voice out because of what we think we “should” write.
Brilliant as always. Enjoy your trip and thanks for the advice!!
This post has made me rethink why I want to write. I want to get known for my writing, both romance and children’s, and not just for the money benefit. Thank you, Kristen.
This post, fits right into what is happening to me. I could not find an agent for my first book, so I decided to do it on my own. Now one of my dearest friends has decided to criticized me for publishing the book. One of my sisters even joined in on the bashing party. But, no fear, I shall move forward and do it my way.
As for the money issue. Several months ago I considered the idea of making money writing my books. I realized that as long as I thought about money when i wrote my books, that it would always play a part in each story. Somewhere in that story it would effect how I developed my story. Either in the length of the story, or the characters that I developed.
I made a vow to myself. if I never made a penny from my work, I just wanted to tell my stories. The story is what is most important to get out to the public, because they are great stories. I feel free, and able to write, and the stories develop and move forward. The latest story was longer and my editor’s told me I am doing better. I am learning, because i don’t care about the money. I care about the story.
Thanks I really needed to read this post this morning. An inspiration to ignore the naysayers! Love the length of this one Kristen 🙂
I’m in pain, I hope that’s a good sign.
I will write what’s in my heart. I cannot worry that my novels aren’t the ‘in’ thing, the latest fad. They are the stories that I’m dying to tell and their words spill on the page. Okay, they drip – slowly – rather than spill but I’ll keep plugging away. : )
One thing I find confusing is that you seem to suggest a formula or set of rules for successful writing and publishing. Yet here, in this post that pulls at my heart-strings, the opposite seems true: live and write and create outside of the safe box created by and for the frightened mediocre who compose the vast majority of our writing brethren. Which is it? Formula or against the grain? My way or the glorious highway?
the best way to live through everyday is to find bliss in criticism. If they are negatively criticising you it means that they are jealous of your awesome work! That is what keeps me going, 🙂
This post was very inspiring. I’ve been working on my novel for the past few months, and I don’t know how many times I’ve gone back and forth between adding a prologue, deleting it, tweaking the opening, deleting something else…all because of the “rules” I’ve read about. I’ve decided that when it comes to books, the only people who really matter are the readers, which is why I’ve decided to self-publish eventually. I’m new to your blog, and I look forward to following you!
Good point, Christina, about rules. I’m struggling a bit with rule issues right now as well. They can stifle one’s voice if you let them. I think we should think of them as guidelines. I change POV quite a bit in my books, which is against the rules. But the only people who notice are my fellow authors, who have also been taught the rules. My beta readers all compliment me on how smoothly my writing flows. We need to listen to feedback and weigh it carefully so we can get better at our craft, but ultimately, to thine own self be true!
Kristen, are you back yet from your trip? Welcome home!
I started to comment and then realized that it had become a rant and needed its own space. So here’s what I came up with:
I learned years ago that I’m not going to make a killing at writing, that I write because it’s one of my passions. It feels wonderful to be free to write what I want, no constraints, except continuing to study the craft of writing and learn and practice as much as I can.