Writing: Finding Your Voice

birdThere’s so much hope and fear, dreaming and dread in the process by which a writer becomes a published author. Just those words–published author–taste of childhood to me, something along the lines of Tropical Fruit Bubblicious. Something you’d chew on in the midst of a Midwestern winter.

But now I’ve got this little book out, Pyrophitic. Which is part of a bigger book, Hot Season. Hot Season, once upon a time, was part of an even bigger book, which I wrote in the course of my MFA at Pacific University. That bigger version of the book didn’t work. But over the last month, I buckled down on the smaller version. And then, not long ago, sent it off to freelance editor Alissa Nielsen, whose opinion I really respect.

And get this: according to her, it works. It’s good.

I’ll still lean hard on this manuscript before I send it out, to impart as much polish as possible. But wow, what a relief.

And now that I’ve had the space to dig back into my sci fi novel, KUBLAI, which I left off transcribing from my dictation files oh, maybe two months ago. And now I can see how this, too, is going to work.

But perhaps most interesting of all is to see what is the same across these two very different manuscripts. One is ostensibly literary, a sort of New Adult coming-of-age novel-in-stories set at a college known for its radical politics. The other is a post-Apocalyptic love story between a woman and an intelligent machine. Slightly different books, you might say.

And the writing reflects that. The former sounds a lot the way I speak and tell stories about my life. The latter sounds a lot more like how I think, especially around areas of obsession (like, say, neuroscience as it applies to gender). It also sounds a lot like sci fi, because that’s what it is.

And yet, there’s something about these two novels that sounds alike. It’s a cadence, maybe, a certain sound. The length to which a single thought process appears to run down a page, and the width of what it manages to encompass. The way themes arise and repeat. Female characters who are geeky about science. American characters who are some type of off-white. A focus on environmental themes. And, though I never really considered it before, sex.

There is something, maybe, about producing enough work that you begin to hear yourself, what you sound like. Whether it’s in street slang or academic diction, a lighthearted rom com or a serious meditation on our relationship to the natural world.

For those looking to develop their own unique voice as a writer, Cris Freese, writing for Writer’s Digest, has this to say:

“To some extent it happens all by itself. Stories come from the subconscious. What drives you to write, to some extent, are your own unresolved inner conflicts. Have you noticed your favorite authors have character types that recur? Plot turns that feel familiar? Descriptive details that you would swear you have read before (a yellow bowl, a slant of light, an inch of cigarette ash)? That is the subconscious at work.”

She also goes on to note that writers like Cormac McCarthy, Chuck Palahniuk and Colson Whitehead keep a similar style and voice across all of their novels, regardless of genre.

Writers–do you feel as if you’ve discovered a consistent voice running through all of your work? What are some of its characteristics?

Readers–who are some of the authors whose voice you most admire? Why?


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