Friday, May 28, 2010

Trust Your Voice

. Friday, May 28, 2010

Years ago, I sat in the coffee shop sipping a tall Chai tea and arguing with the veteran writers. I respected them, I came to them with questions, but I could not accept their advice on this topic. Plot, theme, grammar, dialogue, character development, point of view (POV) – these were the tools I needed to master in order to make my novel work. Not Voice. No one cares about Voice.

“This isn’t your story,” Beth, our group leader, said. “It’s the story you think you’re supposed to write.”

Kathy chimed in, “You’ve overanalyzed it, Jocelyn. You’ve become fixated on the tools you need to create your story and forgotten about the story itself.”

They were wrong. I hadn’t forgotten my story. I knew it inside and out. I had been over the plot a million times, used every character chart I could lay my hands on in order to make my characters more believable. I knew the theme, was confident in my choice of POV, and had practiced writing dialogue until I saw quotation marks in my sleep.

I left my weekly writer’s group still shaking my head in disbelief, but when I got home and looked at my novel I felt the same dissatisfaction I had been feeling since I began it. I needed to master the craft. I had to wield my tools better in order to make my writing right.

I began editing my novel again, but somewhere in the trenches of the second chapter, I saw it – or didn’t see it. My voice was gone. I had killed it. My fear of failure had chased it away. I had held so hard to the belief that I had to change in order to write better that I had begun channeling someone else’s voice.

I had leashed my characters, bullied my plot into the direction I thought it should go. I could no longer connect on an emotional level to the theme. Beth and Kathy were right. This wasn’t my story. It was Jocelyn's monster, the reanimated corpse of a story that once lived.

I walked away from the computer, found a pen and paper, and began to write. Just write. No editing, no watching the story arc, no worrying over where the characters were taking me.

It flowed. No writer’s block drove me to pull my hair out, no beating my head against the wall. I wrote without fear and my voice was strong. My characters were interesting and funny. They said and did the most fascinating things, took me to the most engaging places.

I am now in a place where I trust my voice. Writing and editing must work together, but they should not live together. I had been using my writer’s tools as a crutch. I learned to walk again, and now I am running through the worlds I bring to life by using my voice.


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