I was asked in an interview to offer what I thought was the best advice for a beginning writer. There are so many answers to that question. We’ve heard them all from, “head down and just write,” “never give up,” and “learn the craft.” But those seem too easy to me, because the act of writing stories, while helpful in making small advances in craft, also perpetuates the errors we don’t know we’re committing.
My answer was “find your voice, stick to it, never let anyone change it.” But that too is a pat answer. How do you find your voice? Someone had commented after reading one of my books that she’d laughed out loud over one of my Robenaisms. I loved that, because it meant my work was recognized as my work. Wonderful.
So how do we accomplish that? I thought back over my own career and struggles, and it came to me that I never discovered my voice until I’d hit manuscript four. (None of those have been published.) So, write. Not novels. Instead, I’m thinking to write in a journal with a pen or a pencil, don’t journal online, would be most effective. There is something about the flow of story using a pen. Write short stories taken from your own life, from actual events, and then embellish them. Use your own words. This is important because you can’t find your true voice if you use other’s words. While you might admire how someone else writes, that is authentic to them and their life experience, not yours.
Be authentic. Your voice will show through.
When you feel the flow and cadence of your words, write longer stories. If you can find a support group share your stories by reading out loud. That act of sharing, listening to others stories, opens you to new ideas, new ways of storytelling. Shyness about reading your work and finding such a group can be difficult. Maybe instead, try a book club. The act of a group of friends reading the same novel and then comparing notes also aids in learning what elements of story work best. You’ll learn how to be an effective reader, how to analyze and critique, as well as how to shape your voice for your own stories. Write reviews for novels and post them publicly. This will help you to understand what works in storytelling, and what does not.
Now, returning to the subject at the end of paragraph one, don’t worry yet about the errors you might be committing. They can be solved. All writers make mistakes in the beginning. All writers need good editors, no matter where they are in their writing journey. Join writer’s groups. Find a critique partner, take online classes, and go to conferences, because now is the time to learn your craft and learn it well. Learn from the best.
I’d love your comments on voice. Have you found yours? Are you still struggling?