Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Discovering my voice in a buried treasure

I found this little gem while rummaging through my wife's studio office. This book is called Writing With Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process by Peter Elbow. It's kind of dated, but I'm figuring that like powerful art or design, powerful writing is timeless. My wife — unlike me — went to one of those big-time four-year universities where you actually have to read books, take test and think about stuff everyday. So, every now and then while I'm pilfering through her desk in desperate search of a stamp or a staple, I'll discover a little somethin'-somethin' like this. A year ago, before I had any interest in writing, this book would have not been caught by the radar of my artistic eye.

Lately, when I get a second or two, I've been skimming this book and learning more about voice and free writing. And with no training beyond the advice of successful writing friends, I've discovered that I've been doing a few things right. I've been reading. I've been writing everyday (freewriting, poems, prose poetry, etc.). I read out loud. I've been developing my voice.

I think I've either found my voice or, at least, I'm on the right track. The problem seems to be that my voice comes through strong when I blog -- although I don't use that voice here much anymore. But when I try to apply my voice to the books I've been writing, something isn't working, my voice goes stiff. I've been reading a whole lot of books for children as of late, and stiff monotonous writing appears to be in vogue. I don't want to write like that. I want my writing to possess a certain soul, a rhythm without rhyme, a colloquial language, imperfect, that I picked up as a kid. I want my words to be touched, tasted and smelled. I think multi revisions may be the answer.

Another thing I've learned about myself through reading this book is that I tend to write with my real voice, not a made up fictional personality. The thing is, writing in your real voice, besides the tendency it has towards exhibitionism, which I guess all writing is to a certain extent, is personal. Negative feedback on your person can throw you for a loop, especially for beginning writers. I've found this especially true with my anonymous blog. When writing under a pseudonym (although, not fictional), I care less about people liking me, and more about expressing my true self regardless.

So, I guess, back to the writing board, and practice makes perfect.Wait..I mean revising makes perfect.

Thanks for reading.


Rinda M. Byers said...

Hi, Don, you discovered a goodie!

You know I think it isn't so much that you read as a writer or even how much. All of your life not just reading goes into your writing, all of who you are and what you remember, all of that.

I have found the best help for me is to read only the best, only the top quality writing that endures, and then out of that to pick and choose what I truly like and to then study and analyze why I like it. It's like choosing a master of the art to study only the very best writing.

Being published does not in any way mean that someone can write well, really well. That was a shocker to me to find out as I ventured further into the realm of writing for children, but unfortunately, it is painfully so often true.

Form is important, yes, but that can be learned even from boring books. But you can only learn how to fill format well by studying the best and by striving to be yourself.

If you are feeling stiff and artificial out of your blog arena, Don, you may be showing your work too early to other people. This is not talked about too often, but early on in the creative process, there is a lot of good to be said for protecting your brand new work, your "new baby" and not showing your babies to anyone at all until they can walk on their own for a bit.

The pressure on writers is always to get into a critique group and have the critique group help you create. That's collaboration, not individual writing. Only bring your best finished work ready to send out to a critique group, that's my policy. I protect my new babies fiercely, and I find that I do much better and am more myself and allow myself to muck about and get paint on my face and glue on my fingers and piles of papers junked about everywhere!

Again, an EXCELLENT book, just excellent. There's good stuff to be found in the world of writing for adults that you can borrow for work in writing for children. Goodness, I'm boring on here....I'll get off now...

The Archivist said...

Sounds like an interesting and helpful book - may check it out and see if it might help me.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Yay, Don!

Some other great related titles:

FICTION FIRST AID: INSTANT REMEDIES FOR NOVELS, STORIES, AND SCRIPTS by Raymond Obstfeld (Writers Digest, 2002). Excellent resource for revision; highly recommended to novelists at all stages. Great for both global rewrites and spot fixing.

MAKE YOUR WORDS WORK by Gary Provost (publication information?). Worth re-reading now and then, if only to keep fresh what we often think we know until we start writing.

SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS: HOW TO EDIT YOURSELF INTO PRINT by Renni Browne and Dave King with illustrations by George Booth (Harper, 1994). Engaging text and helpful exercises.