Welcome to my writing blog! Enjoy!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Voice Lessons with Jennifer Willis

Many thanks to Jennifer Willis for this wonderful guest post about the individuality of a writer's voice and its ever-evolving nature!

One of the nice things about writing is the more you do it, generally the better you get at it.

When I wrote my first novel -- "rhythm" -- ten years ago, I was scared out of my wits. Forget about simply trying to get through a first draft and come up with a cohesive story; I was worried about my prose being clever and literary enough. I fretted over "show vs. tell" and how much exposition to include at what points in the book. Mostly, though I wanted the story to leap off the page with confidence and inspiration. Many readers today still give positive feedback on my first published fiction effort but when I read back over it, all I see is the fear and uncertainty I felt.

I was born to be a writer, as much as anyone else ever has been, but I still wasn't sure that I had a right to write. Why did my book deserve to be read over someone else's? What if I was discovered to be the fraud and poser that I feared I secretly was?

Every writer anguishes over this kind of crap. Not just new writers, but even established and celebrated authors at the height of their craft. I don't want to revel in this angst as some kind of inherent rite of passage -- because it isn't fun and I'd rather spend my time writing or reading or even belly dancing than worrying about whether I'm good enough -- but it is something that seems to plague us all at one time or another.

When I look over my latest novel -- "Valhalla," released in April 2011 -- it's hard for me to imagine that this work came from the same author. My writing style is less literary and more punchy. There's more humor and even a bit of snark. Part of this came about because I'm somewhat less anxious over whether or not I deserve to be a writer. Mostly, though, this evolved simply over the course of writing more -- not just fiction or journalism, but lots of personal email and letters to family and friends. It was when I looked into my personal correspondence and journal entries that I saw my true "writer's personality" emerging. Instead of trying to impress some faceless, nameless reader to whom I had no real connection, I imagined that I was writing my stories for my best friends to read and enjoy.

If you've read Stephen King's insightful "On Writing," you'll recognize this in his advice to write only for your "ideal reader." That's pretty much how I learned to be less rigid and fearful in my own fiction. I found myself including details that I knew would make my sister smile, or slipping in a few asides that would be sure to make my friends laugh.

A writer's voice develops over time. If you look back at your favorite writer's early works, you'll often see the seeds of his/her later personality being planted, but it's often not until much later that the full-bodied voice and tone take command and become one with the story. For me, this means that even though I'm more comfortable with my own distinctive writing voice today, I know that I will continue to grow into myself as time goes on. The only real requirement is that I keep on writing.

Guest Poster Bio: Jennifer Willis is an author and freelance journalist in Portland, Oregon. Her articles and essays have appeared in The Oregonian, Salon.com, The Christian Science Monitor, The Writer and other electronic and print publications, and her novels -- "rhythm" and "Valhalla" -- are currently available both as ebooks and in print. She can be found online at jennifer-willis.com

1 comment:

  1. Great advice, Jennifer--and a good reminder to picture a specific reader in our minds when we write-whether real or imaginary.