Thursday, August 19, 2010

To Thine Own Voice Be True

Blogging at New Kids on the Writer’s Block today as Kaelee Morgan: To Thine Own Voice Be True -

I like post-it notes. Whenever I come across a phrase or a quote that I find enlightening or inspirational, I write it down on those tiny colored pads and stick them on my desk. On my bulletin board. On the bathroom mirror. On the refrigerator door, etc. into ad infinitum.

One of my favorite quotes is by Ingrid Bergman, "Be yourself. The world worships the original."

Les Edgerton tackles this sentiment in chapter four of his book, Finding Your Voice: How to put personality in your writing. He states that many writers follow the pack to the detriment of their writing instincts because they've been educationally programmed to do things the proper way. This leads to formal, text-book style writing. It may be technically correct, but doesn't showcase voice. When one reads it aloud, it doesn't feel natural.

If something doesn't feel right in your writing, trust that feeling. Your gut is saying, "Hello! Did you develop a sudden case of writer's laryngitis? Cuz I can't hear your voice no more."

Les suggests reading your work out loud to friends and family and ask them to comment when the "hear" your voice. Once those sections are identified, read them aloud again until you become accustomed to the sound and the rhythm of the words. This will put you in tune with yourself.

He also suggests selecting a writing sample from your WIP and marking out all the adverbs and adjectives. "Adverbs and adjectives are the hockers of your voice." I love that sentence so much I have to type it again. "Adverbs and adjectives are the hockers of your voice." (Yep, that's definitely going on a post-it note for my netbook.)

Once these phlegm balls are cleared from your writing, the true essence of what you wrote will shine through. The pace will be faster and the writing more alive. It's okay to go back and sprinkle a few adjectives into the prose, but sparingly and use stronger adjectives when possible. And ex-nay on the adverbs. "They bring bad karma and are rarely aligned with the planets." --Oh yeah, that's going on a post-it note, too.

The important thing to remember is to be the same person on the page that you are off the page. Don't use words that you wouldn't use naturally when talking to people. Don't adopt a writing style that doesn't mesh with your personality. Learn the rules so you will know when, where, and how to break them. Trust your gut. And above all, to thine own voice be true.

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Dawn Marie Hamilton said...

Reading your work aloud is a great way to hear when your voice took a detour.

Rebecca Lynn said...

The whole taking out the adjectives and adverbs thing is a rule, too. And I know that for most writers, it definitely helps to clear out their voice.

I also think that that rule can be taken to an extreme.

I have a lot of critique partners whose work I read, and I also coach writers, and I've found that when they do hold back on the adv/adj, it does clear up their voice. But I also have at least one (and I think, two) who have *so* listened to these rules (like no passive voice, no adj/adv, strong verbs only) that they have no voice left. They sound exactly like everyone else. And I want to say to them, just write. Just write. Let your voice come out. Don't think about it, don't censor yourself, don't hold back. Just write. Edit later, worry later, but today, just write what's in your heart to write.

I'm writing a post on Sunday about TS Eliot and Ezra Pound and why it's important to have a good editor. So I will continue this discussion.

I do love a good discussion! :-)

Excellent post!

Renee said...

I write in different historical genres and one thing I noticed, even though the language changes due to the era, my voice stays pretty much the same.

I've heard it take close to 100,000 words before you start to hone your voice.
August 19, 2010 1:52 PM

Lynn said...

I started a novella today. And even though it's definately a first draft, reading through the pages afterwards, I can definately tell it's my voice. Long story short kind of thing.

I'll have to try out your hints.
August 19, 2010 4:23 PM

Les Edgerton said...

Kaelee, I just wanted to thank you for giving a shout-out for my book, Finding Your Voice. I really appreciate it and am delighted it's helping you in your own writing.

If you get a chance, stop over and visit my blog at

I'm including your blog on my bloglist.

Blue skies,
August 19, 2010 5:31 P

Camryn Rhys said...

I like that about 100,000 words to find your voice. It's gonna take me awhile longer to find mine, I think. I have still only completed two shorts. (novellas?) So I haven't quite written that much yet.

Unless you count blogging too! Ha!

Then I've written a hundred thou at least.
August 19, 2010 7:22 PM

Bonnie Doran said...

Good advice on voice.

A friend critiqued a couple of chapters and told me she loved my voice. I didn't even know I had one.

The lesson for me is write, and your own voice will come out. Don't try to force it.
August 19, 2010 9:31 PM

Deb Sanders said...

Love this post! My critique group reads our partials aloud. It really DOES make a difference. Sometimes what looks good in written form just doesn't flow aloud. I'm still trying to determine what my voice is, so your blog was very helpful. Thanks for sharing! I'll have to pick up a copy of Les Edgerton's book. Sounds like a good addition to my working library.
August 19, 2010 10:10 PM

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