Five Ways to Find Your Writer’s Voice

writer's voice

writer's voiceIn late November, I attended a workshop where the question of finding your writer’s voice was broached. The presenter, an author of many novels, had a difficult time describing how to discover your writer’s voice. I was intrigued and needed more information. On the drive home my friend and fellow writer commented she believed the way you find your writer’s voice was through constant practice. I agreed with this idea, but I needed more information. For those of you who have read my post in the past you know my feelings about just writing as a method of discovering how to write. As I have a desire for outlines I needed to research the concept of the writer’s voice to see if there were techniques to help me recognize my own. In the book Writer Mama by Christina Katz, I found these techniques:

1.Don’t censor yourself on your first draft. Write like no one is reading. Write to purge out what ever it is you are feeling. Write in bursts of energy. DO spontaneous free flow writing,

2. If you find a writer whose voice you appreciate, keep her work on hand for when you need inspiration. For me this writer is Jane Austen. Not only do I love her voice but when I imagine how difficult it was for her to get published I know I have to keep trying

3. If you enjoy what you write and if you like your story it will come through in your work. One of the first presenters I saw at a WCYR meeting, whose name I’ve forgotten, echoed theses same sentiments in a way that spoke directly to me. She said, “If you love vampires then write about vampires because readers who love vampires will feel your love coming off the page

4.Write for someone, or a group of someones. Mostly, I write stories for my daughters. I write about  female characters I want them to internalize.

5. Read your story out loud. Listen for your voice. I do this for everything I write but I hadn’t listened for my voice. I did it to edit. (I wonder what I’ll hear when I read this blog later!?!)

For me the best advice was Katz’s definition of a writer’s voice. Your Voice is how you are different from any other writer out there. Your Voice is what brings life to your piece. The way I interpreted this definition was to allow your personality to come through in your writing.

What we call voice might be better described as personality.

Understanding the aspects of your personality you want to portray in your writing could help you find your voice.

Not every piece of advice will work for every writer but if one of these helped you please let me know. Or, if you have some advice on the writer’s voice I would LOVE to hear about it.  

Happy writing, From a sarcastic, self-depreciating plotter who loves a good thrill.  

Remain a Motivated Writer

motivation

motivationI’m starting 2017 hoping to accomplish what I didn’t in 2016, namely the completion of another novel. However, I’m fighting the dispiritedness related to constantly striving for something that might never happen, namely getting a novel published.

After doing some introspection I came to the conclusion claiming to not have time to write is a crutch I can no longer use. I don’t write because I don’t want to be rejected. I don’t write because I keep hearing how hard it is to get published. I don’t write because I believe I’m not good enough.

But, I want to write. I want to create stories and bring the characters I love to life, hopefully so a reader can fall in love with them too.

At this stage in my writing career I’m tired of the push and pull between my rampant imagination and my fragile ego. I began reading about motivation and found a couple of helpful articles. The first one is written by world class athlete and Guinness world record holder Christopher Bergland entitled One Motivational Technique Really Works (And It’s Easy!).
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201607/one-motivational-technique-really-works-and-its-easy

(The second article will be discussed in a future blog.)

Bergland discusses the paper  Brief Online Training Enhances Competitive Performance: Findings of the BBC Lab UK Psychological Skills Intervention Study (link is external),” which was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology in June, 2016. The study had 44,000 participants which speaks to its validity and reliability.

The question the researchers posed was “What psychological skill is associated with the greatest improvements to performance?”.  They discovered positive self-talk and visualizing were the best ways to stay motivated.

The simplicity of the results are staggering as is how easy they are to do.

Here are the adjusted results for writers:
Tell yourself you can write more and you will.
Tell yourself you can write better and you will.
Tell yourself you enjoy writing and you will.
Imagine yourself writing more and you will.
Imagine yourself writing better and you will
Imagine yourself enjoying writing and you will.

For me enjoyment is key. If I enjoy writing I will want to write more.

There is a second result of this study.  If-then planning is not as effective as positive self-talk and visualizing. For example, saying to yourself, “If this publisher/agent doesn’t want my book, then I’ll send my book to another one.” creates a strategy for failure and doesn’t inspire or motivate you to keep writing. It’s better not to plan for failure but when it happens immediately tell yourself, “Someone will want this book.”

In conclusion the article talks about pragmatic optimism and defines this as equal part hubris and humility. Self-talk shouldn’t be, “This book is the best book ever written” and an objective critique should never be ignored.

So welcome 2017! I optimistically see a completed novel before your conclusion.

Happy writing,
Jenn

Aspire to Inspire

Raising a Writer

joss-runningPeople say my daughter, Jocelyn, looks like me.  This assessment I take as a compliment. However, Joss also has mannerisms and vocal inflictions similar to mine which is flattering and frightening. I’m not shocked by this behaviour. I assumed I would be her primary role model, but I’m overwhelmed by the totality of it.

My good and not so good behaviour is being re-enacted on a regular basis. When Joss is angry at her little sister Megan she disciplines her the same way I discipline them. I’m usually in the kitchen listening to them argue and thinking, I don’t really sound that bitchy do I?  

Then I self-reflect and try to be the mother they need and deserve.

Luckily, Joss has adapted two of my favourable habits.

The first is running. I took up running when I was 36. Joss watched me return sweaty and panting, proud of the distance or time of my run. Eventually Joss joined the cross country team. The picture above is her at a meet. She came in dead last because she felt it was nice to let other girls win.

The running didn’t last but the second habit, writing, has remained a steady constant in Joss’ life.

She and her sister write stories and illustrate them. They often become over-involved with cover pages and titles to finish stories, but what writer can’t relate to that!
Most nights I find her bent over a journal. I kiss the top of her head and tell her, “Not too much longer tonight.”

“I’m nearly done Mommy, I just need to finish this,” is her response.

Jocelyn proudly tells everyone her mother is a writer, a title I’m still adjusting too. However, I have absorbed her enthusiasm. I’ve stopped correcting her and embraced the idea that she is right. She can inspire me as well, you know!

My baby girl is watching me but when I look at her I see a brilliant bud about to burst forth. Her idealism about life renews mine. She has much to offer and this world needs more people full of hopes and dreams.

There is a constant push in schools for parents to read with their children, which I agree with, but I would humbly add we need to raise writers too.

We need more stories that inspire and motivate and other times we just need to escape a complex and confusing reality.

Happy Writing,

Jenn

Self-Awareness and Writing Part One: Confronting Your Flaws

Self- awareness and Writing

Hello everyone,

Recently, I’ve read various books and blog posts in the hope of expanding my writing skills. As a self-confessed plotter the reading material I chose was focused on understanding the various parts of a story and how they interact with each other.birds-1506994_640

What I wasn’t expecting to learn about was how much a story can revolve around the writer’s own journey.

In The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson the author suggested I give my protagonist a character flaw I have. Alderson claimed it would make my protagonist more human. She further suggested I use the journey of my protagonist to be influenced by my own experiences and perceptions.

As a retired art psychotherapist I was intrigued. I had used the story of the art pieces my clients created to help them cope with tragedy and loss. I had witnessed how successful a therapy method narrating an art piece could be. Recently I’ve used art directives to help the writers who come to Elaine’s and my Writing from the Centre retreats to deepen their creative experience.

A writer using her own flaws to create more memorable characters was an idea I was conflicted about. It’s not easy to be self-aware enough to recognize our flaws let alone to own them. Most people hide behind bravado and rarely project their insecurities publicly. That said, using fiction to generate characters that can work though the flaws of the writer provides a tantalizing reason to keep on writing.

I needed to give this idea a try.

I have a fear of confrontation. I don’t like it at all. I envy and am annoyed by those of us who have no problem expressing unpopular positions that go against the status quo.

So, I gave my main character Jaime a fear of confrontation. I wrote or plotted scenes where she didn’t and did confront people. In my novel Jamie learns through trial and error what works for her. She never learns to enjoy confrontation but she’s more at peace with it and becomes able to express herself in a proactive way.

However, a strange thing happened to me as I was discovering Jaime. I start to feel more comfortable speaking my mind and trusting my judgement. I’m not good at it and I still sweat like crazy when faced with another person’s anger, but I’m recognizing my evolving personality and how writing about it helps me to become a better person.

I’m not saying this will work for everyone but I hope it will give you something to think about.

Perhaps, we all put something of ourselves into the characters we create, consciously or unconsciously, and it’s this part of our characters that the reader connects to.

Happy Writing:)

Understanding Progress

Last week I read a blog about the ways writers can measure their progress. The author, Jami Gold, described how writers often view growth through external factors, such as winning contests and being published. She cautioned us about this approach because there are always going to be contests we lose and stories that are rejected.

http://jamigold.com/2016/05/can-we-track-our-improvements-in-writing-quality/

Her advice was we should instead evaluate our progress internally. She gave the example of re-reading old stories to see if we can find our faults and, most importantly, correct them.3021011076_611a3780f9_m

What I take away from this article is the importance of self-evaluation. Though it is essential for our peers to read and critique our work we need to rely on our own instincts and abilities to help us gain confidence. This is particularly difficult for someone like me who is product-oriented or grade-oriented.

The best advice I’ve found on this problem is to simply to write for fun. Lately I’ve been working through my left-brained writing style with the help of a Freeflow writing group and “The Plot Whisperer” book by Martha Alderson. I was feeling confident that I had turned a corner and I was beginning to write for enjoyment. The freedom to write without evaluation allowed me to see the finished product as the completed novel instead of the published novel.

Then I attended a meeting where an author shared his success story of how his novel came into being. During the meeting he talked honestly about the trials and pitfalls of the publishing world. This information was not new to me but it still felt like a slap in the face. A frustration bubbled in me and I left the meeting annoyed and disenchanted with the writing world.

The next day Elaine and I met and I told her how I felt. (I wish an Elaine into every fledgling writer’s life!) As we talked openly about why we write I realized I was still overly focussed on the product and not the journey. It startled me because I thought I had made progress. However, I have progressed because I was able to re-evaluate my anger and re-commit to my writing.

I have hopes I will one day be published, but as Elaine said, it’s more important to write stories I love and not worry about whether it will sell or not. Plus, she’ll read my stories so that’s one person.

The concept of progress seems to be very fluid for us writers. We experience a great deal of false starts and trips back to the drawing board, but we also get those accolades we strive for.

We’re a group of dreamers which is why I love writers3021011076_611a3780f9_m

The importance of Story: What Baba Knew.

The past weeks have been difficult for my family. Someone dear to us died suddenly and it has left us feeling sideswiped. My husband’s grandma, his Baba, was 89 and living tenaciously in her own home when her impressive life came to an end. She was baking pies at the time. In the words of one of her son-in-law’s, “She died with her boots on.”untitled

It hurts to think I’ll never again feel her vice grip hug or hear her stunted eastern European voice tell me she loves me. Baba made sure you knew she loved you and I’ll miss the unconditional love she extended to me. I was never a granddaughter-in-law. I was her granddaughter and I was important in my own right.

And, I will miss her stories.

I didn’t appreciate her stories when they were plentiful, and believe me they were. Baba never lacked in tales from various stages of her life. From her childhood in the Ukraine to being forced into service in Germany during WWII to scratching out a life for her husband and five children. Now they’re gone and I wished I had written them down. I foolishly assumed there would be a next time.

I often thought about bring a notebook to her home and recording her tales but Baba, for all her voraciousness for an audience, was not a good story teller. It wasn’t easy for me to understand her. Her accent was thick and her stories were blurred bits of many stories combined. My husband who had grown up with her accent would decipher them for me. Plus, he had heard most of the stories on multiple occasions.

During one visit to Baba’s home when my husband and I were dating we were not allowed to leave until we were as full of story as we were full of food. This visit’s story was about a man from her village who started lifting a pony everyday and then eventually lifting a horse. When we finally left I sat in the passenger seat and said naively, “Baba really had a man in her village who could lift a horse?”

My man chuckled and said, “Pony is her world for foal, a baby horse,”

“Still, it’s impressive,” I mused and imagined the muscled torso of the titan.

“It’s not a real man! It’s a parable. If a man lifts a foal everyday from the day its born, he will eventually lift a horse.”

“It wasn’t an actual story!” I stated honestly dumbfounded. “But she was so animated and adamant.” He shrugged because he knew what I had just figured out. Baba loved to tell stories and most stories are a mixture of fact and fiction. Though in Baba’s defence she would have laughed if she knew I took the story literally.

Our stories are important and Baba knew this instinctively. She told stories because she wanted to inform and because she wanted to live and breathe those moments again. She understood the importance of story and had the tenacity to say You need to hear this.

All fledgling writers should take a page out of Baba’s book. We need to keep the stories coming even if we think no one is listening. Baba didn’t care if you wanted to hear her story because she was going to tell.

She will be missed,

Embrace Your Inner Hoarder

Writing is all about inspiration and this month’s blog topic came to me while cleaning my six-year-old daughter’s room. When I lifted her bathrobe off her chair I found a hoard of stuffed animals.

First I groaned. Megan had been told to clean her room. However, for a six-year-old shoving stuffies, as she calls them, under a chair would be tidying. She couldn’t see the mess anymore and therefore neither could her mother.

As I threw stuffies into the cradle to join their brethren, a thought struck me. Well two thoughts. The first was Megan had far too many stuffies and the second was the importance of hoarding story details and ideas. (There was a train of thought to this conclusion but I won’t bore you with all those details.)

One of the many things I’ve been learning about is how to make stories and characters more richer. One “easy” method is to Always Be Collecting Details (ABCD). By details I’m referring to constantly observing little things in the world. For example, how people stand, phrases they use, how they greet other people, and what foods they prefer or dislike. As well, and more importantly, collecting quirks or oddities that make characters memorable.

The other day I attended a funeral where a lady came in wearing an Indiana Jones-style hat. Odd and interesting. Could a character in one of my stories be attached to a similar hat?
I recorded it and didn’t second guess myself. Maybe I’ll use it or maybe not but it’s in my collection. (I have a palm sized journal in my purse to record these details.)

So as I continued to dust and vacuum I thought about story details like a baby cradle handmade by an expectant grandpa now overflowing with stuffies of all sizes.

I use the term hoarding because it includes the concept of having more than you need. An overflowing pile rich with colours and textures, fragrances and emotions. Every random and obscure detail that presents itself to me has value just like Megan’s menagerie of stuffies have value to her.

Even the ones that live in the basement, which is a cool metaphor for unconscious details ;).

Thanks for the inspiration Meggie,

Finding the Freedom to Freewrite

Needing to have a purpose…

I started writing when I was 36 years old. I was a stay-at-home parent with a story bouncing around in my head and writing seemed like an easy hobby. But it wasn’t. I wasn’t a good writer and I needed help. I believed success would come from educating myself about the writing process.

I joined a writing group and attended monthly workshops – and boy did I learn. I was exposed to so many perspectives on writing that I couldn’t keep my head above water.

Writing, it turns out, is many things at the same time and everything came at me all at once. Rudderless in an ocean of thoughts and ideas with a wicked rip-tide my writing floundered. I stopped writing because I was focussed on learning.

Wanting to be the best all the time…

At first, I only wrote for contests or volunteer articles. These were safe toe dips in the water. My novel, my love, was ignored. I daydreamed about the characters but nothing went down on paper. “I’m not ready,” I told myself and others. “I need to learn more before I write my novel.”

And, I was sick of being told to “just keep writing”. That wasn’t helping!

While doing dishes I vented my frustration to my husband by comparing writing to basketball, his sport. “You learn drills,” I whined. “You practice, you’re taught how to dribble and pass and whatever else you do in basketball.”

He nodded dutifully.

“Does your coach say “Just play,” I continued and nailed my point home.

“No,” he said and put dishes into the cupboard.

“No indeed,” I muttered.

I needed to know when waves of insecurity and doubt threatened to drag me back under my knowledge, my rock hard, red life preserver, would help me to resurface and keep my head above water.

Then I found my lighthouse in the form of a library course on outlining. For a linear thinker like me this course felt like a tethered anchor holding me to the shore.

I loved it but it wasn’t a life preserver. It was more like water wings.

I needed more.

I fellow writer recommended the Sarah Selecky’s course to me. I bought the course in September. I visited the site and then I checked my emails. In December I printed off the course. It sat in a manila envelope in a pile of papers. During this time, I also bought a book called How to be a Writer, by Barbara Baig and from time to time I cracked the cover.

Finally getting over myself!

I can’t tell you what propelled me forward but I read the book and I did the course. Both started with freewriting.

Barbara gave me concrete facts about why freewriting strengthens the “creative mind.” Sarah explained that not everything I write would be publishable and neither should it be. Both taught why playing with my writing actually made me a better writer. My shoulders got a good shaking.

Now freewriting feels like floating on waves with my face turned up to the sun.

By the way, I’m an excellent swimmer:)

 

Perception versus Reality

Assuming…

I just turned forty. In my teens and twenties, I had a lot of assumptions about this birthday, most of which were created by my parents’ fortieth birthday parties. On both occasions our house was filled with (cough) well-wishers, who marked the milestone with gag gifts including adult diapers, hemorrhoid creams, denture adhesive and other ointments I’ve blocked from my memory.

In other words, my parents were officially “Over the Hill,” (a sentiment I read on a black balloon).

Although I expected entering this stage of life meant I would begin to fall apart I assumed it would be a time when I had my stuff together. Though I have a great marriage, two amazing kids, and a mortgage, what I lack is a solid career. When I was thirty I was an art-psychotherapist at a hospice and now I’m a stay-at-home mom who does casual administrative work. I rarely introduce myself as a writer because of what I perceive a writer to be.

Re-evaluating…

Re-evaluating my assumptions about turning forty has caused me to re-evaluate my assumptions about being a writer. In my teens and twenties, I never imagined writing as a career choice. I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t clever enough, and I certainly never had someone come to me and say, “Have you ever thought about writing?” My assumptions about writers were created by a belief system of what I thought a writer was: an elite being who sits on a mountain top spinning wild and wonderful tales to inspire and enlighten.

Anyone who knows me is well aware sitting still is not an activity I’m capable of.

Re-integrating!

The reality of forty is not what I expected and neither is the reality of being a writer. I’m not saying my beliefs in either situation are wrong but that they are not the whole picture. These incomplete perceptions caused unrealistic fears and anxieties  to develop in me.

As writers there are a lot of obstacles we imagine that prevent us from writing and (gag) submitting our work. What pushes me on is listening to other writers who have similar anxieties and boldly write in spite of them. They role-model for me what a true writer is—someone who writes!

Therefore, I’m a forty-year-old writer and proud of it.

Thanks for reading,

Jenn (and Elaine)

Making lists and embracing stomach aches

Starting Fresh

I love the New Years idealism of wiping the slate clean but it’s what we write back on the slate that really matters.

Vague resolutions fade easily into the background which was why I resolved not to “get more organized” but instead to make lists. This idea was inspired by my friend and fellow work-from-home mom, Sahar. We were discussing how quickly a thought came into our heads and then dissolved into obscurity only to return at another inopportune time. Sahar told me she dealt with this issue by writing down the thought and returning to it later.

Making Progress

I started to follow her advice and it has helped. The list has morphed into my safety net to catch all the ideas and projects and hold them until I can give them my full attention.

So far so good. I’m finally writing the blog I’ve been planning to write for six months. It was the second item on my first list.

This list-writing resolution has proven easy and efficient, but my second resolution (to submit at least twelve pieces of writing to contests, publications, or blogs) has caused me some sleepless nights.

The second resolution has forced me to write but my stomach still clenches at the thought of the rejection or criticism I might receive. To get over this fear I followed the advice of another friend, Sandra. She encouraged me to write my novel by assuring me that somewhere there was a reader for my book and possibly many (we will see).

Seeing Results

In the end, I resolved to take the good advice of two very good friends.

With our new motto Aspire to Inspire, Elaine and I hope to give writers of all levels the chance to face their fears and put themselves out there.

We’ve put it on the top of our list,