More on Finding Your Writing Voice

What is a writer’s “voice”? That is a question we all ask when we begin writing and maybe even after we’ve written for awhile.

In the words of Grammar Girl, Mignon Fogerty: “Voice is the distinct personality, style, or point of view of a piece of writing or any other creative work. Voice is what Simon Cowell is talking about when he tells “American Idol” contestants to make a song their own and not just do a note-for-note karaoke version. Many musicians have played “The Star-Spangled Banner,” for instance, but there’s a world of difference between the Boston Pops’ performance and Jimi Hendrix’s, even though the basic melody is the same.”

I want to also share a great interview with Les Edgerton on Kristen Lamb’s blog. Edgerton has a book out on the writer’s voice, FINDING YOUR VOICE: How to Put Personality in Your Writing.

He says there are at least three ways to tell if you have written in your true voice.

  1. Are the Word Choices, Sentence Usages, and Phrases Employed Yours?
  2. Sentence Structure: Do you talk and think in fragmented sentences? Then you should use these in your writing.
  3. Clarity: The trick to writing well? Write simply; write clearly. Eschew flowery language.

To read the full article, go to Kristen Lamb’s Blog.

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‘Testamentalism’ or Finding Your Voice

My guest this week is Ken Rolph, who lives in Blacktown, Australia and is the author of Dog Tales.

He studied and worked at Macquarie University in science and later did computer work with large Australian companies. All along the way he wrote whenever he was able, for whatever outlets presented themselves. Then, having reached that fabulous place of wonder and delight, the Year 2000, he stopped and looked around. The kids were grown up, the major expenses paid.

He became an ex rat and retired from the race, setting out on a quest to see if he could write something worthwhile. His program of personal review and renovation has resulted in a collection of short writings, published as Dog Tales. If you ask him the serious question (what do you do?) he is likely to answer, “I contemplate the essence of things.”

by Ken Rolph

When I was but a lad and deciding to become a writer, I looked forward to the time when I would have mastered it all. The words would flow easily and without problems. I would find my authentic voice, my unique contribution. I would master both the craft and theart. Some time, when I got older.

Now I’m here and it doesn’t seem to work that way. Every piece of writing starts with that blank empty page. Sure, some things do get conquered. But new things crop up. There are problems that occur towards the end of a career as well as at the beginning. I’ve begun to appreciate that there are temptations and trials for the older writer.

The obvious one might be review and regret. We look back on our writing life and think about all the things we did and didn’t write. Missed opportunities. Laziness and slackness. Insufficient volume of production. I recognise this, but I’m not suffering from it. All this year I’ve had a severe case of Not Quite Dead yet and am not willing to close the book on myself. But when you get to the point in your life where you no longer measure how far you’ve come, but how far you have to go, what you do takes on a more urgent significance. That’s the trap I think is waiting for me. I’m going to call it Testamentalism. It’s the urge to deliver final, meaningful, significant statements about the Meaning of Life for the Edification of Future Generations. Now, sure, we do a bit of that all the time.

But I’ve been looking at the careers of several artists and can see a pattern. The earlier works are exploratory, light, episodic, lively. The later works become ponderous with Grand Statements. Characters disappear into Types and Archetypes.

I’ve been thinking about this for some time. A while back I bought a copy of the Eagles’ Long Road Out of Eden. It’s impressive. I enjoyed it. I appreciated it. The very last song is titled “It’s Your World Now.” It’s about passing over the world into the hands of a new generation. Which is what we have to do. The real thing about the Eagles’ album is that it is an Eagles’ album. It’s not really testamental. Part of the temptation is to do something different to what you have done in the past. As if what you did before was not what you really wanted to say. There can be a sudden lack of continuity in the art. A kind of desperation and resorting to the past and to “meaningful” art forms. It’s a bit hard to convey what I have in mind in regards to writers. You have to know their whole body of work. It might make more sense if I offer a few musical examples.

There are two CDs I’ve bought lately. Oddly, they are connected with a single song: Ain’t No Grave. The first is Tom Jones Praise and Blame. If you get a chance to listen to it you should understand what I mean by Testamentalism. I find the album quite hard to listen to. For me it doesn’t quite ring true. The other CD is Johnny Cash American VI: Ain’t No Grave. This is also an album made with finality in view. But it works because it is not a radical departure from Cash’s earlier work. It’s more of a fulfillment, a summing up, a full flowering. It brings not high art but profound art. The very last song is titled “Aloha Oe.” It’s Hawaiian in tone, but part of it is an instrumental riff. I found myself unexpectedly singing along to this as I recognised an old hymn, which goes “Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee, how great Thou art, how great Thou art”. I’m sure that’s what it is, I’m sure it’s meant to be there.

So what am I going to do (aside from playing current music from the dead and dying artists of my youth)? My writing so far is mostly short, comic, light, domestic. I believe I need to go longer and more serious. But I don’t want to lose the tone that has come to be my own voice. Can I do this? Will being aware of the temptations to become ponderous and stuffy enable me to avoid this? I think that’s what I’ll have to try.

Dog tales aren’t just about dogs. Dog tales don’t pretend to be anything more than what they are: short tales about the everyday stuff of life. Whatever is happening in your life you can turn it into a dog tale. In this collection, there are tales about husbands & wives, pantries, tools, rats, pelicans, takeaways and compost, as well as an assortment of dogs. Dog Tales is an affectionate and humorous snapshot of life. http://www.buyaustralianbooks.com.au/book/kenrolph/dogtales/

Published in: on April 21, 2012 at 9:18 pm  Comments (3)  
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St. Louis Arch: Gateway to the West

St.Louis this weekend had nothing on Seattle as far as rain goes! It has poured rain in buckets most of the time I was there. But I managed to visit the famous St. Louis Arch.

The Arch is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, commemorating the Lewis and Clark expedition. It was completed in October 1965, and at 630 feet, it is the tallest man-made monument in the United States. Visitors can ride a “pod”-like tram (five seats, very cozy!) to the top and view the city on one side and the Mississippi River on the other. The tram takes one million visitors to the top annually.

In 1947 a competition challenged architects to design a memorial that would symbolize the dramatic story of westward expansion. Eero Saarinen‘s entry was the winner. It wasn’t built until the early 1960s and took two years. Workers struggled against high winds, biting cold and searing hear, along with dizzying heights and uneven surfaces. Saarinen died while undergoing an operation for a brain tumor at the age of 51 in 1961, before the Arch was finished. His other work includes the TWA terminal at JFK Airport, NYC, and Dulles airportWashington, D.C., and the General Motors Technical Center in Michigan.

Rockin’ out to Ted Nugent

I’ve been in St. Louis, MO this weekend, where my husband’s organization USPSA had a booth at the NRA Show. Many, many great people! Today I attended a concert by Ted Nugent, the “Motor City Madman.” Born and raised in Detroit, he formed the Amboy Dukes in 1965, and as a solo act has had a run of successful albums, including Free-For-All, Cat Scratch Fever and Double Live Gonzo! He is an avid proponent of hunting rights and the second amendment.

Getting Ted Nugent's autograph

Although I’ve never been a huge hard rock fan, I enjoyed the music today, and I even stood in line to get Ted Nugent’s autograph! It was a fun day in St. Louis.

Published in: on April 16, 2012 at 3:34 am  Leave a Comment  
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He Is Risen!

 

A Happy and Blessed Easter to All!

Published in: on April 7, 2012 at 11:06 pm  Comments (3)  
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Author Spotlight: Meet Judith Marshall

Judith Marshall and I have exchanged blog posts and I’m happy to welcome her today. Here are some insights she shares with us about her writing journey.

Where are you from?  I’m a third generation native Californian, born in St. Helena and raised in the Bay area, about 30 miles east of San Francisco

Tell us your latest news.  I’m thrilled to say that my award-winning novel, Husbands May Come and Go but Friends are Forever, has been optioned for the big screen and is being adapted into a screenplay at present.  Here’s a brief synopsis:

The story takes place in Northern California, in the spring of 2000, when the dot-com boom was at its peak. Elizabeth Reilly-Hayden is a successful executive in her late fifties and a divorced mother of two. Emotionally armored and living alone, she wants only to maintain the status quo: her long-term significant other, her job, and her trusted friends—five feisty women whose high school friendship has carried them through multiple marriages, dramatic divorces, and maddening menopause. Yet in a matter of days, the three anchors that have kept her moored are ripped away. The group of lifelong pals gathers at Lake Tahoe to attend to the funeral arrangements of their beloved friend and tries to unravel the mystery of her death. Through their shared tragedy, Elizabeth learns how disappointment and grief can bloom into healing and hope.

When and why did you begin writing?  I didn’t start writing until I left my career as a human resources executive in Corporate America in 1997.  I never planned on being a writer, but when I read The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood I realized that I, too, had a story to tell about a group of women who had been friends since their school days.

Do you have a specific writing style?  I write film-ready stories with lots of dialogue

How did you come up with the title?  The title was an actual toast made by one of my girlfriends after a rather dramatic divorce.  Many agents and editors though it was too long, but I have an emotional attachment to it and wouldn’t budge.  Since publication, many readers have told me how much they identify with the title.  Plus, when someone asks me what the book is about, I simply have to tell them the title.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?  One of the messages is that it’s okay to ask for help when you need it.  We women often try to be strong and     weather all our storms ourselves.

What book are you reading now?  How We Love Now by Suzanne Levine.  It’s a non-fiction book about the chances that happen in your second adulthood.  Very interesting.

Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.  I received tremendous support from my critique group, Women Who Write.  We were together for five years and my novel went through two complete revisions with their help.  The book couldn’t have been published without them.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?  I enjoy Richard Russo.  I love his self-deprecating humor and his real-life flawed characters.

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?  What I’ve learned is that writing the book is only part of the process.  Authors must be willing to market their books as well.  Whether you are traditionally published or you do-it-yourself, to be successful you must be willing to spend as much time promoting your book as you did writing it.

For more information about Judith, go to www.judithmarshall.net

Thank you, Judith. This book should be on all our summer reading lists!

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