A while ago I received some sage advice.
Sitting in the break room at lunch, my mind mulled over revisions I’d done on my manuscript the night before. The events I’d written flowed, the descriptions doing their job, but somewhere in the maze of who and what and how, I wondered if the way I conveyed it made sense. An author’s job is to entertain the reader, so the questions bubbled: Did I tell the tale clearly? Am I a good narrator?
Does the way I narrate have style?
The strongest authors have a tone so individual that it compromises their ability to submit work anonymously. Authors—great authors—create a rhythm, a beat; a pattern of writing that is so distinctively theirs, that the book cover could be blank and you’d still know who wrote it. They have a voice.
Submerged in thought, I hardly noticed when my co-worker joined me at the table. Noting the silence, he spoke. “You seem distracted, what’s up?”
“I’m worried that I don’t have a voice,” I said, throwing out my concerns.
“In my writing. It’s—” I tried to find the right words to describe it. “It’s the personal climate a writer uses when they impart a story. The way a storyteller crafts narrative. They speak in a certain mode, use certain words… When you read a book by your favorite author, then a different book of the same genre—the differences in tone are the writer’s voice.”
My co-worker nodded, understanding. “And you think that you don’t have one?”
“I don’t know.” I paused, confused. “It’s hard to tell when you’re reading your own work.”
His face went serious. “Well, I don’t know much about the writing process, but I’m assuming you’ve written more than one story?”
I paused again, thinking. I have a slew of drafts, several short stories, plus the two full-length novels before my current manuscript. I bobbed my head. “A few."
“Have you read them recently?”
Uh. I had to think about it. It’d been a while. “Over a year ago.”
“Pull one your earlier stories out and re-read it. He dipped his head in encouragement. “It may be hard to find in your initial stuff, but compare to your most recent work. I bet if you have a voice, you’ll see it in the comparison.”
The idea was so simple, it was brilliant. From the mouths of co-workers.
I went home later that night and pulled up my first novel on my computer. The draft represented a lot. The onset of giving this author gig a shot, and something miraculous happened.
I started reading and couldn’t stop.
The first page rolled into five, thirteen, twenty.
Following the heroine, I could see something there, this tempo, a little stattaco in certain places, but a fledgling cadence starting to emerge.
I got lost in my own story.
This experience resulted in a self-present. I had that story, my first brain-baby, printed and book-bound so that I may hold it. It cost a bit of money, but I look on it as my beginning, something I want to preserve.
I read it again when it arrived in the mail, this time flipping the pages over, one by one. Savoring it.
There’s a special joy that comes from writing, and it’s amazing how much a bunch of words on paper can represent.
It’s not every day that you discover your voice.
- SNG ;0)