Revise Every Day: Losing Your Voice

dream plan write

If you’ll notice, the image above is missing this particular step of writing. The motto is meant to remind myself and others that writing every day isn’t necessarily limited to the actual writing. Apart from full-time writers, most of us don’t have the time to write as much as we’d like. And when we do find time, there will most likely be some need for time spent doing the other stages apart from the actual writing–dreaming and fleshing out new ideas, pre-writing (if you’re into that kind of thing), and, afterward, revising. I’ve come to understand that any time I do any kind of writing work in a day, I’ve made some progress, and that’s good. Thus, the motto that I’ve since drawn out into a series of posts.

As I mentioned before, though, the revision stage is missing from my motto. There’s one reason for it: I hate revising. (Technically there’s a second reason, being that the motto wouldn’t have sounded as good with it included.) I take a lot of joy in the actual writing, but when it’s time to revise, I drag my feet. I avoid, procrastinate, even give up.

When I do get around to revising, I’m really just no good at it. I’m so attached to my original words, I give a pass to areas that I know should be changed. Mostly, though, I simply don’t notice the problem areas. I don’t feel I have a lot to offer anyone else in the area of revision that can’t be found many other places.

Thus, posts about revision in this series will probably not come up as often as the other stages. The topic of this post, however, stemmed partly from my revision work with my sisters during our Skype meetings, and partly from my attempt to help one of those sisters with her own writing. So now, onto the actual post.

I’ve done a lot of research on voice lately, even before I’d decided to write this blog post. I didn’t fully understand what it was, at first, or how one goes about defining it. And I don’t just mean the literal definition of the term “writer’s voice.” I thought one could describe the voice the same way a sommelier would discuss wine: “This writer’s voice is oaky and complex, with a harsh finish.” (Okay, I know nothing about wine, so I made all that up.) I no longer think a writer’s voice can be defined that way. At best, you could probably compare an author’s voice with another’s, such as, “His writing reminds me of Michael Crichton.” I would be interested to find out if I’m wrong, and that there are professionals out there who have terms they use to define various authors’ voices.

Every writer has a voice, whether they’ve written one short story or 200 novels. It’s not something you have to go looking for, it simply is. It’s there, in the way you write. For some, it may be the same as the way they speak, but I know I speak a little differently than I write. I think it’s just because I put a little more thought into my written words, even when my fingers are flying to get a scene out, than I normally put into my spoken words.

From my research lately, I’ve come across people who are adamant that you do not have to find, or even develop, your voice. I agree with that, though I do think that one’s voice can change over time. Various elements add to or change a voice, like growing up and maturing, moving to an area with a different way of speaking (ex. moving from New York to Arkansas), or just spending time with someone whose own way of speaking influences yours. Then there are people who purposely work to develop a voice different from their own, whether because they think it’ll better appeal to the audience they writing for, or because the main character or first-person narrator would have a different voice, or whatever other reason. However, when writing naturally, your voice should come out on its own.

While you shouldn’t have to find your voice, it is possible to lose your voice. However, this won’t happen during the writing (unless, as mentioned previously, you intend it to). What I’m referring to happens during the revision process, if you’re not careful. I didn’t think about it until my sisters and I had already been working on my first novel for months. One of my sisters made a suggestion about how to reword a sentence that wasn’t incorrect. I took my time considering the suggestion, because I had no problem with the way it was. I remember her words then: “Or would changing that change your ‘voice’ or something?”

I hadn’t really considered it before. I did have a voice. And so did she. And her voice would find its way into her revision suggestions.

In the time since then, that same sister has told me that she now skips over some notes she’d made in her hard copy of my story, because she realizes those notes are just her changing my voice into hers. It’s been interesting to view my revision in this new light. I’d wondered before how writers choose between two ways of wording things that both seemed right. Consider the following example:

Governments around the world tried to grasp the meaning of these events. Some of the people exhibiting this new Power were studied. They were examined next to a group of other people who had none of these abilities. That’s when the real shock came. The people in this second group began to show signs of the new Power. That’s when they realized this Power had spread throughout the entire world.

Governments around the world attempted to make sense of these events. They studied the people in whom the new Power had manifested, alongside a control group of others who had none of these abilities. When those in the second group began to show signs of the new Power too, they realized it was far bigger than anyone had thought. It had spread all over the world.

You may be able to pick out one of these paragraphs that you prefer over the other, but can you really say one is better, or more specifically, more correct, than the other? When you ask someone else to read your work and make notes, they may (hopefully unintentionally) try to replace your voice with their own. When deciding whether or not to make changes based on each suggestion given by another, you first have to ask if the change would be taking the words out of your voice.

Even when I agree that my original words should be changed, either because they’re grammatically incorrect or because they are clunky, I still often take the suggested change and think about how I would word it. To me, it seems important to maintain the integrity of the author’s voice in their work. If your story is often shifting in voice, it might be disorienting to the reader; they might have a hard time following it or at least be jolted out of the world they’ve been creating in their mind while reading.

Revise for yourself:  There is no direct suggestion I can make for you to try this out for yourself, unless you happen to be in the same stage of writing as I am–revising a story for which you have asked someone else to help. If by any chance you’re doing exactly that, keep your eye out for rewordings that will take the story out of your voice. If it doesn’t sound like something you’d say or write, you should leave the original or find another way to fix the original.

Something anyone could try, though, is seeing how your own voice is different from others. Do this exercise with me:
Write a scene about someone making a peanut butter sandwich. Start with this sentence: “She finally grew hungry enough to set the book down and make herself some lunch.” To keep the paragraphs as close together as possible, include only these activities in your paragraph (however you want to combine or separate the activities is up to you):

  • Walks out to the kitchen
  • Gets bread
  • Gets peanut butter
  • Gets a knife
  • Spreads peanut butter
  • Puts bread together
  • Cleans up

Then make sure to share your paragraph with me. Mine is pasted below, but don’t read it until you’ve written your own.

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Daily Challenge Check-in: June 23, 2015

Words/Time: 1168 words revising “Pithea” with two of my sisters over Skype. Also known as the 44th meeting of the Tri-County Sisterhood of the Traveling Book. We got through just under 4 pages of double-spaced text. First we had to discuss a possible solution I’d come up with to fix the big issue at the end of last week’s meeting. Now that the idea has been discussed, I’ll write the new scene out for next week. Then we ended the meeting on a questionable section that we can’t fully decide on until we get further in the story to see it attempt to come to fruition, so that part’s hanging now too. There are parts like that here and there, and they make me sad.

Daily Challenge Check-in: June 22, 2015

Words/Time: 2 hours revising. I have had a growing headache all evening, but I decided to make sure to at least get 20 minutes in. I spent that time getting more major edits from my hard copy into the computer, and then into the shared file we use for the TCSTB. Then I went on to revising a chapter of a Sims story/fanfiction my sister wrote and asked me to beta-read before she was ready to post it. And I just kept going, not realizing how long it had been. It’s soooo much easier to edit someone else’s work than my own.

Daily Challenge Check-in: June 21, 2015

Words/Time: An hour and a half doing all sorts of various tasks. Part of it was going through a chapter of a Sims story/fanfiction my sister wrote and asked me to beta-read before she was ready to post it. I wasn’t sure if I should count it, but working on revision for someone else’s writing is still writing work, right? It’s nice to get a break from my own story(ies) for a while, and could even give me insight into my own writing. In fact, it already has some, because the rest of the time was spent researching character voice, writer voice, filter words, and other things that have come up as I’ve tried to help her with what she feels are problem areas in her own writing.

For anyone who’s paying attention to my daily check-in posts, I’ve been slacking off a lot lately. Originally, that was due to a planned short hiatus as my church had its annual week-long VBS program, which I was a helper for. I knew I’d be exhausted all week, and I was. Though I did actually get some work done early in the week. Then as I was trying to work back into normal days again, my 5-year-old came down sick. We still don’t know what she has, but she had high fevers for days (even up to 106° a couple of times). All day and even a lot of the night, all she wanted to do was be near me, which led to another week of not only having no time, but no energy to work on writing. Even now, her fever’s mostly gone, but she’s starting to have coughing fits that leave her distraught. I say all of this not because I think anyone is going to require a “absence note,” but because in the past, I have taken days, weeks, even months off of what I try to make daily work. This time, though, it’s not just me being lazy, it was life legitimately getting in the way. Today, as I think ahead to my next “Write Every Day” post, and as I help my sister as she tries to be a better writer, it’s fortunately bringing me back to my own writing work. That’s good, because after a few weeks off, it would be far too easy to just keep going and let it go for longer. (Though Camp NaNoWriMo is coming up in less than two weeks, which could keep me from ignoring my work for too long, but it’s not a miracle worker.)

Write Every Day: Camp NaNoWriMo

dream plan writenanowrimo logoIf you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, let me introduce you to a world of creativity, productivity, and caffeine. In November, when NaNo proper takes place, you will find me a drooling, tired, ecstatic mess. It’s harrowing, exciting, and so much fun. I am rarely happier than when I’m writing, as opposed to my current revision nightmare. Every year I learn something new about NaNo, writing, or myself. I love it and never want to miss another year.

But November is a long way away (especially in December, when I’m usually worn out, yet already looking forward to the next NaNo).

Camp-Participant-2015-Web-Banner During the months of April and July, the folks who run NaNoWriMo hold two sessions of Camp NaNo. Essentially, that just means extra sessions for people who want the experience, fun, or push of NaNo more than once a year. Or an alternative time for those who can’t participate in November.

I am a huge NaNo geek, though I know at least one person who’s even more crazy about it than I am. However, I do strongly prefer the November event to Camp. I’m sure when November approaches I’ll write enough about NaNo to annoy most people. But there’s still something to be said for Camp, and since the July session starts soon, it seemed like a good topic for my first “Write Every Day” post.

Camp NaNo has more differences from proper NaNo than just warmer temps. For example, as more people participate in November, the social aspect is much bigger then. During Camp, there aren’t likely to be regional events (though some bigger regions may still have stuff going on). The forums that are busy and crowded during the fall are still available, but the focus is on camp cabins–smaller groups of Wrimos urging each other on throughout the month.

Another big difference is that during Camp, you can set your own word count goal. While that can include raising your goal beyond 50,000 words, the real benefit is being able to attempt a smaller amount. For me, November is a month of intense creative output, during which I shirk a lot of other responsibilities. My husband and kids are warned up front that I’ll be hiding away a lot, chores are neglected, and I even go into work less (I work for my dad and have a lot of flexibility in my schedule). I can get away with all of that for one month out of the year, but wouldn’t want to push it past that. So for Camp, I set myself a lower goal that still forces me to work more than my average amount when left to my own devices.

There is also one more difference between Camp and proper NaNoWriMo, but I’ll admit this one is probably only from my perspective. There are rules for NaNoWriMo, but not everyone strictly follows them. Some people rebel, writing several short stories, two books at once, nonfiction, screenplays, or even comic books. I know someone who during NaNo wrote the script for a computer game she was making with a friend. I’m a complete traditionalist during November, attempting to write at least 50,000 words of a new, single work of fiction. Camp is when I let myself rebel. I’ve participated in four sessions of Camp, and each one was used for revision. A big push forward on the work I’ve been dragging my feet through for over a year. That’s how you’ll find me again come July, though I do plan to change it up a little this time.

Write for yourself: Okay, so the obvious thing to say here is, “Participate in Camp NaNo!” And yes, that was obviously the point of this post. Camp starts in ten days, and it can be difficult to jump into an event like that with little warning. (Though plenty of people, myself included, have joined NaNo after only hearing about it in October, sometimes days before, and survived.) Just remember, you can set your goal to whatever you want, to give it a try with less stress, or if you’re not sure you could write enough on this short notice, or whatever else excuse you may have. As I understand it, they’ve recently changed cabin formation so that you can actually set up a cabin with a group of people of your choosing (it used to be largely random). If you decide to sign up, or if you’re already a participant and have no cabin yet, we can form our own. Just let me know your username, and we can spend the month encouraging each other!

Then, at summer’s end, consider turning your mind toward NaNo proper. You wouldn’t believe the fun, community, and productivity you can get out of the event. I’ll be back to this topic in a few months.

If you’re not a fiction writer, or simply have other creative pursuits you wouldn’t mind the same kind of push for, look around for something more up your alley. As I understand it, there are events like this for a lot of areas (FAWM for musicians, VEDA for video blogging, PiBoIdMo for picture book writers, and all sorts of others. Seriously, just do some research, you may find an event for your creative output).

What are your thoughts on events like these? Do you participate, stay away, or simply have no opinion? I know they’ve become a fad and some people are thoroughly against them. Let me know what you think.

Daily Challenge Check-in: June 16, 2015

Words/Time: 1388 words revising “Pithea” with two of my sisters over Skype. Also known as the 43rd meeting of the Tri-County Sisterhood of the Traveling Book. We got through a little over 4 pages of double-spaced text, ending in a major issue that may take more work than normal to resolve. It’s especially a problem for me, because the issue is related to the first meeting of Missy and Jonathan. Missy being the female main character and Jonathan being really a side character in this book, but not in my mind. He becomes like a brother to Missy over the the next few years, but that doesn’t get to come out very well in this book, not like it had in the original version. As one sister put it, he’s very much like a cartoon character in the story right now, and I don’t necessarily hate that idea, but it probably means I don’t go deep enough with his character. And their first meeting has some huge issues, because I was trying to keep it close to the way it was in the original version, but doing that is what caused me so much trouble in the initial attempt at building this world. So there we left off, and I’m going to have to think about this scene, and the character as a whole, over the next week. Hopefully by next Tuesday night, when we have our next Skype meeting, I’ll have some thoughts to bring to the table.