Yep! That’s right. Writers are Nancys . We’re wimpy, scared, and frightened, and we all come that way—fresh out of the box and hiding behind dull material. That is, until something kicks us in the ass and we pull up our big boy or big girl pants, grow a pair, and paint the town red. What makes me say that? Well, my experiences, of course. And from the sounds of it, everyone else’s experiences, too.
There are so many things to consider before writing a novel: genre, outlines, characters, scenery, defining a great protagonist, grammar, sentence structure, proper punctuation, editing, walking the dog, cleaning the toilet, doing dishes, cleaning laundry, running errands, getting distracted by the internet, on and on and on. It’s daunting, really, all the things you must have situated before sitting down to write the first word. And you’re guaranteed to miss things along the way. But with all the planning and preparing and plotting, there’s one thing you can’t plan for, nor can you force. It’s your inner voice—your writer’s voice—your style.
Maybe you’re new to this and you’re thinking, I am my own inner voice, so anything I write will sound like me…duh! While that seems logical, it’s not that simple. Take a look at your favorite author and ask yourself why you love their writing? What does it evokes in you? Chances are it’s not because they’ve mastered punctuation, or because of their beautiful sentence structure. In fact, most readers don’t notice these things. Readers only notice them when they’re done poorly. The reason behind your appreciation for that one special author is their voice, the ebb and flow of their words and the tone behind them. That’s what hooks you, and that’s what’ll bring you back. You can be full of imagination and creativity, but if you haven’t honed your inner voice, your novel will fall flat. And no one likes a flaccid novel.
When I finished my first book, a weighty son-of-a-gun, not only was it in severe need of editing, it was also as dry and boring as Melba toast, void of any personality. I couldn’t find myself anywhere in it. Even when my husband read it, he said the story was good, the writing was good, but it just wasn’t me. I have one hell of a personality, but it didn’t shine through. In a contest of sheer thrill, my novel came in 3rd place, right behind the knitting circle and the bird watchers. I had been playing the safe card all along and didn’t even know it. I was too inexperienced to realize how safe I’d been.
I finished my first edit and read it back. Guess what? It still smelled like a day old fart. Sure, my writing had improved, but it was still bland. This is when I almost gave up. I felt so defeated, and maybe that’s what needed to happen. Reality had to slap me upside the head and knock a little piss & vinegar back into my writing.
Frustrated and fed up to my eyeballs with my story, I sat back down, depressed and bitter, and rewrote chapter one, almost from scratch. I was so ridiculously tired of the same droning words on the same damn page, and then something happened. I got pissed off, and all my stress and upset transformed my writing into something fresh, new, and alive. My blasted novel finally started breathing. Hallelujah, it was a miracle, spurred by my own frustration, and that personality of mine that I’d been stifling.
Truth be told, I can’t put my finger on exactly what did it. All I know is that I felt hopeless, like nothing I did was going to make any improvement in my writing, so I let go, got angry, threw out the rule book, and that’s when my creativity woke the hell up. My husband read the first few chapters over and reported back. I’d done it. I had found my voice. My novel finally sounded like me, and it finally spoke to him, too. It took years, but I found my writer’s voice.
I don’t think you can force your style—your voice—to develop. I think it has to develop over time, and naturally. But there is one bit of advice that might help you edge closer towards your own evolution as a writer: stop being scared. Sounds strange, and maybe it’s simplistic, but it’s the truth. What’s there to be so scared of, you ask. After all, you’re not walking a tight-rope. You’re just writing a book. But let me tell you that as sure as you’re reading this, you are scared, I’m scared, all writers are scared, and we do walk on metaphorical tight-ropes, afraid to make mistakes, afraid to be bold, afraid of rejection, afraid of failure. Until you let go of those fears, your writing will wade in the muck and your inner voice will remain dormant, waiting for your insecurities to move aside so it can come out to play.
Just imagine what the world would look like if everyone played it safe. We’d all be listening to the Carpenters, eating dry toast, watching PBS, and taking part in knitting circles. Not very fun. So, have a good time with your writing—dress it up and parade it around town on a hot, humid Saturday night. Roar, spit, and puff out your chest. Write what you love and love what you write. Make it tawdry, make it sultry, make it chilling, make it profound. Make it any damn thing you want. Just always make it you.
© 2013 Sloane Kady