Finding My Voice

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The majority of my posts so far have been about things I know or have recently figured out—worldbuilding, book reviews, advice, etc. This is all well and good, but, I’m still young and still have a lot to learn when it comes to writing. It’s equally important to talk about those things.

I sat down the other night to work on the 2nd draft of my novel. After reading some spectacularly written books this year, I felt as if I was ready to give my 3rd person narrator a bit more personality. My first draft had sorely lacked any perspective from my main character, too, but after two years of story development, I was sure to be able to fix that without a problem. I was eager to get those new ideas down—and forgetful that my “author voice,” as some call it, was not my strong suit. It never has been. Why else have I only written about worldbuilding and plotting so far? It’s not something I feel bad about, but it is something that I like to forget about.

So I wrote about five pages of a new first chapter and liked it, at first. I was going to capture what I loved so much about Anna Karenina, or A Gentleman in Moscow, or Wuthering Heights, or Jane Eyre, but in my own way with my own literary sci-fi story. I thought I had. But a few weeks later, when I sat down to finish that first chapter, it wasn’t quite as rosy as before. Too many details in some parts, not enough in others; turns of phrase that felt very out of place; and was I trying too hard to show instead of tell, or telling too much? I had no clue. The only thing I knew was that I was unhappy with the words on the page.

My first response was frustration. I’m a perfectionist, after all, and my instinct is to think that because I take so long to perfect the ideas in my head, they had better come out on the page in perfect order. I know better than that, though, so I closed the document and decided to wait until I had a better grasp on what I wanted. That wasn’t going to be a quick decision—nothing in writing is ever quick.

As I’ve thought about my “author’s voice,” I’ve realized two things. The first is that if I want to better it, I’ll have to dedicate as much time to actually writing as I do to worldbuilding, plotting, or character development. Finding my “voice” is a skill that needs cultivated just like everything else. And, it’s a skill that I’ve been neglecting to practice as regularly as the others. I’m a slow writer (which I hope to write a post on soon), but that’s not an excuse to not write anything except for a few times a year. I tend to ignore it because it requires more work.

But secondly, I realized that I was getting caught up in the wrong sort of comparison again. So what if I have a lot of details in my prose, use phrasing that isn’t modern, or like a lot of commas? So what if characterization isn’t my best quality, I tend to be more serious than humorous, or I can’t write the most immersive first-person perspective? To whom am I comparing myself? I’m not Jane Austen, or Emily Bronte, or Amor Towles, or J. K. Rowling, or Stephen King, or my writer friends, any other author that’s existed or is still alive, famous or otherwise. I may very well admire some of them, but it’s pointless for me to try to copy them or subconsciously try to be them. It’s an unattainable goal, first of all, and second, it’s not even something I want. The works of others can be my inspiration, but not my measuring stick. What I’m writing is entirely my own.

As many have said before, the only person you should compare yourself to is the person you were yesterday. All things considered, then, I’ve made leaps and bounds and will continue to do so. Besides, that’s what editing is for.

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