Friday, October 11, 2019

Writing with Authenticity--Why It's Important to Foster a Unique Voice in Your Art

Publishing is an interesting game.  Like all business owners, some publishers are wary of risk.  They want books that adhere to tried and true formulas of plot or purpose.  Fiction in certain genres--think romance--even have formulas to follow.  Agents who specialize in these books know the formulas and automatically reject manuscripts that don't follow them.  So uniqueness isn't necessarily a winning card in your submission game.

Yet it is.  More often, I've heard from agents about the boredom they feel with stories that repeat the same themes, the same trends.  They look for something that will "make them miss their subway stop"--a cliche I'm sure you've heard or read about on agency sites.  

So how do you keep a necessary balance between unique and same?  Once you know the "rules" of your genre, be it fiction, nonfiction, or memoir, how many of those rules do you break, consciously?      

Here's another way to look at it:  It matters less that you bust out of the tradition of your genre than if you write with authenticity.  My belief is that if we write as ourselves, not as a mimic of some writer we admire, and we foster that inherently unique voice that only we own, the reader (and agent/publisher) will feel the uniqueness and be drawn in.

This takes some practice.  Maturity too.  Most of us start out as copiers of voice, even without knowing it.  That's OK.  Art is learned by modeling those who have gone before.  But persisting in the search for our own voice as writers is essential if you want to reach readers and play the publishing game with your self intact.  

How do you find your voice, as a writer?  It's often buried in defensive layers--the inner critic is an expert at hiding voice, because speaking up is risky.  I found it took me years to learn to respect my writing voice--it's lyrical, I love imagery (being also a painter), and I'm fascinated by complicated relationships.  If I stick to those elements, not try to write apart from them, my voice is truer and the writing feels authentic.  And sells.

I read an article this week by Danielle Burby, an agent with Nelson Literary in Colorado.  She spoke about uniqueness being a key factor in getting signed by an agent and selling your manuscript in today's competitive market.  But as I studied her suggestions, I found them all had to do with authenticity more than anything.  

In preparation for my workshop on October 24 at the Loft on The Art of Voice and Theme in Fiction and Memoir (click here to find out more), I've been studying anew how writers locate voice, nurture it, bring it alive on the page.  I have some excellent new exercises and ideas to pass along, so please consider joining me for this afternoon workshop.  And if you'd like to read Danielle's words on the topic, click here.  Subscribe to their monthly newsletter for more.  

Friday, October 4, 2019

Organizing Your Book: How I Learned to Love Scrivener

Books become unwieldy fast.  Unlike a poem, essay, or short story, a book may generate thousands of pages by the time it's revised down to three hundred and fifty.  Most writers don't realize or remember this when starting a new book.  But after a few revisions, there's just too much to keep track of.

I get this question in most of my classes:  how do you organize your book-in-process? 

Friday, September 27, 2019

Layers of Time in Fiction and Memoir: How Does a Writer Weave Past, Present, and Future into Scenes without Creating Too Much Exposition?

Your scenes have voltage, electric current, for readers.  But in most novels and memoirs, there are layers of electricity, because there are layers of time.  We move between past, present, and future in our real lives all the time, even more so on the page.  One of those times will have the most electricity, and it's good to know that.  But how do you bring in the less-alive times and make sure the reader knows enough about them, without delivering too much exposition?

Friday, September 20, 2019

Dialogue Engages--But What If Your Memoir Characters Just Don't Talk Much?

Candace is writing a memoir.  Her characters are the opposite of talkative.  She took my online dialogue class earlier this year and learned that dialogue in any books brings more reader engagement.  But she was confused about how to bring her particular characters to life and still stay true to their silent natures.

I read other writers to answer these kinds of questions.  Kent Haruf wrote six novels set in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado.  All of them have quiet characters, but each is unique and fascinating.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Are Your Characters Too Nice, Controlled, Predictable? Here's How to Bring Out the Tension and Make Them Vivid (But Still Not Serial Killers)

Annie, one of my readers, got surprising feedback from her writer's group.  One of her novel's characters, an abused woman trying to escape from controlling relationships (with parents and boyfriend) was unbelievable.  Her sadness and desperation to escape wasn't enough to make her vivid, memorable, engaging to readers.  Where was her strength, her resolution?

Problem is, Annie says, an abused person often lacks this kind of drive.  So what could she do to create more tension around this character, making her vivid and believable in her search to become her own person?

Friday, September 6, 2019

Lessons from Margaret Renkl: How One Memoir-Writer Circled Round Family, Nature, and Loss

How does a memoir writer weave family stories into a larger whole?  This is the perennial challenge.  Unless you already have a fan following, most readers won't follow your trials and tribulations just because you write about them.  You need to hook them into a universal truth, learning, or other bigger element. Something they can relate to their own lives. 

Friday, August 30, 2019

When a Writer Describes an Emotion You've Had (Without Quite Realizing It)--Power of a Book's Effect on Its Readers

Think your writing doesn't matter?  This week's writing exercise is to educate yourself (and inspire yourself) on the effect our words have on readers.  Click here for the podcast from writer Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness Project, The Four Tendencies) talking about her experience reading Isaac Mizrahi's memoir. If the link doesn't work: (search for Isaac Mizrahi in her podcasts).

Friday, August 23, 2019

Breakdowns and Breakthroughs--The Sine Wave of Book Writing

One of my coaching clients, a very skilled writer, wrote me a few weeks ago about the temper tantrum she was having with her book.  It's in revision stage, a novel, and a good one--I've read parts of it and I was hooked on the characters, plot, and premise.  But she's been working on it for five years and she's tired.  "I'm going to toss it," she said, and I half-believed her, so I sent her a plea to wait.  Set the thing aside for a day, two, a week if she could.  Do something else.  Something completely unconnected to her book.  Then decide if it was ready to be scrapped.

Friday, July 19, 2019

When Your Book Wants to Be Something More: The Persistence Required as Your Book Reveals Its Real Story

One of my long-time students, Linda Zlotnick, recently published her memoir, Star Sisters. The core story is about the death of her twin sister from ovarian cancer.  It was a many year journey to allow herself to process the loss on the page, then begin to watch the memoir take on other topics, unexpected ones.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Great Resources for Studying Up: On How to Submit Your Manuscript to Agent or Publishers

One of my blog readers from Europe is preparing to submit her first book to agents and publishers.  She has plans to attend the International Book Fair in Germany in October, but she wanted to study up before then.  She asked for my best bets in books, blogs, and other resources.

I'm always delighted to share my favorites.  I have to credit friends, colleagues, students, and other writers in the trenches of submission for most of these resources.  Anyone who's been through it knows how challenging the whole infuriating, wonderful, discouraging, illuminating process can be.  It helps so much to study up beforehand.  Be not surprised or unprepared--you'll kick yourself and you'll probably lose any future chances with that particular agent.

So here's the best I've found, thanks to many helpers over the years.  I've used all of these myself.