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Trusting your voice

One of my earliest fandom characters was Rufus Hemmingway the golden retriever, who I wrote to be an original creation set in John R. Erickson’s Hank the Cowdog universe.

Here’s a little excerpt from “The Case of the Missing Beef Bone,” circa 2002:

…my story begins on a breezy fall evening in November, right on the day humans call Thanksgiving. Leaves were fluttering down from the trees, signaling the change between summer and winter. My humans were all excited about the holiday and about their family supper…so excited, in fact, that little Joseph snuck me a whole luscious beef bone at dinner.

If you go hunt down one of Erickson’s books, you can compare and see my clumsy attempt to steal his style. That’s because I had no idea what I was doing when I was 14. And I didn’t trust my voice.

For good reason! Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I should have been cockier at the time about my writing quality. But you can clearly see me fumbling with the conventions of someone else’s voice. I was sort of picking up on what Erickson was doing; I just wasn’t laying it back down in a coherent fashion.

These days, my close friends and family can spot something I’ve written in a lineup. (I won’t talk about which of my stories have been arrested.) That’s because I found my voice, and I trust it enough to let it do its thing, at least a good portion of the time.

How did I find my voice? I read a lot of books about how writers I admire found theirs, and gained a lot of small exercises that helped, but the real key was practice writing what I wanted to write. Sitting down and doing it. Over and over.

That meant that when writing lost its joy, I went back to exercises like Cool Things to Write About ™ again and again, and revisited old characters that I still love. I wrote meaningless fluff about my current obsessions; I wrote fan-fiction; I wrote stories for other people.

Did I mention that Cool Things exercise? Because it’s really important, and here’s why: besides practice, the other way to build trust in your voice is to believe you know what you’re doing.

And that’s tricky for a lot of writer-types. If you’re a writer, you’re an egomaniac or you’re a self-flagellating masochist or you’re both. If you’re the masochist type, then you’ll probably never really believe in yourself. Which is why you have to devote yourself to practicing with subjects you adore. It’s the only way you’ll have a modicum of faith that you, of all writers, can do those subjects justice.

Make lists of stuff you enjoy writing about, and then

I’m sorry I don’t have a “get good quick” road map for you. All the good books on writing are true: to write well, you have to put in the time, both in reading and writing. But focus on practicing writing what you want to write (and reading what you want to read, for that matter, so long as you keep your genres and sources diverse enough to let you develop a non-derivative voice), and on believing you know what you’re doing, and… well… you’ll get there.

I believe in you.

If you’re someone who writes collaboratively and regularly, and you’re interested in being part of an author collective, please contact me! I’d love to talk.

Published inWriting about writingWriting process