The Importance of Your Voice

It’s been a while since I posted anything truly writing related, and I experienced something recently that really got me thinking about the importance of your voice in your writing.

Since each of us is unique, it is important that we use our own unique voice in our writing. That is what will define our writing as our own. Therefore, it is important to develop and use your voice in your writing. It is also important not to let anyone change your voice, not even your editor or publisher.

Yes, an editor and publisher know what works and what doesn’t in stories, and they know what’s selling. They may require edits, revisions and rewrites which will improve your overall story, your characters, or your plot. But be sure you understand what “voice” is, and don’t let them change your “voice”, for that is what makes your story uniquely yours.

Do you have a favorite author? If you were to read something by that author that didn’t identify the author, would you still recognize that it was written by that author? Of course you would. That is the author’s voice. It is everything that makes that author’s work unique to that author in such a way that his/her readers recognize it.

You can find lots of wonderful, helpful information that explains “voice”, both the author’s voice and the character’s voice simply by Googling “Voice in Literature”. I don’t want to get into a lot of the technical aspects of “voice”. That’s not what this post is about.

This post is about encouraging you to find, strengthen, and use your voice in your writing, and to encourage you to stand strong and not let ANYONE change your voice–that part of your writing that makes it uniquely yours.

Here is what I have recently experienced that has taught me the importance of my voice. One of my recent Friday posts of a poem was read by a friend/fellow writer who thought my poem was too “wordy” and wanted it to have more “imagery”.

Now, granted, I know that painting mental pictures with good, brief description is something I need to continue to work on in my writing. However, I do not claim nor aspire to be a poet. My poetry is something I just enjoy dabbling in and sharing here, and if you like it, that’s fine, and if you don’t like it, that’s fine too.

So, anyway, my friend/fellow writer rewrote my poem to take out what this person felt were my un-needed words to make the imagery stronger. Then this person read her rewritten version of my poem to me. It was quite nice, but as I listened I realized that it didn’t sound anything like me, but it did, indeed, sound like this friend/fellow writer.

I understand this friend/fellow writer was simply trying to be helpful, and I am always open to feedback and suggestions on my writing, and I was not offended or angry in any way. As a matter of fact, I often seek this friend’s opinion of my writing out and appreciate this friend’s feedback, and I always consider this friend’s words/suggestions. But as the rewritten version of my poem was read, I just thought “that wasn’t my voice”, so even though the friend said, “It’s still your poem”, it didn’t feel like my poem, and it didn’t sound like my poem because it had lost my “voice”.

That is why I say, always be open and willing to hear advice and gentle criticism of your writing, but be sure your writing NEVER LOSES YOUR VOICE!

What is a Book Launch and Why Should You Have One?

Last Monday I posted about traditional vs. indie publishing. (By the way, I forgot to mention in that post, that indie publishing earn 70-80% of their sales.)

In that post, I mentioned book launches and promised to post about that topic this week.

What is a Book Launch?

A Book Launch is a way to introduce your new book to friends, relatives, and others who may be interested in your book. There are several ways to hold a Book Launch, but the two most popular are an in-person party or online, or you can do both.

Steps for a Book Launch

  1. Send invitations — through snail mail and email for an in-person party and through email and Facebook for an online party. It’s good to have an email system set up that you will be using to send frequent emails to your readers about your books and personal appearances, etc. for this. However, you may want to personalize invitations to those you know well, like friends and family, and those you can send from your personal email. Each invitation should include an invitation for them to sign up for your email list.
  2. For an in-person Book Launchvparty, purchase decorations, create a poster for the event and purchase and serve refreshments, using a theme that goes with your book. Have door prizes and/or hand out goodie bags to each guest.
  3. For an online Facebook Book Launch party, come up with a few good discussion questions and set up some prizes for participation.
  4. Another great idea is to do a blog tour, which consists of you asking other bloggers if you could do a guest post or an author interview on their blog. You can also ask to read and post about your book.
  5. It’s also good to contact local newspapers, magazines, TV and radio stations and give them a press release and press kit about your in-person Book Launch event. You can have your in-person Book Launch party in a local independent book store or Barnes & Noble, or at a library or in your home or a rented space.
  6. The most important thing is to have fun with this! Also, Book Launch parties aren’t just for your first book. Every book you write and publish deserves it’s own Launch party.

Why should you have a Book Launch party? Because it will get you and your book some recognition, grow your readership, get people excited about your book, help get the word out about you and your book(s).

I haven’t had a Book Launch party yet, but I look forward to having one form my first book. I found this information about book launches on websites, blogs and in a book about marketing.

 

Critique: Does It Have To Hurt?

On Saturday I attended the monthly meeting of Lancaster Christian Writers and the speaker talked about critique. What do you think of when you hear the word “critique”? Do you think “criticize” and immediately jump to thoughts of being attacked or hearing lots of negativity?

Why do we as writers fear critique? I believe it is because we pour so much of ourselves into our stories, and because we work hard to create our stories. Therefore, it can hurt when others don’t tell you that your writing is great, fantastic, perfect just the way you wrote it.

However, the truth is, even writers who have been writing for a long time, use critique groups or critique partners because the reality is no one is perfect, no matter how many years we write, we can still have areas in our writing where a reader may feel lost, confused or miss a connection we were trying to make because we didn’t write a scene or connection as clearly as we thought we did.

As hard as writing is, allowing someone or some others to critique what we have written can be harder because we don’t want to hear that we have to go back and make more corrections or cut scenes or do more showing and less telling or any of the many other issues that can show up in our writing. That’s why it’s so important to find a good critique group or partner that you can be comfortable with and that you can trust.

So, how do you find such a critique group or partner? There are lots of options, but the first thing is to be brave enough to start searching. Then, as the speaker on Saturday suggested, ask questions like “What is your writing practice?”; “Where do you want to go?”‘ “Do you have something to share now?”; “How often do you want to meet and/or share (because you may choose to meet in person once or twice a month and share through email in between)?”; “How much time can you commit?”

The idea is to find a critique group or partner who has a shared direction or similar goals.

So, once you become part of a critique group or partnership, what should critique look like?

It should be as kind and as helpful as possible. Saturday’s speaker shared that when you critique, before you speak, think about how you would receive the feedback that you are planning to give. And, when giving feedback, follow these steps as shared on “The Insecure Writers Support Group”:

  1. Remember, this isn’t your story. It might not be your genre and it will not be your voice.
  2. Approach with caution.
  3. Don’t assume automatically. If you are part of a group that only meets once a month and you only see a small sample of someone’s writing, don’t be afraid to ask questions if you are unsure of something before you offer feedback.
  4. Make suggestions; offer a suggestion instead of just stating the problem. This can be very helpful to the writer.
  5. Limit the proofreading. In other words, don’t worry so much about misspelled words, grammar and technical stuff, as those should be pointed out by an editor or line editor. A critiquer should be more focused on the content of the story: what works or doesn’t work and why; is a scene confusing; do you get a clear picture of the time frame and the setting, etc.
  6. Praise what works. This helps the writer go away without feeling total failure and defeat, but it also helps the writer to know what works, what they did well.

You may want to look at Critiquing in levels, as the Saturday speaker shared:

  1. Cudos and congratulations for completion.
  2. What did you notice most? And use “I” statements: “I understand why this character did this.”
  3. Ask questions: Why did the character do that?
  4. Comment on what worked why.
  5. Comment on a problem but do not tell how to fix it.
  6. Make a suggestion on how to resolve a problem.
  7. Read through it carefully and do things such as line edits.

What are some tips for how to react and respond to receiving a critique (as per Saturday’s speaker):

  1. Listen without responding.
  2. Take 24 hours before responding (it’s a good idea to have contact information of your critique group or partners for this purpose).
  3. During the 24 hours, walk away. Try not to think about it and rehash it in your head. Instead take a walk, maybe tell yourself some nice positive things.
  4. After 24 hours you should feel better and be ready to make improvements to your writing. You will realize you have room to grow.

Also, when you are being critiqued, remember to ignore personal attacks and don’t take it personally. Remember, that even though it may feel like it, you are not your writing. Then look for common themes from the critique group. If several people mention the same thing, it may show a legitimate problem that needs fixing. Look for “why” something works or doesn’t work.

The speaker of the Saturday workshop was Lisa Bartelt. You can find her at Beauty on the Backroads blog.

I have read several of James Scott Bell’s books on writing, and one thing he says is “Never stop studying and learning your craft.”

So, remember, there is always room for improvement. Also, remember that writing rules and what editors/publishers look for do not always remain the same. Things in the writing industry are not static; things change.

Do you have a critique group or partner? I hope it is a mostly positive experience for you, and if it’s not, you may have to look elsewhere for a critique group or partner. You may even want to be part of more than one critique group.

Feel free to share your critique experiences in the comments section, but even if the experience you want to share is negative, please be respectful with your comments.

 

A Great Research Resource

When you write historical fiction, there is a need to do some research:  research on the time period, the clothes people wore and the foods they ate during that time period, the cost of things during that time period, occupations of that time period, the way people spoke/words that were and weren’t used and more.  Also, if your story is set in what was a real place in that time period, you need to know what that place was like, what the weather was like, what the land and buildings looked like.

In addition to time and place, you may choose to have one of your characters working a job you are unfamiliar with or that is no longer an occupation in today’s world or that requires them to work with tools or animals you are unfamiliar with.  These things will then need to be researched also.

Research is time consuming, but it can be quite fun.  You will learn interesting things that you may find fascinating.  You may even find them leading you to research something else as another idea for something to include in your story may arise.

Being something between a plotter and a pantser, when I was in the beginning stages of my novel, I researched what I felt I needed to have accurate information about; mostly setting — place and time period.  I also researched names to be sure my character’s didn’t have names that couldn’t possibly have been used in the time period.  I had a good idea of what people wore but I still did some research to be sure, but I didn’t spend as much time on this as I did on the setting components.  I researched a couple of occupations, one a lot more than the others.

Okay, you might think, but where did you look for the information you needed?  Well, I did a lot of research online.  The internet is a wealth of information, as long as you are careful and check that the websites and/or blogs you get your information from are accurate and legitimate.  I never go to Wikipedia without checking other places to be sure the information lines up, and I rarely use Wikipedia.

One great source for historical research are the websites of museums.  In addition, you may want to call the museum and ask if they have any information they would be willing to send to you through snailmail.  I recently did this and was surprised at how easy it was.  I thought I may have to pay a fee, at least to cover postage and handling, but the lady I spoke with was willing to gather information and send two packets to me.  I was so excited!  I can’t wait for these packets to arrive.  I check my mailbox everyday, Monday through Saturday.  It is is currently about a week and a half and I’m still eagerly awaiting my packets.

Other great resources:  if your story’s time period isn’t too far in the past, older folk who lived during that time love to share memories, books (biographies, diaries and journals or logbooks written by someone who lived in your time period) are still a great resource, speaking with an historian who specializes in your story’s time period, and old newspapers or newspaper archives.  Of course, if your story’s setting — place, isn’t too far away and it’s feasible for you to go there, visiting the actual place and checking out the museums and historical tourist spots is a great resource that really gives you a visual and makes your story’s place come to life.

Do you write historical fiction?  What is your favorite research resource?

What I’ve Learned About Critique Groups

There are different types of critique groups and it’s important to try several different types until you find the one you think fits you best and is most helpful to you in your writing.

I have been involved in two different critique groups and will begin my journey with another critique group this week.  The two that I have been a part of seem to have the same basic rules:  start by saying something positive, offer your thoughts on what works and doesn’t work in the writing or where things tend to drag, and end with something positive.  Also, be specific!  Saying something like, “This is nice.  I like it,” is not really helpful at all to the writer.

Of the two critique groups I’ve been involved with so far, I do prefer one over the other because one group has difficulty critiquing the piece you bring to share.  Because you may be working on a novel and you have brought early chapters in the past and now you’ve brought middle or later chapters, and this group may or may not consist of people who read the earlier chapters, it seems to be quite difficult for them to simply critique what is before them.

I understand that it can be difficult as far as knowing how things began and why what’s happening is happening now, but I don’t find it difficult to be able to focus on the words before me and give advice on what is happening on these pages.  Whatever I am reading to critique, I simply, ask myself several questions as I read:  1) Does the story flow? 2) Does the dialogue move the story forward and is the dialogue relevant to the story? 3) Are the goals of the main character clear from the action, the decisions and choices the character makes? 4) Are there any places that cause the story to lose momentum, slow down and seem to drag? 5) Are there any places that confuse the reader?  6) Are the writer’s word choices fitting for the time the story is set in or are there word choices that are too modern or too outdated? 7) Does the story capture and hold my attention and make me want to keep reading? 8) Do I care about the main character? 9) Does the plot line keep my interest and does it keep the story moving? 10) Is the story unique compared to other stories in the same genre?

There may be more questions that pop into my head as I read that I look for answers too as well, but the ten I listed in the previous paragraph are some of the most important, so if you can keep those questions in your head while reading someone’s work, it shouldn’t matter whether you are reading a piece of writing from the beginning, middle or end of the story, in order to give the writer good quality, helpful feedback.

* * * * *

Now, just a bit about the critique group I will be getting involved with this week.  It is the online critique group offered through the ACFW website for ACFW members.  I am really excited about this because it sounds like it may be the most helpful critique group yet.  In order to become involved in the critique group, I have to take a three day orientation, where I will receive three email assignments each day of those three days to complete, in order to learn the rules and how their critique group works.  It’s a very large group and it has smaller branch groups as well, from what I understand.  I am really looking forward to it!  I’ll let you know what I think, once I am able to receive and offer some critiquing.

What about you?  Are you part of a critique group?  How do you benefit from your critique group?

Some Great Writing Tips

This past Saturday, I attended the Lancaster Christian Writers’ monthly meeting.  Laurie J. Edwards, who also writes under many pen names – one of which is Rachel Good, gave us some great information and had our minds churning about our current WIPs.

Three resources she suggested for writers are:  Inside Story by Dara Marks, Wired for Story by Lisa Cron, and The Anatomy of Story by John Truby.

Laurie shared that the two most commonly missed elements missed in novels are:  Character Arc and Theme (Moral Argument).  She shared that even fiction that is not specifically “Christian” should include a theme, otherwise a book may be popular for a while but it will eventually fade away.  She mentioned about current popular series for kids/teens that have great story lines and action; they keep the readers turning the pages, but at the end of the book, there’s no real takeaway because they lack a good, strong character arc or they lack a theme.  That’s why in about ten years or so, they will fade away; their popularity gone.

Laurie pointed out that all good stories should have the following pieces:

Premise:  logline, one sentence; essence of the story — every decision is based on this                          decision.

Theme:  Moral vision of how people should act in the world.  Express through action                          and story structure to surprise and move readers.

Central Conflict:  Who fights whom over what?

Fundamental Change in Character:  could the character at the beginning of the story                                                                                       do what he/she does at the end?  How and why is                                                                                     he/she different?

She shared the following from John Truby’s book, The Anatomy of Story:

Seven Steps of Story Structure

  1.  Weakness or need – moral and psychological; hero unaware of these flaws.
  2.  Desire – Story goal; must be intimately connected with need.
  3.  Opponent – not preventing hero from goal; wants the same goal.
  4.  Plan – defeat opponent and reach goal.
  5.  Battle – confrontations escalate until final conflict.
  6.  Self-Revelation – hero recognizes weakness
  7.  New equilibrium – fundamental and permanent change.

*Psychological Need: a flaw that only hurts the hero.                                                                              *Moral Need: a moral weakness that hurts others.

Her talk was filled with lots of great little tips and advice that had my friends and I really thinking about things we need to change in our current WIPs (work in progress) to make them better, or things to do to make our stories “unputdownable”.

Laurie has lots of experience as an author, speaker, and editor.  You can find out more about her and her books at https://lje1.wordpress.com/

How about you?  Have you heard or read any great writing tips or advice you’d like to share?

 

My Writing Life

Okay, so I am working on an historical romance story that takes place in the old west.  I have ideas for at least two more books, possibly three, to create a series.

I’m part of several writing groups that offer critiques or are strictly critique groups.  Also, a couple of weeks ago I attended a writers’ conference where I had two appointments for one-on-one conferences with published authors to get input on part of my story.  Of course, I have things I need to work on and am very grateful for the two writers who were kind enough to give me advice.

Being a visual learner, one of the writers, my friend, Mike Dellosso, gave me some great advice that he worded in a way that created a picture in my mind, which I know I will not forget and will be able to apply to my writing.  You see, I am struggling with setting the scenes because I’ve been told not to write too much description.  Therefore I had swung to the opposite extreme and wasn’t writing enough description.  Mike told me to put myself in my character’s shoes and use my five senses and describe what my character is seeing, hearing, smelling, etc. as he walks down the street in that old, dusty western town.  He also gave me some examples which made this advice come alive for me.

A few days after that, I shared a piece of this same story with the critique group I recently joined.  I was extremely nervous and afraid of what might happen in this group.  I was pleasantly surprised that there were many positive things said (One lady really likes my main character) and they also offered some great advice.

Therefore, on Thursday night when I met with my weekly writers’ group, I was feeling overwhelmed about how to go about sorting through all of the advice and applying the needed changes to my story.  I just didn’t know where to begin.  My friend, Laura, who just finished edits on her first novel had great words to help me.  She suggested that I get rid of any advice that I didn’t believe was helpful, which I had already done.  Then she said to go through the ones who offered the least amount of changes and work toward the one who offered the greatest amount of changes.  She said that by the time I get to the one with the greatest amount of changes, I probably will be surprised to find that I’ve already taken care of many of those changes from things the others suggested.  Ahh, thank you, Laura, you gave me a workable plan that I can handle.

I am so thankful to have met and made connections with writers who have gone before me who are willing to help me on my journey.  As writers, we spend a lot of time alone working on our craft, but we need each other.  We need the help and encouragement of others and then we need to pass that on to those who come behind us.

How about you?  Who’s been helping you on your writing journey?