In my previous post I alluded to some baseline questions about my writing that I was struggling with and hadn't quite answered. My "voice" as an author was one of those. If anyone reading this knows me, you know that I am a perfectionist (some might say to a fault). I tend to overthink what I'm doing because I take pride in my work and want it to be absolutely perfect.
My voice is a factor that had held me back from truly attempting writing because I never quite felt like I nailed it down. You read books by Stephen King (he's one of my favorite authors if you couldn't tell), J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, or any other renowned author and you can just tell it's written by them. Their verbiage, syntax, grammar, and all other habits make the writing distinctively theirs and draw readers to them time and time again. This recognizable voice is something I've desired in my work for so long now, but still worry that my voice is too bland, not whimsical enough, not compelling enough, not gritty enough.
I asked my adviser, Zac Pettit, about how he found his voice and what he did to find his voice and was met with an unexpectedly candid answer: You don't have to find your voice. He explained to me that my voice is my voice. I know that seems repetitive and obvious, but he made me realize that I already had an author's voice: my own. The one I'm already writing in. The one I naturally write in.
Zac did also comment that while you don't need to change your personal voice to be a good author, make sure you're catering your voice to the right audience. A very colloquial voice would be considered unprofessional in a scientific journal just as a serious and verbose voice would be too complicated for a children's novel. This goes back to the concept of the ideal reader: you don't need to change your voice, but know who you're writing for. And if you do intend to publish, make sure the place you're pitching your idea to appreciates and supports the voice you have.
This was a confusing idea at first, but the more I thought about it the more I realized how true it is. The reason we love all those authors is because they're different. If all authors tried to mimic others we'd live in a pretty boring world. Furthermore, if any of the greats tried to imitate one another I don't think their stories would come across half as well- can you imagine Harry Potter in the style of The Shining? I doubt the fan-base would be remotely the same.
It's such a cliche, but realizing that I had already figured out my voice without knowing it, that it was "inside me all along" was a relief. I'm on the journey of simplifying my conceptualization of my voice and learning to appreciate what I already have. My confidence isn't where I want it to be; I still don't know if I'm fully ready to put my work out there. But knowing that there is something inside of me already, that I have potential, is a good enough start for me.
So...I know it's taken more than a moment for me to get started on this project. In future post(s) I'm hoping to explain my process more and get into why that is. But for now, I want to get started on my master plan for becoming something of a writer and answer some basic questions I've outlined for myself. Hopefully with these I'll have an idea of what direction I want to focus my work.
What do I want to write?
This is a question I've struggled with for a while now- mainly because I have so many interests. Fiction is by far my favorite genre to read and I think it would be enjoyable to write. I have had a few ideas for novels in the past that I would love to flush out more. The main drawback I can find with novels, however, is the length and depth is so intense that I don't know if it's the best place to first try publishing and get my work out there. I think shorter stories might be a better place to start because I could get used to others reading my work, receiving feedback, and trying out new techniques at a quicker pace than I could with a novel.
On the other hand, nonfiction could be an interesting niche to explore. I think it would be a compelling way to combine my passion for writing with other areas that I care about; I could write about environmentalism, global issues, women's rights, or anything else I see fit. With my engineering background it might be a creative way to combine my research skills while also spreading awareness for issues I value. In the past, I had always shied away from writing as a viable career because I didn't know how much of an impact I could have with it (no disrespect to any authors- I value author's work and with this experience will probably gain a new respect for the difficulties they go through). I think writing some non-fiction could help me find that satisfaction of completing my "duty" while also exploring writing.
Conclusion: This experience for me is about testing the waters of a vocation I never had the guts to do before. I think trying a variety of genres and formats will help me discover what I like and what I don't, what works for me and what doesn't.
Who do I want to write for?
A concept that Stephen King talks about in his book On Writing is the ideal reader- the perfect candidate to read your work after it's completed. This is the person that you want to watch read what you've written and see them laugh, cry, and sigh at all the right parts. He advises that you have that person in mind as you write, as it can give you direction and inspiration. Right now, I don't think I have one ideal reader. I've tried to come up with one reader to rule them all but can't seem to find someone that fits everything. But upon further thought into this question, I realized that might be okay. The person who reads an article in the local newspaper about the environmental impact of a local business might not, and probably won't, be the same person as someone who logs on to reddit to read scary stories.
Conclusion: If I want to try my hand at writing a variety of styles and a variety of pieces, I have to have a variety of idea readers. It will be important to identify who my ideal reader is before writing, but they don't have to all be the same; I'm sure this will be easier said than done, but I don't have to impress everyone.
Why do I want to write?
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a passion driven person. I've had a honors experiences in the past that I picked up and put down because it made me realize that I wasn't doing it out of passion or love for the craft. When it comes down to it, I want to do this experience because I'm passionate about it and because this might be the push I need to actually get out there and do it. I've been writing stories since I learned how to write (quite literally ask my parents- I spent a lot of my time in elementary school publishing books in my school's publishing shop). With encouragement from a lot of people I hold close to me, I've decided to make my goals public to hold myself accountable to earnestly explore my passion.
Conclusion: I'm scared. But I've always loved writing- why not give it a shot?