This post is a couple of days late, but it was inspired by a twitter conversation. It was about rejection. I asked her a bit about her rejection letter and she told me that she got so tied up in getting it perfect that she lost herself in it.
This is SO easy to do. And it’s SO VERY COMMON. In the grand attempt to do everything perfect, your MS can become generic. It can lose your voice. Because the temptation is to make it like other things, to read those great authors the editors suggest you read, and then try and make yourself ‘sound’ like them. Or structure a book like they do. Or have your heroine make a choice their heroines would make.
Even if it’s not emulating someone else, it can be easy to just pull back on everything. No risky elements. No unexpected, quirky word choices. Those feel scary. They don’t feel safe.
I was one hundred percent guilty of this when I was trying to sell my first book. My list of sins was long. But one thing I was very, very guilty of was relying on cliche actions and reactions with my characters. When my hero kissed my heroine, she gave a cry. When the hero bought her clothes, she refused them. After they made love she covered her breasts with the sheets out of modesty. The list goes on.
These actions, in and of themselves, aren’t necessarily wrong, it’s just that they didn’t fit the character. I had moments of good in the MS (I must have because the editor worked with me on it, and eventually bought it!) but mixed in was uneven character actions and strange turns in the book that were brought on by me being afraid to break out and be really different. I was too busy trying to write a book that would sell. I was too caught up in being safely within the bonds of the line, rather than really letting my voice, and the story, soar.
I managed to fix that book after three round of revisions, and it went on to be my debut book. It was in that last round of revisions (a half rewrite!) that I threw my hands up and said, “This is it. Go big or go home.” Knowing that I was at Last Chance Point (at least in my mind!) gave me the push to forget about being perfect, and focus on getting intensity, emotion, and real, believable characters onto the page.
As I’ve gone on, the ability to let my voice show through, the ability to trust my instincts and let a MS come from me, rather than what I think expectations might be, has become easier.
So I have some tips on letting your voice shine through!
1. Just write – don’t be afraid to put words down on the page that aren’t polished or pretty.
2. Don’t polish yourself out – it’s a temptation to keep polishing, and keep polishing your words. And polished is important, don’t get me wrong. But there’s a point where it can hit Generic Prose Anyone With Talent Could Have Written. And you’ve buffed out anything unique that you might have had!
3. Don’t try to be perfect – Perfection is both subjective and, frankly, non-existent. Some people might disagree with me on this, but I found that when I was writing with the aim to NOT GET REVISIONS and to TURN IN SOMETHING PERFECT I was writing too cautiously. I wasn’t taking the book to the interesting places it could have gone because I was so caught up in being RIGHT when I had to take the risk of being wrong so that I could make the book the best it could be.
4. Your voice is a part of you – yes, it can change and refine, mature. But your voice is your voice is your voice. The very good thing about this is that you can’t truly lose it. It’s a part of you. Even if you miss the mark on a MS (and I think this often happens because of pressure!) that doesn’t mean it’s gone.
5. Trust your voice – because, as I said up there, it’s a part of you. It’s the natural part of writing for me. Craft, I had to learn. Story structure, pacing and character development, I had to learn. (I’m still learning!) But voice is a part of who you are. So don’t be afraid to LET it be natural. Don’t try to twist and tweak and contrive everything you write. Trust your voice.
Your voice is what separates you from everyone else, so don’t be afraid to let it be loud, and different. 😉
Questions are welcome as always!