Sunday, January 29, 2017

Creating Voice

By Sharon May

I have always been fascinated with the idea of voice in writing -- how one finds his or her own voice in non-fiction, but also how one develops various voices in fiction.

It’s a rare college freshman who has a voice, and it is a joy to find one midst all the academic writing I read. In fact, many of the students at the developmental level have no sense of audience yet and have not written enough to have developed a voice, and I usually have to spend so much time on audience that I rarely have a chance to discuss voice. On the rare occasions I have students who are developing their own voices, I point out what makes the writing uniquely theirs and praise them for being themselves.

Recently, I read a how-to book for fiction writers on voice and found it lacking in direction.  The book is filled with excellent quotations from various authors who have clearly established a voice, but the book was no real help on how I could develop such powerful voices. It seemed as if the author of the book was saying what I often hear my fellow college professors say about voice: “I know it when I read it.” These same professors are quite vague when asked how to teach voice.

Most advice on the Internet on finding one’s own voice basically emphasizes the need to read and write a lot as if given enough time, one will discover one’s own voice. But I don’t just want my own voice, I want to create a variety of voices that convey the characters’ souls.

More specific advice is available on the Internet on how to develop a character’s voice by focusing on the style of language, mannerisms, and dialect. In one of my searches on voice, I found the best description of voice by a writer named Kat who says, “Voice is the lens through which the reader sees the story.” That lens is created through the author’s word choices, which serves as a reminder that every word matters.
Of course, when one considers voice, one has to consider point of view. Perhaps the easiest to write is first person, but it limits what can be revealed about the other characters. Third person allows for more creativity and perspectives. However, whenever I imagine writing in third person, I remember reading Hawthorne with his morals and lessons from his authorial third person point of view. I’m afraid my inner Hawthorne will creep into my writing when I attempt third person narratives. Fear aside, I must tackle this point of view.

I guess practice will give me control over the narrative and produce more compelling voices. Maybe time and practice are after all the most important ingredients in developing voice.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Writing My Way Out

By Jodie Cain Smith

In Hamilton, the Musical, the ensemble accuses Alexander of writing “like he’s running out of time.” I’d give up my Mac to have that ability again.

But, my word count from the last several months is abysmal, practically zero. The husband, as I hem and haw, reminds me of my overly full plate of the last year:  a move across three states, taking on a second and third job, caring for a toddler, blah, blah, blah. To my mind those are all excuses, and I’ve never taken kindly to excuses. The husband’s support keeps our marriage on track but does nothing to fuel my writing.

If I am real with myself, examine my behavior, thoughts, and feelings closely, I know the problems. After all, what writing is any good if it lacks honesty? So, here is my daily dose of get-it-out-there-and-move-on.

Fear.  I fear I am a washout, a two-hit wonder, but will never become one of those writers who crank out brilliance time and again. What if my good ideas are gone?

Lack of inspiration. In the past, I dismissed those writers who wait for inspiration. Powering through was my go-to tactic with every part of my life. I wrote trite blogs packed with na├»ve methods of pushing past writer’s block. Now, I know I didn’t understand how powerful, how draining blocks could be. I didn’t know that sometimes waiting is the best course of action.

Lack of discipline, fortitude. Not writing proved to be a slippery slope. Armed with my list of excuses, I allowed my writing process to slide away. What used to be a disciplined three-hour per day habit, deteriorated on my own watch, because of my excuses. And, then I added lack of inspiration to that list.

This is where I found myself three weeks ago – looking back at 2016 with the realization I had allowed a year to go by with few words to show for it. I felt defeated, afraid, and fraudulent. I was losing my identity. As a friend of mine posted on Facebook recently, what do you call a writer who doesn’t write? I’ve no idea.

But, I’ve never been adept at accepting defeat. I’m unapologetically competitive, so to Hell with defeat. To paraphrase Hamilton, I will write my way out. The resolve to rebuild my writing life has been a struggle to maintain, but I will maintain it.

To do so, for the past three weeks, I have forced myself to write something, anything creative, everyday, Monday – Friday. It may be only 500 words of pure garbage, but it is on the page. I will decide what to do with those words later. For now, I will peel the Band-Aid of fear and loathing from my skin, bit by bit.

I hung a calendar on the wall near my desk and decided to place a green star on each day I write. Seeing a green streak has given me hope. Maybe good ideas are still there, waiting to be uncovered. I just have to live in my characters worlds long enough to reveal their secrets.

So, for now, I will just write. Through writing, I will re-learn this craft we love. My words will find purpose, and I will find my creative self once again.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Now That My Book Is Published

By Bonnie Stanard

Promoting a book is a challenge. I've discovered word-of-mouth doesn't work very well, unless you connect to a “mouth” such as Walter Edgar or Oprah.

Writers can’t count on friends reading their books. Some time ago prior to a Harry Potter book release, my friend Miriam could hardly wait to get her hands on a copy. Her enthusiasm prompted me to buy the book. I’m not sure I made it past page 25. Because I like Miriam (and we usually like the same things) you’d think she and I would have similar taste in books, but taste doesn’t add up like algebra equations.

Though I appreciate book signings hosted by independent book stores, the return on my signings has been minimal. As a professional courtesy, I’ve recommended the Beaufort Bookstore, McIntosh Book Shoppe, Indigo Books, and Fiction Addiction whenever the occasion permits. The advantage these stores have over Amazon and Barnes & Noble is that their inventory is vetted, and the staff is knowledgeable about their books.

Professional writer-advisors are unanimous—an internet presence is essential. I put together a website and opened Facebook and Twitter accounts. Inadvertently I set up two Facebook accounts and couldn’t get rid of one. And hashtag communication was inscrutable. I was in over my head and hired a media assistant. This time consuming and expensive effort had little if any effect on book sales.

At the recommendation of a friend, I committed $150 to an ad campaign with the website Goodreads. It’s an entertaining site for readers, but it was a waste of money and a frustrating experience for me. Because I found no “contact” menu option, it was impossible to get answers to questions or make a change to my ad copy.

I also peeled out a month’s rent to buy an Author Buzz bookclubbing package, which placed ads for my novel in several supposedly active websites for readers. As a promotion and part of the deal, I gave away over 25 copies of the book. If this generated activity, I missed the two or three extra sales.

Book festivals are fun, but the traffic is unpredictable. Book 'Em North Carolina was great two years ago, not so great last year (panel discussions can be good). The Cayce Festival of the Arts  was busy, but I sold less than ten books. On the bright side, most of these events are attended by readers and provide opportunities to meet other writers.

This is not to say these efforts have been a waste of time. As I’ve said to fellow writers in our workshop, it’s hard to get our manuscripts accepted for publication, but it’s really hard if we don’t make submissions. Forget about the rejections and keep committed and professional. It’s the first step to success, and we won’t know if we can get to step two if we don’t pass the starting line.

Next month I’ll be a participating author on February 18 at the Amelia Island Book Festival and have sent in applications to the Pee Dee Author Expo in Florence (Feb. 11) and the Local Author Showcase at the Richland County Library in Columbia (Feb. 26). Mast General Store hosts book signings, and I’ve submitted an application but haven’t had a response.

Ambition doesn’t necessarily lead to success. I agree with Bill Bradley who said, “Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in.”

Sunday, January 8, 2017

New Year, New Writing You

By Kasie Whitener

I love New Year’s. I love everything about it from watching Times Square packed with diaper-wearing drunk celebrants to staying up late, counting down, and kissing everyone in the party. I love the bowl games and the cocktail food. I love the next-day hangover and holding down my sister’s couch through the Tournament of Roses parade wondering how all those Californians manage to look so cheerful at 6 a.m.

But mostly I love New Year’s because I am a ridiculous optimist. I say ridiculous because no one can find the bright side of things faster than me. All things.

New Year’s is like the optimist’s holiday. It’s a chance to look out over a new year and say, “This year is going to be even better!”

For the last four years, I’ve made writing-related goals at New Year’s. Each year I’ve made some progress although I’ve never completely reached the goals I set.

Shoot for the moon. If you fail, you may land among the stars.

(Scientifically incorrect since the moon is closer and you’re more likely to land among the Earth’s atmosphere and be incinerated. Shut it, pessimist.)

My goals are Big Hairy Audacious Goals. Find an agent for the vampire novel. Find a publisher for the GenX novel. Write 10 new stories for submission during my friend Khara’s Submit-o-Rama challenge in October. Read 50 books.

In 2016, I submitted a short story and won an award for it. I got an editor and a small-press publisher interested in the GenX novel. The rejection feedback from an agent on the vampire novel led to amazing revisions. I read 61 books.

Turning my focus from fiction to my company, I scaled back, significantly, on the time I spent on vampires and GenX storytelling and blogging. Still, I finished NaNoWriMo with 50,000 new words and started a Neverland story. I took a weekend at Myrtle Beach for writing.  I kept up with my weekly Tuesday tweet chat with writers across the world (#wschat 6 and 9 p.m. EST) and attended a conference. I even read my published fiction in front of an audience for the first time ever.

There’s so much opportunity in every new year. Before it begins we can envision all the changes we’ll make to develop our skills, earn credibility, accumulate accolades, and gain traction for our work.

Meditate on 2017. Think about where your writing is now and where you’d like for it to be.

Do you struggle with Character? Plot? Dialogue? Set a goal to study and practice one element this year.

Do you leave work unfinished? Set a goal to finish a certain number of pieces this year.

Is it hard finding time to write? Set a goal to create writing time every day. Five minutes is all it takes.

The new year began last week, but it’s not too late to envision your writing life in 2017 and lay the plans to make that life a reality.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Resolution for the Present

By Kat Dodd

Celebrating the New Year is often about embracing the future and reflecting on the past. We either embrace the lessons learned from the past year or leave them behind happily while we happily go towards the possibilities the future brings. As writers, we often imagine the future and reflect on the past ourselves when we put put pen to paper or type our imaginations into written record. However, I believe some of the greatest stories and poems written focus on the present moment for the author or the present moment imagined by the author as you read along.

Yes, the future does bring hope along with it and the past helps us learn from our mistakes. In the same sense, writing about the potential future opens the imaginations of readers and the past helps us understand some of the present actions and situations in fiction. Yet, nothing can bring a better personal and environmental awareness than embracing the present moment fully both as a writer and an individual. We use our personal perspective within life itself in everything we imagine as writer, no matter what topic we are attempting to entertain the reader with. Therefore, finding inspiration when it seems to allude you can be as simple as taking the time to be mindful of your own life itself. This is how we not only focus on those introspective perceptions that form some of the best works of literature, but how we find inspiration even when it seems as though we lack great movement in our own lives or the world around us.

I am not a Buddhist even though I am telling you that mindfulness is the key to becoming a better writer and enjoying life more in general. However, the most meaningful times in our lives are the little moments we meditate on and our interactions with everyone we meet, not just the most important people to us. We do not have to meditate in the traditional sense or go into a trance to "smell the roses" so-to-speak or find something new everyday that just might inspire us in every way. If we can achieve this, there is no limit to the inspiration we can find in the now.

I think that the best thing we can do to embrace the New Year is not simply to reflect on the past and look forward to the future by attempting something traditional like a New Year's resolution after enjoying an indulgent party. Instead, we can embrace the idea to enjoy daily life to the fullest and absorb everything around us as writers. We still want to make a promise to ourselves to take advantage of the New Year but we want to look at that more as an opportunity to make the most out of life instead of correcting what we see as our past mistakes both as writers and individuals. In the present is where we truly find the future in ourselves and everything we do.