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Monday, November 10, 2008

Finding My Voice

Personal Weather Report - Record Highs.

Writing Activity - Began a new story, a Contemporary. Currently at 5,300 words.

My daughter has a lovely singing voice and is happiest when she's belting out show tunes with such volume that our cats run for cover. Emblazoned on the front of one of her favorites tees are the words," Warning. Owner is subject to spontaneous outbursts of song."

I also like to sing. Our two feline friends are subjected to my impromptu ditties during the day when no one else is home. But I shy away from singing in public, a reluctance that stems from less than constructive criticism by a choir teacher in my youth.

My supportive family tells me my voice is fine. I haven't seen folks around me cover their ears or cringe when I sing in church. But vocal music is not my strong suit.

As a writer, I've heard plenty of talk about voice. My dictionary defines the word in this context as "the distinctive tone or style of a literary work or author."

Some writers have such a unique voice that readers can pick up one of their works and know within a few paragraphs or pages who authored the piece. I admire those pillars of publishing.

During the first two years after I began to write in earnest, I attended conferences where I heard more than one attendee say, " I found my voice when . . ." I marveled at such revelations and longed for one of my own.

I asked myself how one goes about developing this seemingly elusive voice. In an effort to learn, I read books on the writing craft. As a result, my mechanics improved. I no longer "head hopped," jumping from the point of view of one character after another. I added sensory detail, a feature sadly lacking in my earliest manuscripts, and I trimmed wordy descriptions.

And yet, I sensed something was missing.
My stories were flat, but I wanted them to sing.

I intentionally curtailed my writing for a few months, during which time I read books written by some of the best authors in my genre, started critiquing the work of others and served as a contest judge. I began to see why some writers' works resonated while others' didn't strike a chord with me.

The day came when the characters in one of my stories begged for me to let them speak. I'd resisted the voices in my head because I feared I'd produce more work at the same level as before, and I wasn't content to do so.

But I had a wonderful surprise in store. As I put fingers to keyboard last week for the first time in months, an incredible thing happened. Everything came together. My writing was markedly improved. That's not to say Nora Roberts, Debbie Macomber or Deeanne Gist have anything to fear, but I saw progress.

I'd felt like I was running into a brick wall for a long time, but then a door was thrown open. The first three chapters flowed from my fingertips as freely as show tunes do from my daughter's lips.

What made the difference? You guessed it. At long last I'd found my voice.

If someone were to ask me to explain how it happened, I'd say I gave myself permission to fill my writing with more of my unique way of saying things and to let go of my former strict adherence to the "rules." Not that I ignore them, by any means. I'm far too OC for that. I finally relaxed, trusted myself and my abilities, and let my voice burst forth. And I'm having a blast.

I'd love to hear from you. How long had you been writing before you found your voice? What happened that led to the discovery? And how would you explain the process to others?


Susan Anne Mason said...

Hi Keli,

Wonderful news! I'm so glad you've started back writing again and especially that you've found your voice!

I don't know if I've ever found mine. I just always write how I write. Like you, I've improved immensely in the mechanics of writing - but I hope my voice is developing, too.

We'll see, I guess. Happy writing! (Are you still doing inspirational?)


Anne Barton said...

Keli, it's interesting to read about your voice breakthrough, and I like the singing metaphor. Best of all, you're having fun with this book and that's the way it should be. :)

I think finding your voice is like finding a pair of perfect-fitting jeans (i.e., comfortable and they make your butt look good). You can spend a lot of time in the dressing room before you find THE one, because what works for one writer doesn't work for another.

Congrats on finding your voice! I'm still working on developing mine . . . and still searching for the perfect jeans. :)

Keli Gwyn said...


I'd say you have a fine voice. After all, you're a Golden Heart finalist, and you just finaled in the Golden Pen. People obviously like your stories.

And, yes, my new story is an inspirational. They're where my heart lies.

Keli Gwyn said...


I know you have a remarkable voice, having been privileged to read some of your work. Judges agree. Not only are you a Golden Heart finalist, but you WON the prestigious Maggie.

I love your jeans analogy. Seems this is my year. I finally found a brand of jeans that fit like they were made for me and do nice things for the backside. :-)

C.J. Redwine said...

I found my Voice when I, like you, took a break from actual writing to think, read, and absorb. I decided to give myself the freedom to write in first person (though tons of people said that was too risky) and I decided to really let my characters speak freely.

Instead of saying "Well, Alexa would be feeling this so that means she'd say *this*", I said, "How would this make Alexa feel?" And let myself feel it. Then I'd say, "How would Alexa respond to those emotions?" And that's what I'd write.

It's so freeing when you find your Voice, isn't it? I'm so excited for you!

Keli Gwyn said...


I'm so glad you took the time you needed to find your voice. I like how you don't write about Alexa. You essentially write for her as she tells you what to say. Cool.

And I've said it before, but it bears repeating. You have an amazing voice!

C.J. Redwine said...

Thanks. =) I have to hand the compliment right back to you. Your latest work is really excellent.