By Susan Lyttek
There’s a huge difference between teaching a writing class and teaching writers.
Let me explain.
Most of the year, I teach writing classes to kids and teens. When teaching a writing class, you start with the assumption that the students have a limited understanding of how to write creatively. They may have written poems and stories before and enjoyed it. That might be the reason they signed up for the class. But they don’t necessarily know technique or the components of good writing.
So for beginners, I take excerpts from the past, examples from writers gone by and explain the basics of what has worked and why. I give those pieces as a template for their efforts. Through these, they learn to write passable, maybe even delightful stories.
But teaching writers, people who have been writing a while and long to get published, (or published again) I often use those examples show what not to do.
Why is that?
It may seem obvious, but writing for publication means walking the fine line between meeting expectations and defying them. It is for the second half that we writers need to learn to avoid what has gone before.
In other words, we need to find voice.
When I read work by young writers, even the best among them, I “hear” other writers. Tolkien shows up in fantasy and Jane Austen in romance, for instance. Both are excellent authors and worthy to emulate, but are so strong that when used as the base for a new work, overpower it. They become all the reader hears.
So how do we writers find and use voice?
1) Read widely. This often seems counterintuitive because it puts more voices in our heads. But in the cacophony, especially if we read genres and styles other than our own, the words and style that God has given us bubble up to the surface.
2) Relax when drafting. Have fun with the creative process. Write the story you love, not necessarily what you think others want to read. Sometimes it won’t see publication, but that’s OK. Those words and the enjoyment you put into them are defining you and refining your voice.
3) Don’t edit until you type “the end”. When we edit in the middle of the work, that critical editor often embodies those authors of the past or people we admire. Relying on that editor too soon can squash individuality.
4) Pray for God to show you who you are as a writer. Finding voice, especially if we’ve had success copying the style and sound of someone else can be tricky. In this case, especially as Christian writers, we need God’s wisdom to become the writer he wants us to be.
Yes, writers must continually study technique and how to meet various publishing criteria. But we also need to learn to find and follow that inner voice, unique to us, to offer it back to our creator and our world.
Susan Lyttek, author of the kids’ comedy, Guzzy Goofball and the Homeschool Play from Outer Space (LPC) and the Talbott family mystery trilogy by Harbourlight Books, writes in the shadow of our nation’s capital. She enjoys training up the next generation of writers online and through homeschool co-op classes.
Thanks for this informative post, Susan. I find voice to be one of those critical yet slippery elements of writing–absolutely necessary, but hard to define and even harder to put into practice (much less teach someone else how to do!). Sometimes I feel as if I need to step out of my own way to let my voice come through on the page. Your tips will help. Thanks!
I’ve been struggling with finding my voice in writing lately. I can do it for short pieces on my blog but not for longer pieces like when I try narrative nonfiction or fiction. Making that transition is proving to be quite frustrating. These suggestions help me know I’m on th right track. I think I need a few people to talk ideas out with too since I tend to find my voice easier when I teach on the topic first.