Editing out your own voice
"You are so busy being you that you have no idea how utterly unprecedented you are. "
John Green, Author
What is the difference between editing and losing your voice?
A few months ago a friend emailed me her short story. She asked me to review it because it was rejected by every magazine that she'd sent it to and she couldn't understand why.
As I read it, I could almost tick the boxes off in my head.
- A strong opening sentence - tick.
- Paragraphs that flowed logically into one another - tick.
- Overall cohesion - tick.
- No spelling or grammar issues - tick.
- A clear beginning, middle and end (with a twist) - tick.
It was perfect. It was also clinical and sterile and could have been written by a machine. That's how textbook perfect it was. 'So?' my friend, Tash, asked when she phoned me later for feedback. "What's wrong with it?' 'Well, It's perfect,' I said, 'but it lacks personality.'
'What do you mean?' she protested. 'My characters clearly have very distinct personalities!'
'Yes, your characters have distinct personalities, but so do you,' I replied. 'Where are you in the story?' 'What do you mean? I wrote it, obviously, so that's where I am.' 'Sorry, Tash, but you are not in the story at all.' My friend, Tash, has a large personality. She's funny, she's loud and she definitely has a rather quirky way of interpreting her world. She's travelled far and wide and she has a knack for making connections in her mind between unexpected things, but these connections work! She's like a truly talented chef - able to mix together flavours that most of us would cringe at, but when we taste it, it's unexpected bliss.
None of this showed in her writing. The story was technically perfect but bland and straightforward with not a trace of her characteristic humour anywhere. In life, Tash is like a lion, but her writing personality is that of a mouse.
"Follow your inner light. Don't hide the madesss."
But how can we allow our unique personality to flavour our writing?
How come Tash's large, humorous personality didn't show through in her story?
Well, when I saw her first few drafts, her personality did shine through. But she landed up editing it all out because she was afraid of sounding stupid. Eventually, she'd cut out - all the quirky observations, strange comparisons (even though they worked very well) and tongue-in-cheek comments that's so her until there was nothing left of Tash in the story.
There are a few ways that we can allow our personality to shine through in our writing, in a good way. That's how we get our article about the sunset to sound different from someone else's article about the sunset.
Here are some of them: Your personal stories - the way that you interpret and experience the world is unique to you. Write about the blue sky and the traffic jam and the birth of your child in the way that you experienced them, not in the way that you think people in general experience them. Use original comparisons - these reflect your worldview and thinking processes. Learn the art of using two seemingly unrelated things to show a fresh perspective on something. Your perspective. Throw the old cliches away. They're about as useful as a blunt carving knife. Write your first draft - This sounds like something that shouldn't even need to be said, but so often we get all hung up on getting the words and ideas down just right, that we start editing while we're still busy getting the ideas down. We don't give our personality the time and space to come out and play on the page because we're too fixated on 'getting it right'.
Live life deeply and broadly, and allow the experiences to influence your writing -Write in a different format, use a new method, write with half, or double, the words you normally do. Write in different places, travel a bit and experience life in as much depth as you can.
Be present to your daily life - All the little details of your daily life can add personality to your writing, but only if you're mindfully present enough to really take notice of them. When last did you really see the sunset, or the moon, or your child? Your experiences of the moon and the sunset (and obviously your child) will be different to mine, so pay attention.
"Insist on yourself. Never imitate."
Ralph Waldo Emerson.
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