I love the sound of my own writing voice. I can listen to my composed words all day long, like a favorite Bruce Springsteen song. I especially enjoy reading aloud to myself. During these private performances, I literally laugh and cry at my own words, pat myself on the back, and swoon over a lovely phrase. What I adore most about my writing voice is how lyrical, poetic, punny, and funny I think it is.I am not bragging but am complaining. My voice vanity sacrifices substance and meaning. I confess: I am a sinner of word pride, a glutton for longer sentences, greedy for witty and lavish phrases. I kill stories. I am a killer.
I am skilled at murdering plots. I fire guns filled with fluff and random bullet points that scatter irrelevant details like shrapnel. I chop up focus and sink story arcs. Then I abandon entire worlds that I create. I violently shove the underdeveloped pages into a folder that I lock in a box, slam into a drawer, and starve in a basement. I can bury a body of work without anyone ever knowing. I am a sneaky, garrulous monster.
I brainstorm ideas, outline plots, write about 10,000 words then get confused. I lose focus, so I usually give up. Why do I kill so many stories? I think my frilly, rambling writing voice is the main culprit. I call her Fancy Nancy.
I write lyrical, artsy prose that tends to stall the story. I waste too much time on wordplay then lose interest in the piece. Still, Fancy Nancy tempts me and I write: I ceaselessly practice to compose a symphony of melodious sentences filled with scales of ABC’s until the score becomes too lengthy and twangs with discordance. When reciting these musical lines, I can’t help but exclaim, “Bravo!”
Then I feel a need to say it another crafty way: I paint stunning phrases better suited for a centerfold than a plot diagram. “Ooh, la la!”
I can’t stop myself: I am a word warrior who blasts the page with exploding metaphors and onomatopoeia. “Bam!”
Here’s another song: I’m a master at choreographing a scene that tap dances the keyboard with personification? “Click, click, click!”
What the hell? It took me two hours to come up with that stuff, a bunch of disconnected images of me being a wordy writer: composer, painter, soldier, and dancer. Before that, I was a sinner and killer. These lines are fun to write, but they make for a recipe that’s hard to follow and swallow. (Add rhyming cook to the list.)
What to say to the amateur who dabbles too much in the italicized, verbose passages? “Dammit, Donna! Just tell the story already.” (Although my mother considered naming me Nancy, my real name is Donna and nickname is Sunshine, and I know this is random, but I thought you would like to know how I refer to myself as “Dammit Donna” when I need a scolding reminder to focus, get it together, and quit screwing up. I call out to “her” daily. Hmm.“Dammit, Donna” would be a good name for a book title. I write book titles more than books. I could write a whole book of book titles.)
I’m trying to clean up the clever clutter and stick with storylines, but it’s a true challenge. The best approach is to write less and cut more. Oh, how it pains me to weed though. What if I accidentally pluck the best words, my pretty little flowers?
That’s where Dammit Donna needs to swoop in, display the blooms, elsewhere, like in a vase, and move on to more meaningful tasks.
I really can’t stop the playful metaphoric ramblings, can I? I actually talk this way though. I have writer’s eyes, so I want to share the world with you the way I see it (Okay, now that line just made me cry proud tears.) My habit would be to go on and on about eyes, but I’m going to stop, and trust that you get it.
I don’t need to be a parrot, but I’m a mother and teacher who has to repeat, reiterate, restate, rephrase, echo, echo, echo… I AM wordy! (FYI – my quiet husband can successfully parent with one word, “No!” compared to my breathless arguments with our teenagers.)
I’ve received a lot of professional and constructive criticism about my writer’s voice. College professors told me I was trying too hard to sound like an English teacher, even though I majored in English education. An agent told me the first two pages of a book were too clever. An editor claimed I was too funny with too many punch lines. Ha! At first, this might seem like praise, but they quantified their comments with “too.” I get what they were saying. “Don’t over do it. Stay focused. Dammit, Donna, just tell the story already!”
Bruce Cherry, my Gotham Writers instructor for “Essay and Opinion Writing” offered this feedback concerning my voice:
You have a very exuberant way of using language that helps to convey the passion you feel. It dances right at the edge of becoming perhaps too florid once in awhile, but it’s really a matter of personal taste. Your writing style reminds me of the recordings of the great blues players like Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters who went electric at Chess Studios in the 50’s and 60’s. They would play so exuberantly that they would occasionally cause compression in the mics and push the VU meters into the red–technically a big no-no. But they used the sound of that compression as an element of the recording, and it became a signature sound. Technically speaking, they were going too far, but they refused to be constrained by convention. So definitely use it to your advantage.
Second to rock and roll, I treasure the blues, so what an amazing comparison! My take-away from this is to amp up my signature sound when it works to my advantage. Although, I’m retraining to write more concisely, I’m not entirely abandoning my florid voice. I will continue to decorate pages but in moderation. Fancy Nancy needs to focus less on beauty tricks and more on working diligently with Dammit Donna. *The two voices need to be friends so I can author more pieces that an audience bigger than myself craves.
I will continue to read my works aloud and praise them. Next time, I’ll set my voice to some background music, the blues. I’ll make a date with me. I’ll have wine and Muddy Waters and cherish the beautiful AND purposeful words resurrecting my stories. It will be delightful. I will be a better writer, not a killer.
*My first book, The Pencil Sharpener, is being published by The Wild Rose Press. The Pencil Sharpener is a novelette, a rosette, in which my editor, Melanie Billings, and a team of professionals helped me polish my prose into a piece I’m proud of and looking forward to sharing with you. I’ll blog more details soon. Shine on!