Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Is That You, Voice?

Some of you may recall a post I wrote about Steven Pressfield's book The War of Art a while back.  I follow Pressfield's blog, and his post this morning resonated with me for a couple of reasons.  First, the title of the post, The 10,000 Hour Rule, refers to the idea that it takes approximately ten years of practice and study to master your craft.  I'm not quite at ten years yet with this whole writing ridiculosity, but I'm getting there - I wrote my first novel in 2004.  Since then, it's been nothing but practice, practice, practice.  When I finished my first book (which is languishing somewhere in a desk drawer, exactly where it belongs), I did what most writers seeking agents did back then: I bought that year's Guide to Literary Agents.  That's right, an actual book.  I also took a writing class at UCSD, attended a writer's conference, went to several writing workshops, and took an unpaid internship at a literary agency.  I snagged any job I could that had anything to do with books, and I networked my butt off.  By 2008, when we moved to D.C., I had two more novels under my belt and some pretty good connections. 

Unfortunately, practice and study alone do not an author make, and despite all my hard work, lost sleep, and tears of disappointment, I wasn't necessarily any closer to publication than I'd been in 2004.  There's no such thing as "almost" having an agent, or "almost" being published.  You either are, or you aren't.  Pressfield's second point in his blog post has to do with something a lot more elusive than time: voice. 

"But what exactly are we learning when we’re beating our brains out all those years?" Pressfield writes.  "Skill, certainly. Patience, professionalism, many other things. But it was something much more subtle—and far more difficult...What these masters were learning was to speak in their own voice. They were learning to act as themselves. In my opinion, this is the hardest thing in the world."

Once again, I'm inclined to agree with Mr. Pressfield.  I didn't realize it until several months ago when an editor told me my voice was well-suited to Young Adult writing.  My voice?  I didn't even know I had a voice, per se.  I thought I was writing in my character's voices, and while that may be a part of developing your own voice, I'm learning that it's only one small part of a much larger whole.  It has to do with style, word choice, dialogue...everything that goes into making a novel belong solely to the author.  You can imitate another author's voice, but if it isn't your own, it isn't going to be authentic.  And if it isn't authentic, people will know.

I love YA as a genre.  I don't know why I resisted writing it for so long.  And now that I'm waist-deep in revisions for my first attempt at a YA book, and actually still enjoying it (which is due in large part to my fabulous NaNoReviMo partners - I seriously haven't been this motivated to revise EVER), I'm starting to think that maybe that editor was right: maybe this is where I belong.  For the first time in a long time I can actually see a light at the end of this very long tunnel.  Maybe it will take a few more years (like I said, I'm not at ten, yet), but I'm hopeful that I will reach that light some day.

And if that means that my "voice" is actually that of a seventeen-year-old girl, well, I'm okay with that too.


Sarah said...

Dave and I were just talking about Pressfield on the way to work! I like the quote about acting as ourselves - that really is the hardest thing, both in art and in life. xo

Jenny S. Morris said...

This is a great post. I just co-wrote a short story for my blog with my CP, and her voice and my voice are SO different. But, we made it work. I relate a lot of writing stuff to music. My hubby is a musician, so I try to translate for him. Anyway, when I sing I tend to change my voice to match the original singer of the song. I've always done this. I have no idea what I would sound like if I sang an original song. I'm 2 novels in, and I'm not sure I've found my voice, but I'm working on it. I've only been at it since 2008.

Tara Tyler said...

yay for you! i notice voice in every novel i read and even on people's blogs. it helps me write in the voice of my characters, become them and write from their perspective =)

Peggy Eddleman said...

I'm so excited for you that you found your voice, and that you found the genre tailor made for you! I'm also glad you're hanging out with us at the revising party. :)