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Trouble with Writing Voice

johnnyfoges

Dreamer
So this is a general question...statement?
ANYWAY.

One of the big troubles I have when writing is trying to read with a "voice" that is not my own. I feel like this is important to any basic critique and editing process and I really struggle with it. I usually can construct a narratives that I feel good about. However, I feel like at least 50% of that good feeling comes from knowing exactly what is going on in my story. I certainly try to think of other perspectives and potential confusions, although I'm no genius. So what are some questions I should be considering when thinking about this kind of review? Interesting character details? Names? Subtle use of repetition to help the reader retain important details?

The more i think about it the larger the issue seems to become. Thoughts?
 

Ned Marcus

Inkling
I think the best way out of this is to have other people read your work and give feedback on it. The more you do this, the more you'll get used to other ways of thinking about your writing. Over time, you'll be able to remember some of these 'voices' (hopefully the best) and apply them when you're reviewing your own work.

Trying to do this all by yourself is hard, although reading books on craft can help, too.
 

johnnyfoges

Dreamer
I think the best way out of this is to have other people read your work and give feedback on it. The more you do this, the more you'll get used to other ways of thinking about your writing. Over time, you'll be able to remember some of these 'voices' (hopefully the best) and apply them when you're reviewing your own work.

Trying to do this all by yourself is hard, although reading books on craft can help, too.

Well at least that is what I'm trying right now with this forum!
 

Ned Marcus

Inkling
I don't know what response you'll get here. It can be hard because most people are busy. For me, a face-to-face fantasy critique group helps a lot. And editors (when you reach that stage).
 

pmmg

Vala
I hate to say so again, but you may find more feedback on a site more geared towards peer review, such as Scribophile (no, I dont own stock in them). Peer review sites tend to require a tit-for-tat type of effort, and with any site, you will get out of it whatever you put in.

As for finding others to help coarse adjust and fine tune your writing effort, you will need a good source of feedback. The best way I know to get this is to offer a trade from someone else also looking for a review.

I will also say, that as you gain more confidence, and more feedback, you will start to get a better feel for this on your own, where as you can do a lot of coarse adjustment on your own.

I have worked hard to cultivate my writing voice over many years, and I am pleased with how it turns out. But I have a great curse, in that my brain omits words and I dont see that they are missing. The most troublesome of these is the word 'Not', which completely changes the meaning of entire thoughts.... 'I can not pick you up at the airport' becomes 'I can pick you up at the airport'..., and I must admit this is very aggravating. I dont trust anything I write to have the words I thought were in it. So....I always send my work out with a lot of hope that there is not too much of that.

But, by the time something I have written lands before someone else's eyes, I have probably edited it about 30 times beginning to end. So I do weed out a lot of it. And its not unusual for me to come back month or years later and re-edit something, and the distance takes that voice away.

In my own writing process, the first effort is just to get words on the page and make it look pretty later. So, its not likely any sentence from my first effort will survive the editing process, and I dont think I am unique at that.

Another option is to find a site like Wattpad, where you can post work, and maybe others will read it and leave comments. But, that counts as publishing, so you may be your own opinions on if that is desirable or not.

Also, the fastest path to feedback is to write short stories, which complete faster and are more likely to pick up casual readers. Entering contests, may also get you faster feedback. Someone has to judge them ;)
 

Penpilot

Staff
Article Team
In order to critique your own work, it's usually best to set it aside for a time and come back to it later. How much time depends on the individual. With practice and experience, that time can be reduced significantly. Setting it aside and maybe writing other things will help you forget the minutia.So you're approaching it with fresh eyes like a reader would, and it will enable you to see the flaws more clearly.

Also, your millage will vary in terms of quality of critique if you use unknown strangers on the internet to critique your work. You generally have no idea what the experience level of the person giving a critique has or what their motivations are. Unfortunately, some people just like to see the world burn so to speak. And sometimes a well intentioned stranger may have no idea what they're doing and may press you to take a story in the direction they want instead of helping you find your way through to the story you want.

One thing you can do, If you can, try finding an in-person writing group. Being around other writers, reading what they're writing, hearing their opinions and seeing them face to face can help. See them face to face consistently over time will allow them to understand the story you want to tell, and it will allow you to understand/judge the level of advice you're getting.

Also, just reading lots and reading as a reader and as a writer with a critical eye will help you with your own writing. One of the things I did when I was starting off, was I took a book I was interest in--unfortunately or fortunately, it turned out to be a terrible book--and I broke it down chapter by chapter taking notes on things I liked, things I didn't like, things I though could have been done better, etc.

I still do this from time to time in a way, not in such detail, but when I'm watching a bad movie or reading a book, I may mentally break it down and analyse all or part of it. I try to learn from the strengths and weaknesses of the story as I perceive them.

And finally, it doesn't hurt to read books on writing theory, structure, plotting, etc. After all, most if not all disciplines requires some sort of study, formal or informal.
 

pmmg

Vala
Also, your millage will vary in terms of quality of critique if you use unknown strangers on the internet to critique your work. You generally have no idea what the experience level of the person giving a critique has or what their motivations are. Unfortunately, some people just like to see the world burn so to speak. And sometimes a well intentioned stranger may have no idea what they're doing and may press you to take a story in the direction they want instead of helping you find your way through to the story you want.

In my experience, while this is not untrue, it is not often a real concern. Those who are bad at it will not resonate and you will quickly learn how to evaluate the feedback of others.

Also from my own experience, I would say I got much more benefit from reviewing others, than from others reviewing me. Maybe even 10 fold. When reviewing others, you see a lot of good and bad writing, and in doing so, you learn even better how to recognize it in yourself.
 

Mad Swede

Maester
This is going to sound odd coming from someone who is dyslexic, but I'd suggest reading a lot. Read books from different genres, read novels, series and short stories. Read articles in periodicals like The Economist and the New Scientist. Try to read a little critically, thinking about what it is that makes the story/article readable and comprehensible to you. A lot of this is down to good grammar, but a lot is also down to sentence and paragraph construction. Then write. Write, write, write. Get someone you trust to read what you write and ask for their honest opinion. And then continue writing. Eventually you'll find your own voice and style. Then all you have to do is sell your work...
 
First of all, don't sweat it. A writer's voice is something which develops over time and never stops changing. Stephen King today is very different from Stephen King 40 years ago (though probably still somewhat recognizable to a fan).

The best way to get better at writing (as with anything really) is to write a lot.

A few other things to try:
- Leave time between the first draft and subsequent drafts. How much depends on the writer. The average people give is 2-3 months. Personal confession: I don't leave any time between draft 1 and 2. But then I somehow manage to forget the exact story I've written which means my knowledge of the story doesn't interfere with the edit, since most of that knowledge is not there anymore. My brain is weird...
- Ask others for feedback. Either beta-readers or an editor. For my first editor I got a partial critique from a professional editor. 1 hour of her work, which got me a bunch of pages and showed me a lot of area's to improve. And because it was only 1 hour it was fairly cheap. beta readers are the same, though I would suggest getting more than 1 if you go that route. Beta readers are not professionals, they can tell you what they like and don't like, but perhaps you just found the one person who doesn't like your story. Also, common advise is not to use family for this, since they either tend to think you're wasting your time writing or are too impressed to give you useful feedback.
- Listen to your work when you edit it instead of reading it. Word and google docs have a text to speech feature. Use that to read the text back to you. Because this only reads what is there it will show you everything missing in terms of actual text. Of course, it won't point out plot holes, but at least it helps.

I have probably edited it about 30 times beginning to end
You manage to edit a novel 30 times? I'm already sick and tired of it after 3 passes...
 

Ned Marcus

Inkling
I got much more benefit from reviewing others, than from others reviewing me. Maybe even 10 fold. When reviewing others, you see a lot of good and bad writing, and in doing so, you learn even better how to recognize it in yourself.

There's a lot of truth in this. I've learnt a lot from regularly critiquing other fantasy (and science fiction) writers. Some people don't want to become involved in a critique group because they don't want to waste their time doing this. They miss a lot.
 

johnnyfoges

Dreamer
First of all, don't sweat it. A writer's voice is something which develops over time and never stops changing. Stephen King today is very different from Stephen King 40 years ago (though probably still somewhat recognizable to a fan).

The best way to get better at writing (as with anything really) is to write a lot.

A few other things to try:
- Leave time between the first draft and subsequent drafts. How much depends on the writer. The average people give is 2-3 months. Personal confession: I don't leave any time between draft 1 and 2. But then I somehow manage to forget the exact story I've written which means my knowledge of the story doesn't interfere with the edit, since most of that knowledge is not there anymore. My brain is weird...
- Ask others for feedback. Either beta-readers or an editor. For my first editor I got a partial critique from a professional editor. 1 hour of her work, which got me a bunch of pages and showed me a lot of area's to improve. And because it was only 1 hour it was fairly cheap. beta readers are the same, though I would suggest getting more than 1 if you go that route. Beta readers are not professionals, they can tell you what they like and don't like, but perhaps you just found the one person who doesn't like your story. Also, common advise is not to use family for this, since they either tend to think you're wasting your time writing or are too impressed to give you useful feedback.
- Listen to your work when you edit it instead of reading it. Word and google docs have a text to speech feature. Use that to read the text back to you. Because this only reads what is there it will show you everything missing in terms of actual text. Of course, it won't point out plot holes, but at least it helps.


You manage to edit a novel 30 times? I'm already sick and tired of it after 3 passes...


I've edited the work that prompted this post about that many times. An original draft was written I think 8 years ago now, it got redone, then it got redone again. Then a huge bunch of editing to that draft. I decided I could hone it more so then went from draft 3.2.004 to draft 4. Then I rewrote AGAIN...that produced this current work but it is on editing stage like... 5.0.3? As a rough guess
 

Penpilot

Staff
Article Team
I've edited the work that prompted this post about that many times. An original draft was written I think 8 years ago now, it got redone, then it got redone again. Then a huge bunch of editing to that draft. I decided I could hone it more so then went from draft 3.2.004 to draft 4. Then I rewrote AGAIN...that produced this current work but it is on editing stage like... 5.0.3? As a rough guess

One of the skills every writer has to develop is knowing when to move on. With my first book, I wrote 4 drafts. I was about to head into draft 5 when I realized I didn't have the skills right then and there to address all the problems with that book. I wasn't even sure where to start, and I was spending a lot of time spinning my wheels for little gain. I realized that I had taken the story as far as I could with my current skill set, and I was about to fall into the trap of the perpetual rewrite.

So, I moved on to the next book. I took what I learned from writing the first book, added that to what I was learning from reading books on writing, and wrote my second novel. As I was writing my second novel, I started to realize what all the issues were with the first novel, and I knew how to fix them. Maybe some day I'll go back, but I was more interested in moving ahead, because going back and fixing is going to take more time than writing something new. That was several novels ago, and with each new project I start and finish, my writing skills get better and better, because no only am I reinforcing lessons I've learned, but I'm constantly making new and different mistakes and learning from them, too.
 

Ned Marcus

Inkling
One of the skills every writer has to develop is knowing when to move on.

True. I wrote my first novel by hand (about 90,000 words) and realised it was bad, so I started my next, which was also bad. The third novel I attempted became my first published novel, which took me seven years from start to publication.

But before moving on, I'd recommend johnny or anyone in this position find someone with experience and knowledge to critique it, even if it's just the first few chapters. It's a learning experience that can save time later.
 

pmmg

Vala
To be honest, I feel I have two good works in me, one fantasy, one SciFi. I still believe in my story, but it got put on a long hold cause of life. But the kids are nearly moved out, so I am getting my peace back :) So long as I believe in it, I am willing to keep at it. I think I will keep at them till both are written and then only write shorter stuff if I feel like it. But the future is unknown, so....

I am an old pro at rewrites, they don't bother me. But I made a promise that I'd not publish the first part, till part two was written as well. Part two is moving along at a good pace. It is awful....every part of it struggled to get on the page, and I am giving up fixing anything for just putting words on the page. The rewrite of that will be immense I feel, but.... Still believe.

I don't know where I will get feedback on it. All of my original beta readers have long since faded into life as well. I pretty much have to start new. But I don't believe in seeking feedback on a work in progress, so that is a later endeavor. Maybe some of you when I get there.
 

Penpilot

Staff
Article Team
To be honest, I feel I have two good works in me, one fantasy, one SciFi.

IMHO, you're short changing yourself. From my experience, writing is like a snowball rolling down a hill. The further you go, the more ideas and momentum you accumulate. One idea sparks two. Those two spark four and so on. Soon, you have more ideas than you can use in a lifetime. I mean I used to think in a similar way. Now, I have a file with ideas for over a dozen novels and gosh knows how many short stories. And I'm constantly adding more.
 
You manage to edit a novel 30 times? I'm already sick and tired of it after 3 passes...

I kind of consider my ability to reread a piece dozens of times over the span of months without getting bored or hating it as a sign of quality, LOL. If I don't find my own piece of writing engaging enough to work on repeatedly, I start to question its merit.

Of course, this could be off base, but before publishing Eve of Snows it was one piece of criteria I considered before sending it to an editor and spending money on it, heh heh.
 

pmmg

Vala
IMHO, you're short changing yourself. From my experience, writing is like a snowball rolling down a hill. The further you go, the more ideas and momentum you accumulate. One idea sparks two. Those two spark four and so on. Soon, you have more ideas than you can use in a lifetime. I mean I used to think in a similar way. Now, I have a file with ideas for over a dozen novels and gosh knows how many short stories. And I'm constantly adding more.

I hear you, but I also know myself. I did short stories for a long while. I really dont prefer them, and I only have so much energy to spend. When I finish the one, I will move on to the next. If that gets done, we'll see. I might be retired by then ;)
 

pmmg

Vala
I kind of consider my ability to reread a piece dozens of times over the span of months without getting bored or hating it as a sign of quality, LOL. If I don't find my own piece of writing engaging enough to work on repeatedly, I start to question its merit.

Of course, this could be off base, but before publishing Eve of Snows it was one piece of criteria I considered before sending it to an editor and spending money on it, heh heh.

I am not bored of it yet, just unhappy that I write slowly. I have a few I dont like. Oddly, the one I dislike the most, got the most attention when it was published. And my two best stories collect nothing but rejections. Go figure....
 
I kind of consider my ability to reread a piece dozens of times over the span of months without getting bored or hating it as a sign of quality, LOL. If I don't find my own piece of writing engaging enough to work on repeatedly, I start to question its merit.

Of course, this could be off base, but before publishing Eve of Snows it was one piece of criteria I considered before sending it to an editor and spending money on it, heh heh.
It's not so much that I dislike reading it, it's that I dislike working on it. It's how my brain works. I don't like doing something I feel I've already done. I have trouble rewriting a section because my mind keeps going back to what I wrote before and try to use parts of that in the rewrite. Even if it takes a lot more time my brain keeps telling me it will be faster.

As such, I can edit a couple of times, as long as I tell myself I focus on something different in each pass. But doing two similar polishing passes on the same text becomes tough.

I know it's very different for different people, which makes it very hard to give any definitive rule on how often you should or shouldn't do edits. As said, it's just how my brain behaves :)
 
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