Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"You're Already a Voice Inside My Head"

I preach a lot about reading contemporary books, but the truth of the matter is that I’m steeped in the classics.

In life and in literature, I respect my elders.

I read young adult books now, but when I was a young adult, I was a literary snob. I also, and this goes for now and then, have always read any sort of writing advice I could find, but especially heeded that of Writers with a capital W.

One of my favorite pieces of writing advice comes from Writer Mark Twain:

“Use the right word, not its second cousin.”

This statement is hanging right above my desk. My office has zero pictures on the walls, but plenty of black text printed on white paper pinned around my desk. That way, I don’t spend too much time staring at distractions. All of my distractions lead me back to writing.

JA Konrath publishes a writing blog where he recently advised, “Do not start a story with telling,” and I cursed, because I have very recently done that. I started a story with this sentence: “She felt terrible.”--the exact sentence Konrath uses as an example of what not to do. When revising that story, I questioned the sentence, questioned others about whether my questioning was justified, and then left it. Oh inner voice, why do you mock me so?

Wait a minute. I’m having an epiphany here. Who is that inner voice and where does she get her information?

My inner voice is really a collection of people, only some of whom are Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, Annie Dillard, Frank Soos, Derick Burleson, Ray Bradbury, Garrison Keilor, Henry David Thoreau, and Barbara Kingsolver. They blend together in a literary conversation in my head, continuing to teach me long after I’ve completed their classes and read their books.

So, let me ask you: whose voices are filling your head and guiding your writing? Do you block out the writers of the past? Nothing wrong with that approach. Bob Dylan said “your old road is rapidly aging” in one of the best songs ever written. That’s the thing. Sometimes my voices disagree and I have to make the call.

Do you have a quote you write by? A lesson from an old or new Writer?


  1. I think I must be inspirationally-void. I don't have specific music that inspires me, or quotes or art.
    I do get inspiration from reading, does that count?

    More for me to reflect on, I guess!

  2. I don't think someone with a gajillion book ideas and an always changing WIP can be inspirationally void.

    Reading definitely counts.

  3. "Do not start a story with telling."

    Even before I clicked on the link, I thought this to be a ridiculous statement. I considered what not to start a story with, and came up with similar points that he brought up - the weather, backstory, and so on.

    "She felt terrible."

    It certainly isn't your fault that she felt terrible. Writers don't have that kind of control over their characters, even Vonnegut failed when he tried it (in Breakfast of Champions, for example). The only change you might want to make is explaining what made her feel terrible in the same sentence.

    "The expensive vase shattered into so many little pieces with the loud noise sending the cat scurrying, and she felt terrible."

    Or whatever. My unsolicited advice is this: Don't let writers tell you how to write. They're mostly bad at instructing and you'll go nuts if you listen to them. Readers tell writers how to write. Editors fix what readers miss. That list of yours (and mine, some of my favorites are there) is your inspiration. Your inner voice, and your writing, is all yours.

    Oh, and hello, nice to meet you. I mirror this weblog from LJ, where you requested an add. I'll add you the next time I log in, but there isn't anything much different in the blogspot account. Except that you might want to skip the posts about the economy, and anything about politics.

  4. But gringo,

    I love politics and the economy, well politics anyway.

    I read your unsolicited advice several times because it was a well written explanation of the distinction between inner voice and inspiration.

    Thanks for that and for stopping by.

  5. I find inspiration everywhere. The kids at my dance studio, songs on the radio, I even pick up rocks and look for little bits someone may have hidden, but sometimes I don't find anything and then...I feel terrible. ;)

  6. "Thanks for that and for stopping by."

    Oh, no, Ms. Marie, I'm here to stay for awhile. If you'll kindly show me the coatrack, I can handle my own bags. If there isn't a guestroom, can I sleep in the study? I can't promise to be quiet, but I'll be tidy...

  7. I love the Mark Twain quote. He is one of my favorite writers ever.

    And I liked gringo's comment about not letting other writers tell you how to write-- something to think about at least. I do think we have to be very careful not to let our voices be compromised by our search for writing perfection. Sometimes writing isn't perfect and it shouldn't be.

    I'm trying to think who I channel when I write and I really don't know. I know the people I wish I could write like: Charles Dickens, Markus Zusak, Suzanne Collins, Mark Twain, Jane Austen, and Roald Dahl, to name a few. But I think combining their styles might make for some crazy writing...

  8. "Sometimes writing isn't perfect and it shouldn't be."

    Excellent observation, Nat. I so totally agree.

  9. After reading all of your fine observations, I'm wondering if there is a way to block out all the voices and just write anymore.

    I bet I could. Okay, this is my private promise to me (and Nat, gringo, Karen, Amanda, and anyone else who stumbles over here), I shall write tomorrow!

    I know, big deal. I write every day, but I will take the Milli challenge (see Karen's and Megan's blogs for more info).

    I can't promise 10k words--too much going on, but I will give 1 hour to empty-mind writing.

    Maybe I'll even blog about it.

  10. I am not sure what writers I actually channel when I write. I would like to channel a combination of Raymond Carver, William Gass, Virginia Woolf, and David Sedaris.

    I often find a piece of music will influence some writing that I am working on. Most recently, it was A Saucerful of Secrets by Pink Floyd.