Where Is My Writing Voice?

Where Is My Writing Voice?

When I heard the question, “How do I find my writing voice?” I had this vision of searching my house. Looking behind the cushions on the couch, checking amongst the debris long forgotten in the back of my wardrobe, maybe even turning out the rubbish bin in my desperation. My plaintive cries of, “Voice, where are you?” getting louder and more anguished as my feverish, fruitless search intensified.

I imagined my writing voice as this mystical, elusive, willful creature that I somehow needed to persuade to come and work for me. I believed once I had secured its services all my troubles would be over, writing would become effortless, miracles would rain from the heavens, doors would open and I’d be showered with success. Yet my quest for the writer’s “Holy Grail,” my very own writer’s voice, felt hopeless. I wondered where to turn next. Perhaps I could try someone else’s on for size: “Writing Voice Wanted. Please Apply Within.”

It was in those simple words I’d finally unearthed my answer: apply within. I wasn’t going to find it racing around, asking others for help. It wasn’t lurking out there somewhere, hoping to be noticed. It was inside me waiting to be rediscovered.

It wasn’t even lost – it had just been hiding. Hiding behind all those old fears and doubts that I’d been carrying around. It had disappeared behind that rock I’d stuck in my own way that said, “I have nothing to say that anyone would want to hear.” It shrank to a whisper each time I’d thought, “They know more than I do,” “they are more interesting than I am,” “more qualified,” perhaps even “more important.”

.

About Fiona

Fiona MacKay is a freelance writer and wildlife photographer who enjoys sharing her passions for creativity, travel, environmental issues, holistic lifestyles, complementary therapies and wildlife photography through the written word. She is a propagator of trees, flowers, thoughts and ideas and is currently writing her first book – a guide to the palliative care of animals under the guidance of Joanne Fedler.

www.FionaMacKayPhotography.com

Finding your writing voice does require a quest. Not the comical searching down the back of the couch kind, but rather one of quiet internal reflection. Armed with the courage to be vulnerable and the confidence to value yourself and your life, you need to look lovingly and with self-compassion in the mirror. Not giving just a quick glance, but a long hard look.

Your voice is waiting amongst the scars of the life you’ve led. It resonates with all the memories you’ve created, the places you’ve seen, the things and people you’ve loved, and lost, all the pain you’ve survived, every time you’ve laughed or cried and every ounce of wisdom you have accumulated. It vibrates to the unique tone, pitch and harmony of every thought, emotion, memory and experience you’ve ever had.

It is simply you on the page. Not trying to be anyone else. Not trying to impress anybody. Just you, unfettered, unadulterated, free and true.

You need to give yourself permission to use it. Not the voice that whispers what you think people want to hear. The voice that rises from your heart imbued with the passionate imprint of your life, carrying the echo of all your pain and all your love.

It’s time for you to own your life and your very own beautiful, powerful voice.

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Writing About Writing About Writing

Writing About Writing About Writing

I have recommitted to writing. This is the anthem I have been singing for the last two-thirds of a year—a requiem for wasted time, claimed during the approach of my son’s first birthday. I was in a place of relative peace as this promise to myself was made, and I quickly rediscovered both the freedom and passion offered by the craft, yet there was a needling at the back of my skull, a heaviness which rolling my shoulders and repeatedly pivoting my neck could not dislodge. I have sung this song before, but whenever my life has become busy, or other priorities have demoted my aspirations, those notes have inevitably faded into silence.

How many times must we restart something before we get it “right”?

The thought that I will lose momentum again is an avatar of fear. She stacks plates in the cupboard while I wash dishes that can wait, she sulks beside me when I sink into the couch to watch television, and she lurks over me, analyzing every word I scrawl or type. She has been with me almost my whole life and I know she isn’t going anywhere. She has always been the bully who will knock over the tower of blocks only I have the vision and dedication to build.

But blocks can be restacked. The pieces can be picked up as many times as is necessary and reconfigured to create more inventive and sustainable structures.

.

About Jennifer

Jennifer wrote her first poem at the age of six, and she has been involved in the world of words as an editor, a blogger, and an article writer. She is published in and shortlisted for a growing number of local, national, and international electronic and print publications.Most recently she had an essay, titled Bairnlorn, appear in the Globe & Mail, placed first in the My City, My Words poetry contest, and wrote and handcrafted a board book for her son.

She also tells terrible jokes.

While doubt will probably always threaten to topple my undertakings, I have discovered an interesting way to stand against this shadow-self. I write about her. I have started to compose pieces that delve into my feelings about the act of writing itself, and it has opened up a path into my own process that I could never have discovered without the unwanted companionship of disquiet.

I have begun to view her as a character.

In engaging my own sense of levity and curiosity about my fear, I have made her less powerful. I see her now as flawed and complex, a composition of erroneous assumptions and misguided efforts to protect. It doesn’t mean that when she flattens my work that it doesn’t hurt, but I better understand her attempts to intimidate and support inactivity. I can turn my back on her and walk away when she is being belligerent or enabling. And I can be empathetic of her struggle… while simultaneously plotting to kill her off in the sequel.

Realizing that I have an actual relationship with my craft, and that I can identify my anxieties, confidences, and quirks as the cast of a story, has created a new space into which I can write. I no longer feel outside of what I am doing, but rather I participate actively in all the arguments, harmonies, and silences that surround my work.

It turns out that I am not singing some precarious melody. I am the anthem. I am the story.

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The Birth of Your Story

I wrote a little poem for you.

The Birth of Your Story

Avid reader
book lover
writer at heart
had your family
or let that ship pass by
called ‘smart’ from the start
rescued and raised others
done your duty
left when you needed to
stayed too long
in ‘maybe’ and ‘someday.’
One breast less
three kids gone
hubby at the footy
with his new wife
or tombstoned too soon.
Hubby? You always did prefer girls
– not in that way, but mind you…
Said enough goodbyes
to a uterus
a pregnancy
a mother
(don’t get you started on
friends losing fights to this and that).
A woman of letters
you always loved words
something there, you thought
but there was no rent in writing
and what would you write about?
– such an unremarkable life of sacrifice –
and who would care?
Read some good books lately
wanted to travel
thought you would someday
dreamed of more
but not ‘stuff‘ – you’re done with all that.
Pants getting tighter
– that’s what happens over forty –
your heart’s feeling lighter
you linger a little longer
in ‘maybe it’s not too late.’
You put on what you’ve put off
spend what you’ve been saving
for that rainy day
because
it’s time
and you can
and the wait for
whatever it was you were hoping for
is done.

There are only so many days left of this life. Only so many hours. If this poem was written for you, you know what you have to do. I am standing by to help you do it.

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On Backstory, Flashbacks and Character Memories

Writing question: When and how do I use backstory, flashbacks and character memories?

To bring a character to life, to make them complex, sympathetic and richly conceived, they need context and history. We want to know where they’ve been, what they’ve experienced and witnessed. Knowing a villain was an abandoned orphan gives the reader a completely different emotional reaction to a character.

There are three tools we have as writers to achieve this:
1. Backstory
2. Flashback
3. Character memories

When we write, there are two tracks we are working with: the front story and the back story. These are two different stories and we can think of them as parallel lines, that at some point, will intersect and bring the two stories together.

So we see a character trying to do something in the front story, say, lose weight, or help her client get out of an abusive relationship, or get her daughter to talk to her after she has lost her boyfriend (examples from some of my books).

For each of these, there will be a parallel backstory: leaving a homeland to escape violence; losing a baby brother as a child; a date rape when she was a young woman. These are different stories from the character’s past and ostensibly, have nothing to do with the front story. Of course, these backstories provide our characters with their backstory wound – the piece of their history puzzle that helps the reader to understand them emotionally, their motivations, their fears, their longings. So it is vitally important that these backstories are as completely formed as the front story.

Backstory, however is often buried, and slowly revealed. This is a masterful way of releasing your character onto the page so that your reader is gently brought into emotional synchronicity with a character she or he may not fully understand upfront. When I teach writing character, I talk about each character having a ‘secret’ – this is often their backstory wound.

We want our reader to know that our character has something tucked away in his or her past that is painful, and we may offer clues, and subliminally suggest the secret through setting, or object placement or significance, or symbolism. Sometimes we don’t know yet what our character’s backstory wound is when we begin (this happened to me when I wrote Things Without A Name -I only worked it out eight months after I began to write the book.) We may not even fully comprehend what that backstory wound is when writing memoir. Often, in the writing, we stumble across a memory that we identify in the words of Leonard Cohen as ‘the place where the suffering began.’

When we write fiction, generally we want to begin with the front story – the action. The mistake many of us make is to begin with backstory or to get into backstory too soon. Think of that as ‘over-explaining.’  If we can hold off from bringing in backstory for the first few chapters, we give our readers a chance to ‘get into the story,’ to get caught up in the character’s conflict, and to care about the character’s predicament. We should aim to stay true to the front storyline for a good few chapters before we stray into history.

Often writers resort to backstory because their front story is not strong enough. So watch out for that. If the backstory is stronger than the front story, it may be your main story. Backstory is there to provide insight to the reader and to show our character’s wounding and motivation for their behaviour in the front story. This allows our readers to deeply connect with and understand our character. It is the ‘why’ of your story – why your character is the way he or she is and will be deeply connected to the themes of your book.

How can we bring in backstory? We insert it in what our character says. It slips into conversation; it pushes its way through into the front story.

E.g. ‘Ughh,’ Janet shuddered. ‘I don’t ever want to go back there again.’ Beads of sweat broke out on her brow.

‘You okay?’ Trent asked.

‘I thought I was done with that place. Happiness never had a chance there.’

At some point we will have to employ a flashback to reveal to our reader what happened to Janet ‘there.’

Flashbacks

Flashbacks are stories from the character’s past where we take our readers back into a moment from our character’s lives. They might be moments from childhood, or scenes from another relationship. They must of course be thematically linked to the plot of your front story. They must shed some light or insight into the main story. A flashback is a dedicated scene which you enter and exit. It can be a stand alone chapter.

Some flashbacks are subplots and may work tangentially to the main story. Some will be directly related to the backstory. We don’t stumble into a flashback. They are clearly employed. Flashbacks will have their own emotional arcs and may even be paradoxically inclined against the main theme. E.g. if your main theme is betrayal, we may have a backstory moment where your character trusted someone for the first time.

Example: Chapter 68 from my book Things Without A Name
Chapter 68: Suitcase

‘It’s only for a few weeks,’ my mother said to me. She was standing next to a large brown suitcase on wheels. Nonna was holding my hand, tightly, as though I was a kite the wind might rip from her grasp at any moment.
‘But that’s a long time,’ I said. ‘Seven days in a week, times by a few is about fourteen or fifteen or even more . . .’
‘You’re my clever girl,’ my mother said, kissing the top of my head. ‘I just need to go and have a bit of time to myself . . . to . . . feel better . . .’
‘Are you feeling sick?’ I asked her.
‘A little. I’ve got a sore place in my heart, and I have to go and get it better, so I can be a good mother to you and Liberty.’
‘But you are a good mother,’ I said.
My mother’s eyes filled with tears. ‘Darling girl,’ she said in a whisper.
‘Please don’t go, Mummy,’ I said. I felt Nonna’s grip on my hand tightening.
‘I have to.’
‘I promise I’ll be good if you stay . . . What if you don’t come back?’ I asked her.
‘I will be back, and when I do, I will be much stronger, and a mummy has to be strong, for her children . . . and besides, Dad, Nonna and Nonno Antonio will be here too, so you will have lots of people to look after you.’
‘Si,’ Nonna said.
I reached out to my mother, pulling my hand from Nonna’s, and clung to her. I buried my face in her skirt which smelled of the heart-break of tangerine and honeysuckle.
Gently, she untangled me. Holding my hand, she led me to the cupboard in the lounge room where she opened the chess set she had got as a little girl. She removed the black queen and held it out to me.
‘I have a very important job for you—will you look after my black queen while I’m gone? Mummy needs her black queen, it’s her lucky charm, it always helps her win. Will you keep her safe and give her back to me when I come back?’
I took the black queen from her and closed my fist around it. It felt hard and cold in my palm. I clutched it for dear life.

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

Character Memories

We can also employ the technique of character memories where our characters reveal themselves, their vulnerabilities, their stories through remembering their past. These moments will often happen in scenes where a character is sharing something from his or her past with another character. It’s a moment of vulnerability for our character. Our character may choose to share a secret, a story, a memory with another character. They tell us the story in their own words, using dialogue.

Here is an example from chapter 79 from my book Things Without A Name (warning, spoiler alert)

‘I also made a mistake,’ he says so quietly I wonder whether I have conjured it.

‘It was just another ordinary night out with our friends . . . We were hanging out at this bar called Friskies because we’d heard there was a team of Spanish netballers who were coming there after training. Noah was into Spanish girls. He was even taking classes. Just hearing Spanish made him horny. When you’re eighteen, you don’t think about anything except what’s under that little netball skirt. Like how many you’ve actually had, who’s driving . . . if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist . . .’

I am holding my breath.

‘I didn’t see that Merc coming,’ he says. ‘I swear to God . . . I didn’t even see it.’

I let out a sigh. I sniff.

‘I didn’t see it . . .’

‘You didn’t,’ I say.

‘Trouble with mistakes is that they’re like things underwater. You can’t tell if they’re big or small or near or far, until you stick your hand in, and what seemed far away is actually near . . . little things . . . like forgetting to indicate.’ He exhales a little puff of what could have been a laugh in a different story. ‘Most of the time, you’ll get hooted at for that. Worst case—you get called an asshole . . . I got to bury my brother . . . the one person I loved and would have died for . . . I guess that’s what they call irony . . . except it’s my life.’

I take this information in, a tainted bequest, and clasp it close like a struggling creature. It beats against the walls of my ribs. It hurts.

‘We all make mistakes, Faith . . .’

I have nothing I can give him back that words can hold so I just sit in the silence. But I reach into it, and press my unlovely fingers on the source of his bleed, and I hold them there. He is quiet. For the first time since I was a little girl sitting birdwatching with my father, silence becomes a holding place, like water where things shift in suspension and not something that happens to you, forcing itself on you so that you are never the same again.

I hear him exhale. And then he says to me, ‘Maybe it’s time for you to think about doing something that isn’t so stressful.’

‘You just don’t like my chewed-up nails,’ I say.

‘I’ll match your chewed up nails and raise you an abdominal scar.’

I chuckle.

‘I’ll come and help you to scrub it off later,’ he says.

So now we’re having a date to remove misogynist graffiti from my car windscreen.

In my world, this is what is called making progress.

*****

We can use character memories in an interesting way – we can let the character ‘tell the memory’ in one way, and then we can write a flashback where the memory is told from a different point of view or with a different interpretation. This will allow our reader to question the credibility of the character, and if the main character is the narrator, he may subsequently become an ‘unreliable narrator,’ as our readers won’t be sure whether he is trustworthy or not. Our character may reveal himself as a liar, exaggerator or victim depending on how he chooses to talk about a memory. This in itself, sheds light on the character’s backstory – who he is as a result of what has happened to him.

Have fun exploring and experimenting with these writing techniques to build up a complex character with a rich and interesting history you reveal slowly and strategically depending on the emotional journey you want to take your reader on.

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What Would Happen If You Just Stopped?

What Would Happen If You Just Stopped?

Yep, you know what I mean. Just stopped. Did nothing.

If you’d asked me this question during the past 18 months while I worked 14 hour days, 7 days a week, it would have baffled me. I love hard work. I’ve got what we call ‘zeitzvleis’ – ‘sitting-flesh’ – I can do crazy hours, concentrate fiendishly, juggle a thousand tasks and still get to 6am yoga. Except that it’s not sustainable, and really nothing to get cocky about. In this state, yoga is just another thing to do on a never-ending ‘to-do’ list. Without leisure time, catch-ups with friends, and slowing down, you get a pain in the arse (literally) from sitting in front of a computer for days on end, you’re awake at 3am checking emails and burn-out is inevitable.

So over April and May, I took myself off to a writing retreat in Italy where I was the student and didn’t have to offer a single word of advice or insight to anyone. I let myself be fed, looked after and nurtured. I had intended to write 20 000 words of my new book which my German publisher has commissioned, but after the first day in Italy, I realised, more than anything, that what I needed to do was: STOP.

Each afternoon, after our workshops and leisurely lunches of buffalo mozzarella, gazpacho, crusty bread and stuffed artichokes, I lay at the pool and I let the Tuscan sun feel me up. I skinny-dipped. I drank Aperol spritzes. I stretched like a cat. I played with a puppy called Dante.

I got space. I did not check email or Facebook. I let myself squander hours by staring into the distance until the distance stared back at me.

 

After that blissful week, I met my husband Zed in Florence and for 8 days, we travelled to Bologna, Lake Como and Milan before going to South Africa to see our families. We left the teenagers at home in charge of keeping the cats and bonsai alive. Other than a few campervan trips, he and I have never travelled together before. I worried he’d be the kind of traveller who wants to go to every museum, when all I want to do is sit in cafes and watch people. I feared he’d want to do touristy things when what interests me is what’s on the menu. He did insist on going to see David in all his marbled glory, but that aside, it turns out, we still really, really, really like each other. It may have even gotten a little romantic. And after 22 years together, do you get how bloody miraculous that is?

What I got, more than anything is that it’s only when you stop that you feel the velocity of the pace you’ve been going at, to quote my wise friend Ilze. And while that is what was needed for my business in its infancy, it’s a recipe for the kind of imbalance that leads to unhappiness. You have to stop. Regularly.

For seven weeks, I disconnected from all demands, requests for my time, energy and emotional input and I have put it all back into myself. During this time, I realised I have not been sleeping properly for 18 months. I have not been meditating. I realised that if I don’t really take care of myself, I cannot possibly take care of anyone else – uh, duh.

What happens when you stop, is that you remember who you are, what you love, why you are doing what you’re doing. You get to reset your barometer, get back into your body, drink enough water, exercise, breathe and bring your best back to the world, not from a space of scarcity, but fulsome wholeness.

The Japanese notion of ‘Ma’ or ‘Space’ is about giving ourselves the pauses between being ‘on’ to switch off. I now feel ready to reconnect with everyone because I have filled my own wells.

I have returned to my work, re-energized with so many exciting new plans for the rest of 2018-2019 and not one, but three writing retreats/workshop/conferences we’ll be opening applications for soon (in Sydney, Bali and Italy). For further details, just email us [email protected] as places will be limited.

Later in the year, we’ll encourage anyone who did not take part in or did not complete the 7 Day Free Writing Challenge online to do or redo it. I’ve also been hard at work designing the Author Potential Assessment – a tool which offers insight into where you are strong as a writer and where you need support.

Finally, if you are travelling at velocity and have not stopped in a while, I encourage you to find an island of time in which you can be nobody, go nowhere, do nothing, be ordinary, unexciting, uninspiring, unmotivated and even slovenly.

Please reach out to my team if there is anything we can do to help you on your writing journey.

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

That Dear Little Smear

When that big spunk of a Phys Ed teacher broke my virginity at eighteen, my mother did two things: she put me on the pill and sent me for a pap smear. I didn’t like the sound of that. (Who gets smeared? What is ‘pap’?) Next thing, I was on my back, feet in stirrups...

8 Reasons to Write

If you've been putting off writing, this one is for you. We spend a lot of time fending off the 'it's-narcissistic' saboteur, the 'I-suck-at-grammar' bogeyman and the 'who-will-give-a-damn?' golem. But seriously folks, as the Buddha said, 'the problem is, you think...

Getting Lost in Our Own Bullsh*t – the Excuses We Use to Not Write

Honestly I’ve heard them all. Hell, I’ve used them all. I’ve had ten books published, have six or seven partially-written manuscripts saved in three different computers and dozens of journals, have mentored hundreds of writers, and even published a few through Joanne...

Spotlight on Michele Susan Brown

Happy International Women's Day. I hope you're going to make some time for yourself today - to listen in to your heart, and to reconnect with the life inside you that is only yours. Maybe do something kind for your body. Give it a compliment. A massage. A dunk in the...

Are You Using Protection?

In my early twenties, I went on a self-defence course, where I learned how to puncture someone’s Adam’s apple with a key and to perfect the knee-to-groin move should such unfriendly gestures be called for. I swallowed little pills and purchased boxes of prophylactics...

Warning Signs

For a supposedly smart girl, I accepted behaviour from men that I shouldn’t have. There has never been a single horrific incident, but rather countless events I’ve dismissed as ‘nothing much.’ They go back as far as my earliest memories. Even as a toddler, I used to...