Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Don't Blow Your Voice

by Cat Woods
This winter is flat ugly. Despite the snow and cold and stormy weather, the wind has destroyed all that might otherwise be beautiful. Instead of pristine white ditches filled with glittering blankets of snow, the roadside drifts are black with topsoil. The very winds that create our decreased visibility and late school starts continually blow the fields bare, depositing the rich, fertile soil in heaps of muddy slush on the side of the road.
Sadly, I've seen this very thing happen in writing.
Critique, commentary and even our own Internal Editors can send the winds blowing and our words scattering across the page. Sometimes, those winds take our voices with it like so much topsoil only to deposit them in the metaphorical ditch. The result can be downright ugly.
It's easy to take in feedback and try to implement every comment, every question and every concern from any number of people. When this happens, we can blow any voice our writing had.
So, how do we keep from doing this?
  1. Read with an open mind. Simply hearing feedback doesn't obligate you to do anything but consider what was said. Note where you feel the most offended, defensive or uncomfortable. Likely, those are the comments that need the most attention. Often simple comments can take us on different tangents we never dreamed possible, but only if we are willing to hear the idea in the first place.
  2. Give yourself time to process any feedback--even your own. Set your writing aside and let life happen. Think about what was said and how you feel about it. Viewing our manuscripts from different perspectives--whether we use the suggestions or not--only strengthens our knowledge and execution of our writing. This is a more deliberate process than the sheer creativity that initially drives our writing. And when we give it time, we're reacting with a cool head which can help us make stronger editing choices.
  3. Never, ever try to make everyone happy. Not all feedback is equal or applicable. Writing is not a one-size-fits all endeavor. What works for most stories may not work for yours, so don't feel compelled to conform for conformity's sake. Rather, conform because it is the best thing for this particular story. You are the head chef in the kitchen full of cooks. You ultimately decide which ingredients go into your masterpiece.
  4. Make changes based on the big picture comments and concerns and leave the nit picking for a copy edit. In other words, digest the feedback in terms of ideas, not concrete sentences. By only focusing on the details, we can lose the opportunity to really pack a punch. If your Crit Partner says, "I think a bar is an inappropriate place for you MG novel setting," don't simple replace the word "bar" with "baseball field" and call it good. Chances are your entire manuscript is riddled with mature references and ideas that will need to be considered. It's never as easy as find and replace when it comes to editing for content, but when we try, our writing becomes a hodgepodge and we can really blow our voices.
Once upon a time, I wrote a novel. I listened to every wind, every gust and every breeze. I killed my voice. This novel sits like a muddy lump in the back of my mind, waiting for the spring thaw when it can melt away, leaving behind the fertile top soil of my manuscript, so my voice can bloom once again.

What tips do you have for not blowing  your voice during the editing process? How do you infuse voice back into a flat story?

Curious minds want to know!
Cat Woods is currently editing a middle grade anthology on bullying where she is the wind of critique. She's been thrilled to note that the authors haven't let her comments blow their voices. Her words can be found scattered across the web, most often drifting together in places like her blog and on twitter: @catewoods.


Jane Jazz said...

Really interesting post Cat.
When my voice turns to a meek whisper during the editing process, I wander through the 'mood board' files I started when I was first inspired to write the story. Inside are the images, notes and quotes that first lit the fires of my story and they can usually rekindle the embers if I let them.
Going back to base reminds me what I originally wanted to say, and helps me get my voice back so I can finish saying it :-)

JeffO said...

Great imagery, Cat. WE've had some real howling winds around here lately, too, though it mostly hasn't blasted all the snow away.

As for the voice question, that's tough. I think what happens for me is I rewrite and rewrite enough that 'voice' finds its way back in.

Cat Woods said...

Thanks for your great input, Jeff and Jane!

I love the idea of a mood board, and might have to try it sometime. Thanks for the inspiration!

Jeff, either your very lucky or very talented to keep your voice throughout!