Pub Rants

Don’t Read Into It Too Much

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STATUS: Today I’m in Boston to meet with editors out here.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? RIDE LIKE THE WIND by Christopher Cross

I think it’s important not to read too much into this week’s posts. It’s too easy to say “darn, editors aren’t looking for what I’m writing” or “yippee, they are” and believe it’s a sure thing.

Not really. Editors just talk about what’s uppermost in their minds at the moment of conversation. They could get back to the office and think of 5 other things they wished they had said.

Not to mention, every editor I’ve talked to this week has told me that a fresh, original voice trumps everything.

So maybe right now they are tired of seeing submissions for let’s say a vampire paranormal YA. Surely the market has seen enough of them! But then that manuscript lands on their desk that changes their mind because the voice is so good and the story line is incredibly original. They love it and sure enough, there’s room for one more.

Happens all the time.

A writer’s voice is the singularly most important aspect of writing and I hear that from editors with every conversation.

A writer can have a good, high concept idea but without voice… it’s a car with an engine but it’s not going anywhere.

And plot can be fixed. Voice can’t. You either have it or you don’t.

So if you are a struggling-to-publish writer, honing your voice should be your top priority.

23 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    Oooh..that was exactly what I needed to hear right now. Everyone (agents, editors) loves my voice, but right now, in this revision, I’m struggling to sort out the plot a bit. Whew. This revision might work out after all! Thanks.

  2. Bookworm Writer said:

    that’s part of the problem when you put up posts like the ones this week b/c writers, unpubbed are hungry to be pubbed and want to jump on what’s hot in the hopes of getting pubbed.

  3. Anonymous said:

    Kristin, I really have to thank you for this post. It was very well-timed, as I just received a major, but beautiful rejection from a top publishing executive, and she mentioned my “very fresh voice” – which is what I always hear. This is very encouraging to me, and I realize it’s just a matter of finding the right match. Thanks again!

  4. David said:

    How much of that is innate and how much of it is something that can be honed?

    Um, and how high is up?

    But seriously, there are unfortunate people who’ll never have an interesting writing voice no matter hard they work at it. And I’ve read mss. by people who hadn’t worked at it at all but whose writing grabbed me from the start and didn’t let go.

    Obviously any writer should do as much honing as possible, but the degree to which one simply has it, or doesn’t, sometimes astonishes me.

  5. stacy said:

    “Plot can be fixed. Voice can’t.”

    I agree. When I’ve had a hard decision between a great plot but so-so voice and a great voice but so-so plot, I ended up choosing the great voice, because we were able to work on the plot. (However, I’ve also run into places where the voice and setting are wonderful and interesting, but the plot too cliche to want that particular project–there is a line at which it crosses over into “nice voice, show me what else you have.”)

    I don’t think that voice is so much innate as something an editor can’t teach. We don’t have the time to shape that sort of thing–this is something a writer needs to have developed before trying to get published. For those with potential, it can be learned, but it’s better learned in a writing workshop.

  6. Manic Mom said:

    So what if you’re at the stage when your ms is being submitted to editors and they love the voice but they’re not looking for a mom-littish book?

    SO frustrating!!!

  7. Anonymous said:

    I would love to see a post that elaborates on voice if you are ever in need of a topic. I get some wonderful information from your blog, and would love to read more on your take of (perhaps) published authors with strong and distinctive voices, and what it is about their writing that makes for a strong or original voice.

  8. Sherry Thomas said:

    “Plot can be fixed. Voice can’t.”

    Other people can’t fixed your voice for you, but you can find it on your own.

    I didn’t have an identifiable voice until after I’d finished five full manuscripts.

    And then, it came.

    A friend of mine calls it the “100,000-word rule”. That it takes about that many words under your belt to hone your voice into something worth mentioning.

    So keep writing.

  9. katiesandwich said:

    I don’t think voice is either something you have or you don’t. Everyone has voice. It’s just a matter of finding it. Honing in on your unique way of looking at the world, a Writer’s Digest article I saved some years ago put it.

  10. Kimber An said:

    Thank you for the reassurance! I know better than to write to trends. At the same time, telling us what editers are currantly looking for helps too. I have tons of stories already written, but not polished up for submission. I also have a really hard time focusing on just one! Your column challenged me to see if I could focus on my YA Paranormal even though I didn’t want to. I’ve been advised by mentor-type Blog Buddies that authors have to put out the goods and on time, regardless. Well, guess what? I surprised myself! All I had to do was START. What’s the Chinese proverb? “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” Just get started and there’s no telling what you can do!

  11. Patrick McNamara said:

    Voice can be fixed, though it’s hard. It comes with experience. There’s the obvious way of changing passive into active (getting rid of was and had) but it takes time.

    I could say,
    “The dog was lazy,”
    “The dog lay about,”
    but I could also say,
    “The dog felt no compunction to lift even a paw.” Isn’t that a change of voice?

    I’ve noticed my voice changing over time and from story to story. Sometimes it’s just a matter of choosing the right voice for the story.

    I’ve found the best way to find one’s voice is to dictate into a tape recorder and write out what one says. I’ve also found writing poetry–lots of it–a good way to improve one’s voice. Does anyone else know of any other techniques?

  12. Kanani said:

    Right now I’m editing my way through another 80 pages of workshop material from various writers. If the voice doesn’t grab me in paragraph one, the whole thing is lost.

    When I first started, I took a short story and novel class. Did fine. The teacher said to take a poetry class. Though I was not a fan, I did. Poetry was the clearest distillation of writing, where voice, details and the positioning of words are crucial.

    Poetry (don’t just write it, read across the centuries), reading widely (not just in your genre), trying to find a rhythm with words, assonance, alliteration, and attitude… all go into a writer’s voice.

    Write well. The Writerly Pause.

  13. Anonymous said:

    Hello. I too would love to see more information on voice. Is there a basic definition of what voice is? Or is it one of those things that’s so obvious everybody knows exactly what it is and no explanation is needed… unless, of course, you have no idea and wish to goodness someone would clarify. Maybe I know what it is but don’t know I know, ya know? 😉

    A Nonymous

  14. Amie Stuart said:

    I think voice is elusive and intangible–as David said, you have it or you don’t. I also think it’s one of those things that’s hard for newer writers to grasp because I don’t think it’s something that can be taught in a concrete way like plotting and synopsis writing and grammar.

    blasphemous maybe but defining voice is like defining a higher being (or chocolate or maybe even love)–it just IS.

  15. Anonymous said:

    That’s the problem with my first, under the bed novel. Great plot, but lacks voice. Unfortunately my voice (for that novel) was squelched by a few well-meaning crit groups (too many cooks…)

    But I’ve got the voice thingy figured out now. Watch out! (And no, I won’t be revising the old novel).

  16. Kimberley Griffiths Little said:

    I think voice and plot are intertwined. If you’ve got a great story and work hard at the writing; editing over and over again to make the writing evocative, tight, clean, cutting out passive phrasing and verbs, your *voice* will emerge. Voice is the hardest thing to figure out, and I think it takes writing a TON before your own voice begins to truly emerge.

    Voice is basically writing in YOUR truest, cleanest way, not trying to copy someone else, or straining for it. Voice is like your own personality shining through, and because everyone is different and unique, everyone’s voice in their writing will be different and unique. Now if you’re a boring person, that’s something else entirely . . . just kidding!

    btw–Check out my blog today. I just posted the first of a series of interviews with award-winning YA writers. Loads of fun.

  17. Termagant 2 said:

    Some writers say they didn’t discover their true voice ’til they changed the paradigm they’d always written in: third person to first, past tense to present…

    In other words, they needed to shake themselves outta their comfort zone. This takes guts. I haven’t done it yet, but the longer I’m at this, the more willing I am to try.


  18. Anonymous said:

    If voice can’t be fixed, how can one hone it? Sounds like you either have it or you don’t.

  19. Kanani said:

    There’s an excellent essay by William Gass called “The Music Of Prose.” If you can find it, read it. It’s all about sounds, the way the prose flows (as a rhymist would say).

    How to find your voice? How to hone it?
    Slow down.
    Notice what you are writing.
    Work to find your clearest expression.

    And…. notice your favorite books. What does the writer do that engages you? What attitude or inflection does she/her use?