Voice In The Wilderness

Sometimes we need to find a voice we can listen to. There’s a comfort in hearing someone else engaged in creative efforts trying to explain how it all works. Today’s guest explains why there is, sometimes, a bit of a problem in listening to the voices that aren’t in your own head. Nathan Lowell Presents…

Mur Lafferty

The weirdest thing about writing – or any creative pursuit – is that so little of it is taught. Sure, you can get some workshops going, or take a class, but then you encounter a teacher who’s subjective and hates your genre, or is bitter about their career and how they’re reduced to teaching bright eyed young writers who look like they once looked before the world served their genius a poop platter. So we turn the Internet, or other authors, or other authors on the Internet, for advice. We buy writing books by the dozen, hoping someone will tell us the exact way to sacrifice a cow in order to get that magical break through.

And if anyone tells us, “the key is to write/create more, and don’t stop,” we scoff. It can’t be that easy.

Of course it can’t. Writing and not stopping is one of the hardest things in the world. But I digress.

When we deluge ourselves with this information we subject ourselves to others’ prejudices (not talking stuff like your teacher doesn’t personally like Methodists, but opinions about homosexuality, religion, incest, adverbs, and other hot button topics). I remember Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury as being a turning point in my own evolution as a writer. Bradbury said essentially if you’re not leaping with joy to get to the typewriter every day, then give up. I had to decide if I was going to let the opinions of one of the greatest writers of the last century, one of the pillars of science fiction, tell me whether I was going to be a good writer or not. Did he have credibility and wisdom and talent out of his aged wazoo? Yes, he did. Did I have to write exactly how he did, with the same leaping joy and giddiness?

No. Fuck no.

Many authors look at the gorgeous evolution of language and make all or nothing proclamations. NO ADVERBS. NO PASSIVE VOICE. If you use these tools, these thing within our language, you’re a talentless hack. Just like JK Rowling, the adverb-loving author of that piece of shit series no one has ever heard of, Harry Potter.

Even the people who say Write Every Day! may be wrong. You may be a binge writer, like our lovely host, Nathan Lowell. Seems to work for him.

On the other hand, these rules that so many authors view as absolute binaries may have a hint of truth to them. Rowling succeeded with Potter, but I cringe after reading the third adverb in a paragraph. You may not have a complete euphoria right before you begin to put words down, but if you utterly hate and dread it, it may be time to find something else to do. And if passive voice is happening more often than active voice gets written, then a quick editing scrub might be needed. (See what I did there?)

The trick to everything is finding the happy medium. We have more tools in writing than grammar and spelling and rules and themes and plots and characters. Every piece of writing advice is a tool. If you’ve ever done carpentry or cooking of gardening or auto mechanics, you know you have many tools at your disposal. Do you need to use a hammer on everything when you’re building a book shelf? Probably not. Thus you don’t need a adverb in every sentence. Do you use a stand mixer when making steaks? Then perhaps every story doesn’t need a prologue.

Yeah, I’m getting to the absolute shit of being a creative person: there is no absolute magic bullet that works for everyone. Nothing. What works for one person may not work for you. And then you will feel bitter and angry that either a) the person you sought advice from lied to you, or b) you’re clearly not meant to be an author because their foolproof method didn’t work for you. At some point you have to decide what works for you, and what doesn’t. You’ll develop your own voice/style that allows for adverb use, or not, or passive voice use, or not, or joyous first drafts, or exciting editing.

There really is only one real rule for writing, or any creative pursuit. Do it. Do it daily, or do it binge-style. And if anyone – including me – tells you anything, take it with a grain of salt. As long as you’re creating, then you’re on your way.

Mur Lafferty is a writer and podcaster. Her novels include Playing For Keeps and the Afterlife Series, and her podcasts include I Should Be Writing and Escape Pod. Find more about Mur at The Murverse

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One Response to Voice In The Wilderness

  1. Red Tash says:

    Truth!

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