Saturday, April 17, 2010

Wait, That's Not My Voice

Every once in a while I will go an author spree, usually with an author I have either just discovered or perhaps rediscovered. This is when a trip to the library finds me coming home with several titles, all by the same writer. (Used to be the bookstore before the economy tanked.) It doesn't have to be that the writer uses the same characters, as I've been known to do this with author's who invent new characters and stories every time out.

When I get deep into an author like that, I find I have to watch myself when I write, otherwise something I think of as "authorial voice creep" comes over my work. This is when, even though by now I have well-established my own voice in my work, the words I'm putting down on the page start to sound more like someone else. Specifically, whichever writer I'm currently reading.

It's not always a question of just voice, either. It may also be style. I may find myself writing more lyrical descriptions than is normal for me. Or writing more descriptions, period. Or I may suddenly find all my characters have taken on a philosophical tone to their conversations, where beforehand they spoke in sentences that were short and to the point. Sometimes this is even a conscious effort on my part. I learned much of what I know about dialog from reading Robert Parker, and I can see that influence in more than a few - though not all - of my characters.

There have been times, however, when I look down at the page I've just written and realize to my chagrin that instead of it sounding like me, it sounds like someone else. I did this once with Mark Twain. Now, Twain's not a bad voice to emulate, but his voice isn't my voice, and attempting to copy him is not something I'd recommend for anyone. I've also done it when I've been reading poetry. For a while, some of what I wrote had a very James Dickey quality to it. Until I went back and edited it so it sounded like me again.

It's not a conscious effort on my part. I'm not trying to emulate these people, I just am. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (a dictum television and film clearly take to heart and beyond... but that's another entry entirely) and in a way I suppose it's a reflection of my enjoying the voice of the author. On the other hand, some of it's just what happens with any immersion, which is why if you live some place long enough you eventually pick up the local accent.

Unless you're my freshman calculus teacher who had an incurably bad French accent. Not that her French was bad, just that her accent was tougher than day old French bread.

So I wonder, does anyone else do this, and does it ever stop?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Writing Longhand

I am a byproduct of modern technology. Without it, while I'm pretty sure I'd still be a writer, I have my doubts about whether it would ever go anywhere. I know there are plenty of people out there who could and do get by without a laptop or word processing software when they are writing, but I could never be one of them. They have my utmost admiration, as I think it takes real dedication, but writing a story or a novel long hand is something I don't think I could ever do.

Mainly because I can't read my own handwriting.

This little foible of mine was brought to mind because of something I jotted down in my notebook. An idea, for a blog post, that, well.... I have no idea why I wrote it. I can read this particular note, I just don't know what it means and whatever idea it was meant to jar loose has faded so far into the background as to be irretrievable at the moment. There have been instances where I have been unable to read my writing, however, so it's a very real and tangible problem.

On the one hand, I think I'm missing out on something. I have written a short story or two longhand, or at least written long extensive notes for them, and so I understand the appeal of sitting down with nothing more than pen and paper and seeing what comes out. As I recall, Stephen King wrote one of his more recent works that way, purely as an experiment. I don't think he's stuck with it over the course of successive novels, but the impulse was there, and he went with it. As near as I could tell, it didn't make any difference in the final story. Perhaps it mattered more in the creation of it, though if so then King didn't expound on that.

I am in awe of him and the other, less famous (for now) writers I know who do this. Some of them write consistently in longhand first for their rough drafts, only committing it to type in the rewrite and edit phase. Aside from my issues with legibility, I don't think I'd have the patience to write an entire book twice to get it down in a more permanent and marketable medium. It's an extra step I just don't think I'd be willing to take.

Mind you, without the computer I'd rely on a typewriter, so it's not as if my writing aspirations couldn't materialize before the late 80's (though my spelling would suffer tremendously without those little red squiggly lines to help guide me). Yet Dickens, Shakespeare, Poe, any of those went about their craft without aid of anything more then pen and paper. They didn't even have ball points. It doesn't necessarily add anything to their work in terms of its literary value – Shakespeare would still be Shakespeare had he written on a Mac – yet for me it does add to the respect I have for their accomplishments.

Perhaps the final reason for me to eschew writing it all out by hand is that there's no need. Unlike a typewriter or a desktop computer, I work from a machine that is designed to be portable. If I want to go write outside on my deck, or at the park, or anyplace else, I am limited only by my battery life. Which in my case is sufficient to get me through a few thousand words before I have to quit. Moreover, I don't need a table, I can put it... well, in my lap. Hence the name. With pen and paper I would at least need a notebook with a solid back, and I can carry my laptop just as easily (though admittedly not as lightly).

So I raise my coffee cup to those of you who can do this, knowing full well I shall never join your ranks.

And if anyone wants to take a look at my notes and see if they can help me decipher them, I'm accepting volunteers.

Monday, April 12, 2010


I am officially getting old. Technology has finally come up with something that, like my grandparents and the VCR, I just don't get. Now, mind you, I am not as digitally attuned as I could be in the first place. I don't have a cell phone. I don't have an iPod or any other mp3 player. I don't have a flatscreen television. The only reason I have a DVR is because it came with my satellite dish. However, those are all things I would have if I had the wherewithal to purchase them. It's not lack of will, it's lack of funds.

Twitter, on the other hand...

Well, I tried. I really did. On the advice of someone I trust, I thought I'd give it a go. I confess as social marketing I wasn't on it long enough for it to go anywhere, but I was on it long enough to see that, while it had its uses for me, it was going to be frustrating and confusing. Those two characteristics are the death knell for any technology in my life.

In terms of use, it became a good way to keep track of my writing, in terms of what I was getting done each day. This, in turn, helped me stay on track and keep with my goals. It also made adding up my word count much easier. I suspect, eventually, it might have become a good way to make various announcements to my adoring public. (Hey, it could happen.) Then Twitter went and ate some of my posts. It didn't eat them completely, but they vanished off the page with just my updates on it.

Which became a problem when I started trying to follow other people. Because then on my home page, I had to scrawl and scrawl to find my own posts. So instead of helping me keep track of my word counts, it was eating my posts (or should that be twits?) and actually increasing the amount of work I had to do in the one area I thought I had found a use for it.

My only solution to this would seem to be not to follow anyone. Which there were two problems with. One, there are some people I wouldn't mind genuinely following, and knowing what was going on. However, I discovered choosing wisely could be difficult. Get someone who updates only a little, and it doesn't clutter things up. Get someone who tweets everything... and suddenly your home page is drowning. Not to mention it starts to feel a little voyeuristic, and not in a good way. I really don't need to know everything some people seem to feel compelled to tweet about.

(One of these was one of my favorite authors, who, if you ask me, could spend less time writing twits and more time writing his next book. Which I'm still waiting for.)

The second problem with this became apparent once other people started following me. I was raised with a certain ethical/moral code that say, if they extend this courtesy to me, I ought to do it to them. Only, this got me back to the first problem. I don't really want to follow all these people, and besides, it started to feel more like a numbers game than anything else. I abhor popularity contests of any kind, always have. (Yes, yes, childhood issues.)

So when those two things combined with the sudden decline in usefulness that occurred when my posts disappeared... I decided I'd had enough. Maybe, given enough time, I could manage it better and learn how to do so. For right now, I'll stick with the resources I have. I can keep track of my word counts the old fashioned way, and anything I really have to say will go here.

Besides, I tend to get wordy, and 140 characters isn't a lot.