Posts filed under Indie Publishing

Specificity with Voice

And then he breaks.
Shaking violently, shattering in my arms, a million gasping, choking pieces I’m trying so hard to hold together. And I promise myself then, in that moment, that I will hold him forever, just like this, until all the pain and torture and suffering is gone, until he’s given a chance to live the kind of life where no one can wound him this deeply ever again.
And we are quotation marks, inverted and upside down, clinging to one another at the end of this life sentence. Trapped by lives we did not choose.
It’s time, I think, to break free.
— Tahereh Mafi, Ignite Me

When I think of authors who blow me away with their artistic voice, Mafi is always at the top of my list. I found her through a friend and opened the first book in the Shatter Me series a few days before 2013. I had already written a blog post with my favorite books of the year, and three pages into the novel I shut the cover and placed it on the shelf to crack open in the new year.

I knew it would be a favorite even then, and I didn't have time to edit the blog post waiting in the queue.

.::.

Look at the quote above. There are a few things that set Mafi's writing voice apart from others in her genre. First, you have variation of sentence structure. Not every sentence can be easily untangled through diagramming. Often, writers can hit a groove in their writing and before they know it, almost every single sentence has the exact same structure. I fall into this camp with the overuse of the em-dash. When I'm in a hurry, I rely on it too much and my voice suffers from it. Mafi's words reveal intention in everything: even the length of sentences.

She brings us in to this particular scene with the short and violent first sentence: and then he
breaks
. It pushes the reader to keep reading. If you're just taking a cursory glance at the amount of commas, the second (and much longer) sentence may seem like a run-on. However, if you're studying her structure, you'll notice the technique of making sure every single phrase can't be separated as its own sentence. She does this often. It's a rhythm that's unique to her writing.

Short sentence.
Long sentence with sweeping description and lots of commas. Shorter sentence with continuation and clarification of description. Short sentence.
Declaration.

Next, within that structure, she relies on higher syntax to build emotion.

The sentence And I promise myself then, in that moment, that I will hold him forever, just like this, until all the pain and torture and suffering is gone, until he's given a chance to live the kind of life where no one can wound him this deeply ever again includes the technique of polysyndeton — where you list multiple words back to back with a conjunction.

....all the pain and torture and suffering

This technique is highly useful in emotional scenes when you're needing to speed up or slow down the pace of the reader. If you look closely, you'll hear the rhythm of that sentence flow faster at the beginning because of the syntax of the previous sentence moving so quickly. When you get to the polysyndeton, something happens with our brains and we slow down — sometimes imperceptibly — but we breathe. We pause. We notice the scene. This is particularly useful in a scene such as this, because I don't know about you, but as I was reading I felt my breath begin to quicken. My heart rate increased. I was rush-rush-rush and then suddenly, a brief pause and I literally took a breath.

And did you notice her use of beginning the sentences with and? This is another technique: anaphora. When you use anaphora, you begin sentences with the same word. Often, you see this back to back. It builds rhythm. It builds consistency. It forces us to notice. Mafi flips the script just a bit with this passage and includes a sentence in the middle of her flow that doesn't begin with and, but in a passage of six sentences, half of them begin with this word. That's worthy of note, and it builds the anticipation of this particular couple and what they're facing.

Finally, her poetics and imagery. Earlier I mentioned that every word is intentional. This reminds me of poetry. The first sentence in this passage is and then he breaks. The last one? It's time, I think, to break free.
Sandwiched in between these two images of breaking — and breaking free, is the shift.

- I promise myself I will hold him forever
- live the kind of life where no one can wound him this deeply again
- we are quotation marks, inverted and upside down
- clinging to one another at the end of this life sentence (did you catch this play on words?) - trapped

It's in this development and clarification that the characters are able to see their next move. And I want to be clear: this isn't Mafi's voice transitioning over a character's. It's her poetic voice shining through syntax and structure and imagery that allows the characters to develop so beautifully. In this particular series, it's the character Juliette — one who's touch used to kill, but is learning the strength and power she possesses. Her characterization from beginning to end is beautiful and empowering.

So it's Mafi's style + structure + syntax + knowledge of development that reveals this voice that only she can accurately produce. Others can try to imitate her, but it won't work because they don't have the memories and stories and creativity that Mafi holds.

It's the same for you.

We all have style. A few years ago, my agent always addresed her emails to me with my poetic one, and while she represented me she spoke of my description and attention to detail as particular strengths. There are other poetic writers out there. Katja Millay. Laini Taylor. Rainbow Rowell. John Steinbeck. Flannery O'Connor.

None of these write (or wrote) like me. All of them had stories within them that only their voice could speak. Style and development and syntax are important for building voice, sure. It's what will set you apart. But what will make your words sing? Writing what you know you're meant to write. Writing the words that just won't leave you alone at night. Writing the story you are meant to tell.

Thoughts to consider: 

1. Do you know how your words work?

2. Do you know what sets you apart from the rest of the crowd?

3. Make a list of your own quirks and style within writing. Celebrate these things. 

Grab My Book! 

This book is for the creative who knows you have a story to tell but you have no idea where to start.
Let me help you: you don't have to wait for the gatekeepers anymore. 

The time for your book is now. There is no excuse. You know this — you feel it in your bones. That's what this book is for — that's why I wrote it. 

Ready to begin?

Find it here on Amazon.

Posted on May 2, 2017 and filed under Indie Publishing, Building Your Craft.

On Voice: The Hidden Nerve

Don't all writers have a hidden nerve, call it a secret chamber, something irreducibly theirs, which stirs their prose and makes it tick and turn this way or that, and identifies them, like a signature, though it lurks far deeper than their style, or their voice or other telltale antics? - Andre Acimen
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I believe we know when we're being true to our voice.

For me, it's the way my heart rate escalates as I find the words to articulate something I've been trying to say forever. Or the ease I feel as my fingers fly over the keys while I type. There's no hitch — no question — no doubt. It's the rhythm and flow of my art and whenever I feel this, I know I've hit a nerve. I know I'm writing well. Even more important: I know I'm listening well.

Hit a nerve and you're going to feel it. Despite the attempts at hiding or our own fear of speaking out, when we crash into our voice we know. It's like finding an old friend. The nostalgia kicks in and we remember.

.::.

A few years ago, I was on Skype with one of my mentors. We were talking over a site she created and my participation in the collaboration. Was I still in it to write? Did I have the energy to invest?

"I think I do," I said. "I've gained a lot of clarity these past few weeks. I know what it is I'm supposed to focus on in my writing, and so I believe it'll show."

She smiled.

"Good. Because I can tell something's been missing from your writing. Your post about peonies and business? It was the shift. That's when you found yourself again."

I nodded.

"That's when I stopped caring about other people's assumptions."

We got off the call and I walked outside with my dog. Standing there in the dried up dirt of our dog park, I thought of this post. I went inside, sat at my desk, and wrote it — crying the entire time.

Writing is visceral for me. It takes up every space and if it doesn't, I feel the lack.

And so does my voice.

.::.

To write requires an ego, a belief that what you say matters. Writing also requires an aching curiosity leading you to discover, uncover, what is gnawing at your bones. Words have a weight to them. - Terry Tempest Williams

Do you know when you’re being true to your voice?

We all make different connections. Today, think about your life spent writing. What are some touching-stones revealing to you the process of knowing when you've listened to your voice? Name them below.

What were you writing about that got you so keyed-up and excited? 

Grab My Book! 

This book is for the creative who knows you have a story to tell but you have no idea where to start.

Let me help you: you don't have to wait for the gatekeepers anymore. 

The time for your book is now. There is no excuse. You know this — you feel it in your bones. That's what this book is for — that's why I wrote it.

Ready to begin?

Find it here on Amazon.

Posted on April 27, 2017 and filed under Indie Publishing, Building Your Craft.

What to do When Your Rhythm Changes

An excerpt taken from my new book, Indie Confidence: Finding the Gumption to Get Your Story Out of Your Bones and Into the World.

It was not supposed to happen this way.

Earlier this year, I developed a rhythm that felt true to my season. Wake up at 4:44, write for a bit,  go to work. In my mind, I figured that season was only temporary and eventually I would have the mental acuity to jump back into creative challenges like writing a novel and facilitating a writing community. I mean, I’d done something like this before — I wrote my first book while teaching full time, writing curriculum for a completely new class, and commuting to and from the school. Surely I could do it now?

I put on my super hero cape and waited for the moment to happen. It never did. For the next few months, my best thing would be managing to make myself dinner seconds before I collapsed on the couch and binge-watched episodes of Homeland.

But I kept thinking: it'll be over soon. It'll be over soon. It'll be over soon.

The way our training went, we had a five week intensive before getting out on the floor with heavy supervision. During this week, they were watching for signs of folding under pressure. They were also looking for what happens when we exceed expectations. At the beginning of August, right before I was going to be placed on a team, I received an email.

Because of my performance, I was selected for the Business team. Better hours, easier customers, swift potential for growth, and spiff pay. 

I called my dad in shock. "I think I was just promoted?" I questioned, half laughing. From that point on, feedback was consistent: you're here because you're good. You're here because they see you as the best. You're here because you're talented and intellectual and you're going to kick ass. 

But this was at work. At home I was drooling on the couch. There was no productivity happening. It was a miracle when I had the energy to do the dishes. For weeks, I held on to the beginning of August as a green light. THIS would be the moment I would get with the schedule and understand what I can and cannot do. THIS will be the catalyst of really letting the information I learned sink deeper than surface level. I won't merely be surviving at this point — I'll be deep in a rhythm.

And then my rhythm changed. Again. The moment I gained control, it was ripped out of my hands. And man if this isn't a metaphor for blogging or art in general.

You suffer through a few mornings of stumbling into your writing space to pen some words, knowing at any moment, the novel you know is buried somewhere within you will surface. Then, the day after the words finally break free, your schedule significantly changes and you lose that rhythm....

Or maybe you make plans to write three times a week. You have everything down to the letter and have never felt more inspired. But then, you stumble across an author’s website that has the exact same aesthetic as you, thousands of readers, and even makes you feel as if you're reading your words. In any other world, you would feel as if you found a kindred. In this world, crashing into this corner of the internet has left you with every single doubt and not a shred of words you had before....

If this is you, I want to say this: you're not alone and it doesn't have to stay this way.

I'm not sure when the shift happened for me. I was on the business team for about three weeks before things started to have their own flow. I woke up with Russ in the morning and had a cup of coffee while I wrote some words. I remembered the beauty of journaling for ME and no one else. I forced myself to do that which inspires, rather than deadens.

And hello, conviction: Netflix is great for a moment, maybe a few. But it most assuredly deadens that creative flow. 

We all feed the river in different ways, and because of this, there are different ways in which Fear creates a dam, blocking our flow and inspiration.

For me, it was the uncertainty of rhythm. Might as well not create anything if I can't be consistent, was something I heard myself whisper many times during August. 

Don’t be afraid to battle those things holding you back. Brainstorm what it looks like for YOU to write and finish a book — not the entirety of the industry. Cling tight to the truth that there are words still holding on for dear life internally, and eventually, your story will be told because you chose to listen to the voices saying you can push through any resistance that heads your way. 

That's what makes the indie community great: individually, we can do pretty impressive things. Collectively, we're unstoppable.

Thoughts to Consider: 

1. How are you waiting for the future in order to create? How can you harness where you're at now to begin a rhythm?

2. How is Fear creating a dam in your creative flow and inspiration? 

Grab My New Book! 

This book is for the creative who knows you have a story to tell but you have no idea where to start.
Let me help you: you don't have to wait for the gatekeepers anymore. 

The time for your book is now. There is no excuse. You know this — you feel it in your bones. That's what this book is for — that's why I wrote it. 

Ready to begin?

Find it here on Amazon.

Posted on July 18, 2016 and filed under Building Your Craft, Indie Publishing.