Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Writing Style, Writing Voice

The very first workshop ever offered through 49 Writers was called “Finding Your Voice.” With funding from the Alaska State Council on the ArtsAndromeda Romano-Lax and I taught the class in a packed room off a coffee shop. We had to turn students away.

Voice is tough to teach, and we knew that going in. But it was fun, too, because it pushed us to think. “Extremely informative and thought provoking,” responded one of our students when we asked for feedback on the workshop. “Voice is an area glossed over or skipped entirely in many writing workshops, perhaps because it’s so difficult to define,” said another. 

Perhaps most memorable was the student who told us that she went straight home from the workshop and wrote poem after poem after poem. That was nearly three years ago, and she’s still writing.

You still hear as much about voice as you did back then. How agents, editors, and readers are looking for distinctive voices. How voice can actually open the way into your poetry or prose. But for all the how-to posts and advice about plot and character and marketing, you won’t see much on voice. Voice feels intuitive. Squishy. Undefinable. To teach, it’s as hard—and fun—as ever. For a writer looking to break through to the next level, to get energized about writing again, to craft a piece that commands notice, I can’t think of a better angle of approach.

When 49 Writers Executive Director Linda Ketchum asked if I’d teach a voice workshop again this year, I knew straight away that as successful as that first course had been, I’d do a lot of revamping. Maybe it’s the nature of the writer to chase new material. Maybe I’ve never figured out how to do things the easy way.

In the years since that first workshop, I’ve had fun tossing around ideas about voice with other writers. (If you attended the Kachemak Bay Writers Conference this year, you might recall a certain spirited discussion on voice with my new friend Sean Hill on the Writers’ Myths panel.) Like the poet in that first workshop, I left a 2010 writers retreat with a clamoring voice in my head, a voice that had to come out. That voice engendered a novel that’s now in the last round of revisions with a publisher (Fall of 2014 release). I’ve also re-released my very first novel—and believe me, when you do that, you’ll see how much a writer’s voice can change over (ahem!) sixteen years. I’m also doing the final revisions of a novel I co-wrote with a friend. Our voices couldn’t be more different, but on the page, they’re playing nicely together.

“Sound and Fury: Find and Free Your Writer’s Voice” begins this Thursday, Oct. 17, at 6:30 pm. In four sessions of two and a half hours each, we’ll do writing exercises that will help you discover the depth and breadth of your voice. We’ll challenge some common understandings of voice and style, and how they converge with content. We’ll listen for how published work sings on the page—and for where it falls flat. We’ll consider how voice plays into decisions of narrative distance, point of view, persona, character, and dialogue. We’ll help one other revise for that distinctive voice agents and editors say they want. We’ll celebrate our unique and evolving voices, and we’ll commit to action plans to make sure our enthusiasm and progress extend beyond the last workshop session.

As of this writing, we have room for a few more students. If you’d like to join us, sign up before Thursday, Oct. 17.

Co-founder of 49 Writers, Deb Vanasse has authored twelve books. Her current projects include Cold Spell, a novel about a woman who’s obsessed with a glacier, a narrative nonfiction book called Wealth Woman: Kate Carmack and the Last Great Race for Gold, and No Returns, a middle-grade novel co-authored with Gail Giles, featuring three boys who accidentally summon the devil. She lives and works on Hiland Mountain outside of AnchorageAlaska, and at a cabin near the Matanuska Glacier.