Friday, February 14, 2014

Finding Your Writer's Voice

Happy Valentine's Day to all our
TeachingAuthors Readers!

Since today is also Poetry Friday, I'll be sharing an excerpt from a favorite love poem at the end of this post. But first, I want to continue our current discussion of Voice, the third of the Six Traits of Writing.

As JoAnn said when she kicked off the topic last Friday: "we each have a writer’s voice that is all our own." Finding Your Writer's Voice: A Guide to Creative Fiction by Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall (St. Martin's) calls voice "your most powerful tool" as a writer, saying:
"Your voice is actually a very ordinary thing: It is just who you are, projected artistically. It is often linked to your speaking voice, and your breath, and the rhythms and sense of pace that you draw on when you are too absorbed in what you are saying to listen to yourself from a distance. It is also linked to your body, the language or dialect you spoke in childhood, and whatever naturally interests you. Your voice is how you write when you don't have time to be elegant."
I also agree with what JoAnn said about a writer's voice developing over time. But Finding Your Writer's Voice provides specific exercises to help speed up the process. I plan to share one in our next Wednesday Writing Workout. (If you happen to live in the Chicago area, you may be interested in a course I'll be teaching this spring in Oak Brook, Illinois, using the book as our text. See my website for details.)

I love the experiment Jill mentioned in her post on Monday, in which students easily identified the author of something written by one of their classmates. It reminded me of feedback I've heard from several of our email subscribers. When they receive a TeachingAuthors post, they don't know who wrote it until they see the byline at the end. But after subscribing to our blog for awhile, they're able to guess the author long before then.

Jill also shared some wonderful examples of distinctive voices in picture book texts, in both first-person and third-person narratives. One thing my students often struggle with is making a first-person narrator's voice different from their own writing voice. I try to help by sharing this excerpt from Monica Wood's book Description (Writer's Digest Books):
"Consider the differences in the following line delivered by different narrators:
         Sandra's son reminded me of a prince, only more imperious.
         Sandra's kid looked kind of like my cousin Gino, only loads cuter.
         Sandra's little boy reminded me of that boy in the shelter, only fatter, and a cleaner face. . . . 
All of these narrators have a set of experiences and prejudices and obsessions that is unique to them. As their author you must allow them their own visions."

There's so much more I could say on the topic of voice, but I'll leave that to my fellow TeachingAuthors.

Before I share the poetry excerpt I promised, I want to remind you that today is the last day to enter for a chance to win Crystal Chan's acclaimed debut novel, Bird. You can read all about it here.

Now, for today's poem. One of my favorite love poems is "[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]" by e.e. cummings. Wow, talk about a distinctive voice! Here's how the poem ends:

            from [i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]
                     by e.e. cummings 
            . . .
           here is the deepest secret nobody knows
           (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
           and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
          higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
          and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

          i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

You can read the whole poem at the Poetry Foundation website. And then visit Linda's TeacherDance blog to check out the full Poetry Friday round-up.

Happy writing!


Tara said...

Well, e.e.cummings will certainly be happy that so many of us have reached for this poem to mark love on Valentine's Day! Thanks for all the nifty resources, too, Carmela.

Linda B said...

Lovely to hear your ideas about voice, Carmela. Wish I lived nearer. What a pleasure to take your class it would be! Happy Valentine's Day!

Carmela Martino said...

Too funny, Tara!
I wish you lived nearer, too, Linda. I do hope we meet in person some day.

Donna Smith said...

Love this ee cummings poem. Thanks for sharing it today.
It is still possible to write outside my voice, but I feel best when I am in it. I'd love to take a class, but I think I will have to settle for reading the book. I would like to be able to "get to" my voice more readily.
Happy Valentine's Day!

Author Amok said...

cummings freewheeling language captures that first flush of love, doesn't it? My favorite lesson for teaching voice is having students write to fine arts portraits. They choose a portrait and imagine that person's story, sometimes writing in first person.

Heidi said...

I always say that you can't really TEACH voice; writers GROW their voices themselves. But you can teach ABOUT voice and you can build the garden and fertilize growing voices.
e.e. has one of the most distinctive voices, I think--this is the poem that my spouse and I read to each other at our wedding (the one that celebrated 20 years of commitment!). Thanks for the return to it, Carmela.

Carmela Martino said...

Let me know how you like the book, Donna.
Love your voice lesson, Author Amok. I may try it with my students.
Love this Heidi: "you can build the garden and fertilize growing voices." Glad you enjoyed the poem.

GatheringBooks said...

Hi Carmela. I was fascinated by your discussion on voice. I have a 12 year old daughter who loves to write, and I can sense that distinct character in the way she writes. Hopefully, the voice is honed even further even as she struggles to listen to it and pen it down on paper.
Thanks for ee cummings! I shared this exact same poem to my husband yesterday for Valentine's. :)

Mary Lee said...

A HEARTfelt YES to Mr. Cummings!!

Carmela Martino said...

Myra, hooray for your daughter for putting her thoughts to paper. I always tell young writers to save their work--they are a true treasure. (Alas, almost all the journals I filled as a girl are lost.) I'm glad the cummings poem is so popular with everyone.
Mary Lee, thanks for your comment, and for stopping by.

jan godown annino said...

I look forward to the Voice prompt for the Wed. Writer's Workout Carmela. Thanks for yet another mighty fine TA post in this elegant Voice series.
And thank you also the lovely Valentine poem sharing.
Ditto on what Linda Baie said about proximity to the Chicago region & the workshops of TA contributors (where I think many TA's are & teach - yes?)
And Author A.'s writing prompt idea suits my visually artistic bent. Lovely.

Carmela Martino said...

And ditto what I said to Linda, Jan: I hope to someday meet you in person too. Thanks for stopping by.

michelle kogan said...

What a great post Carmella! I really liked the end of the quote from "Finding your Writer's Voice, Your voice is how you write when you don't have time to be elegant." And e.e. cummings's poem was such a treat,
many thanks!

Carmela Martino said...

Hi Michelle, thank YOU for letting me know you liked the post. :-)