Posted by: oneyearbook | June 23, 2009

Seven lessons to learn from my failure, Part II

Each of these three photos has a distinctive 'voice'

Each of these photos has a distinctive 'voice'

We’re supposed to learn lessons from our failures. I mean, that’s what people always say when they want someone to feel better about something going wrong – ‘you’ll know for next time,’ that sort of thing. So I’ve been thinking it over. I talked about some of the reasons my first manuscript wasn’t working when I made the decision to shuck it off like a bad skin, but this week, every day, I’ll share one of seven lessons I think I can take away from the experience.

LESSON 2.

Related, in many ways, to Lesson 1, is today’s lesson, about ‘finding your voice.’ This is a popular bit of instruction in writing workshops. I don’t agree that I, personally, need to find my voice, but I do 100 per cent agree that a writer needs to find the voice for each given piece. Writing a story about line cooks in a fish-and-chip shop in the first person will require a very different voice than an omniscient piece about nuns in the nineteenth century. I don’t think it would be beyond me to write both stories successfully; but in order for either to be a success, they would need to find that voice.

I don't need to have the same 'voice' for each photo I take

I don't need to have the same 'voice' for each photo I take - I just need to find the right one for each photo

Without a solid voice, a story – a novel – feels disjointed. In part because I failed to develop the main character, I failed to settle into a natural voice for the novel. It was also a mistake for me to flp back and forth between the first and third person as I wrote; not that I think either one was the ‘right’ choice for the book, necessarily, but doing so inhibited the development of a voice. Some of the scenes in first person hit upon a hint of a voice; so do some of the scenes in the third. But the voice isn’t teh same. It wibbles and wobbles and never congeals into something solid.

I’ve read a lot of interviews with writers where they talk about how a book just didn’t come together until they found themselves hearing the tale told by a distinctive, original, compelling voice. Sometimes that meant hijacking what they’d done so far and completely twisting it to fit that voice. But when that happened, the novel happened.

Now, I’m a firm believer in the power of editing. I’ve always felt that one of my strengths as a writer is my dedication to the editing process. But I’m not sure it’s possible to add voice in editing. (If anyone’s heard of a story where someone did so, please pass it along.)

Lesson learned: I don’t think I’d let myself get past page 50 or so in a book without feeling that I’d hit on a solid voice for the piece.

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  1. […] We’re supposed to learn lessons from our failures. I mean, that’s what people always say when they want someone to feel better about something going wrong – ‘you’ll know for next time,’ that sort of thing. So I’ve been thinking it over. …Continue […]


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