Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Migration of Our Voice

When I first began writing seriously, it was in a small-town diner in Kansas. Brown stoneware mugs. Mirrored birds in flight making their daily migration across the back wall. Retired farmers in vinyl seats clogging up the entrance with stale cigarettes and manly gossip. And two of the most amazing writers sharing a booth with me.

These two women had been writing for a time, one trying to break into literary short fiction, the other inspirational, but each participated in the most elementary of writing exercises in an effort to become stronger writers and to help me find a writing direction. I still have the journal we filled that year in the diner. One day I wrote about a murder on a river barge. The next, a woman whose obsession with her plumber rivaled that of her love for eclairs. All of them were seeds from a random garden. Mystery. Suspense. Self-indulgent literary character studies. The common thread? Love.

My two writing partners encouraged me to read romance novels for the first time, declaring it was absolutely the direction of my passion, as it had come through in almost everything I'd written. They were right. Like many romance writers, I began with Kathleen Woodiwiss, found my greatest admiration for LaVyrle Spencer and a true respect for Nora Roberts. For eight years, I never doubted the genre path I chose. Not until I looked up one day and realized I'd taken a less-traveled road. Just over the hill, where I could share the same breeze and inhabit the same woods, I'd written something that no longer followed that path. No amount of backtracking and re-writing would ever feel right. Straight romance was no longer the gravity of my passion that pulled me along. I'd migrated.

More times than I can count, I doubted the direction I'd taken. Were the dead ends and rocky drop-offs worth the effort it took to forage an unfamiliar path? Was it wrong that river barges and eclairs began to invade my work again? And the most stinging concern of all: Was I writing to write or to be sold?

Then, one day, when I found I could no longer see the smooth road so many others had taken, I realized my path had been inevitable. No sense of pseudo-control of my thoughts and emotions and voice would ever last. What comes from that nebulous place within us is inevitable, impervious to market demands and sales concerns. Success for a writer is when that honest and raw place within us aligns in the galaxy with others who recognize a new, undiscovered path can become an exciting place to be lost in. A place where words take flight alongside mirrored birds and seeds in a random garden take root.

What's the strangest path your writing ever took?


Maureen McGowan said...

What a great post. I'm not sure I can answer your question with anything very interesting...

But after doing lots of writing exercises and short stories, and then not writing anything for about 10 years, I tried writing romance without considering my voice... and I think it was a mistake for me.

I think I'm just starting to find my voice now... But who knows.

Shannon Canard said...

I've always been a writer. But for some reason, I ended up with a degree in History/Anthropology and later a MS in Information Science. I ended up working with books, just not on them. And I had to take the windiest damn path you can imagine before I arrived at my destination. And now I'm parked here, my "car" is rusted out and I couldn't leave even if I wanted to.

Whatever booksellers/publishers call it, I've always written stories with happy endings. I'm not sure if that's romance by definition, but all I know is that I'm not fulfilled unless the ending is satisfying.

Sandra Ferguson said...

First, I wanted to write historicals, even though I knew nothing about researching the proper information. But in the end, my female characters were too snarky, too mulish for their century, and too impossible for any hero I chose.

Then I decided on contemporary, but I tried to write with a 'gothic' voice and Jane Austen dialogue. Needless to say, that didn't work.

Finally, I settled on contemporary but with my own Texas voices. Seems to be working.

Marilyn Brant said...

What a beautifully written post! I love what you said about success for a writer being found when "that honest and raw place within us aligns in the galaxy with others..." etc.

I tried to write literary fiction at first. Not my finest idea :-). I could handle the winding, metaphor-laden sentences and even, occasionally, the vague story endings, but I could never quite wrap my mind around the predominantly unhappy world view. I guess I still believe too much in the need for hopefulness and humor.

Which is not to say that ALL lit-fic is humorless and depressing dreck (perhaps just the stuff I seemed to be reading at the time...), but commercial women's fiction was more of an honest place for me, and it's proven to be the better home for both my writing voice and my outlook.

At least for now :-).