7 Ways Writers Can Find an Exclusive Voice

It’s one of the best compliments I receive from readers. “I loved your book. I could hear you encouraging me as I read. It felt like we were talking over lunch.”

Unique. Transparent. Courageous. Authentic. Fresh. Today’s most popular writing voices are often identified by these descriptors. But how do you tap into the exclusive inflections that showcase your authentic self on the page?Grandpa and Granddaughter

Recently, while watching my nine-month-old granddaughter amuse herself by practicing her newly discovered babble, I thought about a writer’s struggle to speak on paper. In the infancy of our career, we could learn a lot from babies about speaking in an identifiable way. And if we relax and learn to amuse ourselves in the process, we’ll likely find our voice faster.

Most of us need help understanding our voice. But if you follow the seven steps listed below, I can assure you, very soon, you’ll relax into the thrill of conversational-style writing.

  1. Karen Jordan author of Words That Change EverythingWrite to your best friend, parent, sibling, spouse, or child. Someone you wouldn’t hold back with. Last month, I rode to and from the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association Conference, (AWSA), and Christian Booksellers Association, (CBA/ICRS), expo with my author friend, Karen Jordan. One of the things I love about her new book, Words That Change Everything, is her transparent way of writing. Like me, she often envisions a specific person when writing her words.
  2. Imagine your ideal reader. Then, write to them, and only them. Writing expert Jeff Goins says, “My ideal reader is smart. He has a sense of humor, a short attention span, and is pretty savvy when it comes to technology and pop culture. He’s sarcastic and fun, but doesn’t like to waste time. And he loves pizza.”
  3. Ask yourself, What do I like to read? Spend some time looking closely at the books, articles, and blogs you are drawn to. What are their similarities and differences? What is the personality of the writer?
  4. Review your recent writing, and ask yourself, Is this how I talk?
  5. Interview some of your readers. Ask them, “What does my writing voice sound like to you?” List the answers you receive, and ask yourself, Are they hearing the real me through my words?
  6. Don’t start your project/page/chapter by thinking about writing for publication; at first, simply write it for yourself. Free-write without pressure or hindrance — you can always trash it later. But for now, allow your mind to run unfettered and your fingers to type unbound. The gems that shine through your free expression may surprise you, and will lend to freshness in your voice.
  7. Ask yourself, If I knew I had thirty days to live, is the message I’m sharing coming through in its purest state? Is this what I would want to say to the world through my last breaths, and how I would want to express it?

Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Book CoverRemoving our writing masks takes intentional effort. When I wrote Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over, I left puddles of emotional blood on many pages. However, I knew readers needed me to do it — our creative endeavors depend on reaching into our souls to thrust our true selves onto the page. When we do, readers feel like they know us personally, and want to draw nearer. Loyal fans are engaged when they can recognize our projects, without seeing our names.

Can you hear my writing voice in this article? How have you learned to write from your authentic writing voice?

Surviving the Valley

You hear a lot on the writing journey that it’s filled with highs and lows—probably more so in publishing because it’s rapidly changing and I personally wouldn’t consider any part of the industry stable or predictable.

valley-of-fire-1390258_1920The problem is the valley is hard. What exactly do you do? Do you give up writing? How do you readjust to keep your writing career moving forward when seemingly no one wants the words you’re putting on the page?

My writing valley (really—the deep dark hole of despair) started after my first trilogy was published. I worked really hard marketing those books, had great reviews, and two out of three of the books were each nominated for multiple awards. I was even told by my publisher that I was (at one point) their second-bestselling fiction author.

I thought there was no way my next proposal wouldn’t be picked up—by somebody. Well, it wasn’t and to be honest it put me in a psychological funk. I was pretty convinced that my envisioned bestselling author status dreams were rapidly crumbling in front of my eyes.

I’ve come through my first major valley (I’m sure one of many to come) and I thought I’d share what I did to survive it without throwing my writing career in the trash and lighting it on fire.

  1. Grieve. It’s okay to be sad about it. The writing life is unpredictable—even that’s a pretty generous understatement. Your writing life didn’t go as planned and it’s hard to readjust dreams sometime—but do readjust.
  2. Help other authors. Help them promote their books. Read books for endorsement. Review novels. Keep your name in the reader’s mind by having your name on their books.
  3. Stay active on social media. Even if you’re not publishing, keep engaging with your readers and other authors.
  4. Keep writing and learning the writing craft. Above all else—don’t stop writing. Journal. Blog. Write a new book proposal. Use this time to brush up on the areas of your writing that aren’t strong. Read those numerous writing craft books that have been piling up beside your bed (come on, I know you have them!) Learn those pesky computer things you’ve been putting off. Scrivner. Newsletter distribution sites. Take an on-line writing course. Even James Patterson has one now that’s very reasonably priced.
  5. Write outside your genre. During my valley, an editor from Guideposts reached out to me and asked me to audition for a cozy mystery series they were putting together. Hmm. Cozy mystery? I write thrillers. Straight up thrillers. I honestly didn’t think I could write gentle enough for a cozy mystery, but what else was I really doing? So I tried it. My first submission, well, you could probably predict the feedback I received. Too dark. The heroine’s not cheery enough. By the way, this surprised no one that knew me. But I resubmitted—and they loved it! And then the series didn’t move forward. I auditioned for a different Guideposts series and washed out again. Maybe cozy mystery wasn’t for me, but it did prove I could write something other than thrillers and I built bridges to editors at Guideposts even if they didn’t take me on for those projects.
  6. Fractured MemoryListen to God’s nudgings. Looking back with perfect vision, I felt that God used the Guideposts experience to get me to write outside my comfort zone. During this process, I started thinking about a contest called Blurb to Book that Love Inspired was hosting. Never did I imagine I would write for them. I didn’t think I was a good fit, but I found myself obsessing about this contest to the point where I couldn’t sleep. So I entered, and I ended up winning a contract for Fractured Memory, my novel releasing this month from Love Inspired Suspense. Suddenly, I was clawing my way out of that dark writing well.
  7. Go indie. In this writing age, there is literally no reason to not have content out for readers. Don’t quit your day job and scrap and save every penny you can to hire a good editor, proofreader, and book cover designer. I do say this with some caution—be sure you put out a good book! Don’t sabotage yourself into another pit.

Overall, take the valley as a place that can provide rest, rejuvenation, and growth. Perhaps you will need to go back to a paying job or postpone the plans that you had of quitting or reducing your hours. Just know that the valley is survivable and it doesn’t have to mean the demise of your writing career.

Tell me, how have you survived low points in your writing career?

 

 

Don’t ride . . . DRIVE the train!

trainAbout fifteen years ago, while taking a graduate course in Spirituality and Leadership, I had a professor who presented me with one of the most motivational sayings I’ve ever encountered: “Don’t just ride the train, be the engineer!”

Okay, maybe not the most theological statement I heard in the course of my graduate program, but it lit up my brain in ways I’d rarely experienced since finishing my undergrad degree decades earlier. Knowing myself to be an introvert and nonconfrontational, I’d always preferred to have someone else take the lead in projects at work; the only role in which I felt confident enough to be in charge was as a mother to my children. (Looking back, I can only say that ignorance was truly bliss, but that’s another post or two or a thousand.)

But the moment my professor uttered that directive, I had an epiphany that any writing career I wanted to pursue was going to demand that I drive the train, and not just ride along on whatever might come my way. As a result, I began to view writing as a vehicle I would steer, and, when necessary, refuel with energy and hard work. I also accepted that no one else cared as much as I did whether that train finally arrived; not even the support of spouse, family and friends (as important as that is!) would bring that train into the station if I didn’t commit myself to being the engineer.

I share this story with you because every writer needs to know that writing requires you to make that train your own: if you want to be successfully published, you have to learn the business, and these days, that means EVERY aspect of the business: writing craft, understanding your audience, marketing, platform building, travel requirements, publishing trends. Gone are the days when your publisher says, “Thanks for writing this swell book. We’ll take it from here.” Even your agent – if you’re fortunate enough to land an agent – can’t hold your hand through every stage of book development, because she or he is swamped just trying to navigate a path to publishers through all the layers of the industry – layers which can shoot down a book proposal for reasons of marketing or audience or numbers of your social followers, which may have nothing to do with the actual value of the book you’re creating.

You have to take ownership of your career. You have to drive the train to where you want it to go.

And that may be the biggest plus of being the engineer – you can CHOOSE where you want your career to go. It will take hard work and learning from the experience itself, but if you find you’re being called to write romance instead of devotionals, or humor instead of profiles, or politics instead of fiction, you can steer that train of your writing career onto different tracks, and see where it takes you. Maybe it will only be a short detour and you’ll end up at your original destination. That’s great! Then again, it may be a whole new journey on the writing rails.

Are you ready to drive the train?

What Actors and Authors Have in Common

Writing is a Personal JourneyI was watching Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show when it struck me. Jimmy greeted the actor with a cheek-to-cheek kiss, before ushering her to the comfy studio couch so they could share a cup and a chat.

After some banter about a recent encounter they’d had at the party of a mutual friend, they discussed some morsels about their personal lives, focusing on commonalities they shared. Then they got to the real reason for the staged visit.

Fallon gushed, as he introduced the new movie title. “Gosh, it’s so, so good. I just love it. I mean when you… Oops. I almost spoiled it, but it’s just that good.”

Listen So Others SpeakThe actor giggled. “Thanks, Jimmy. I was honored to play this role, I know I’m supposed to say I love it too, but I really mean it. This is probably my favorite project so far. I only hope the people who watch it are touched as much as I was making the film.” She raised her hands in the global prayer pose symbolizing humility.

As I watched their interchange, I reflected on other shows I’d seen her on, and her other movies. It seemed every year she was cast in a new release, some blockbusters, some with a cooler audience embrace. That’s when it hit me — how similar a successful author’s experience is to that of an actor.

My third published book just released, and as I promote it, pursue the next big project, while juggling my personal life in the process, I realize the importance of strategic planning. I wish I had the resources, connections, and energy of a Hollywood public relations machine behind me, but even without, I can learn from their methods.

7 Common Factors Between Actors and Authors:

  • Getting Through What You Can't Get OverThe actors are the face of the movie, so no matter what anyone else does behind the scenes, it is the actor who must make public appearances and visit shows on the interview circuit. An actor’s passionate voice, joined with an intriguing movie trailer, is what drives audiences to theaters and streaming sites. For authors, it’s no different. We are the face of our books. Our passionate voice about our message, mingled with intrigue about our book’s content, is what drives readers to want to know more.
  • Each actor brings their own distinct personality to promotion. Some outgoing and bubbly, some serious and reflective. Both work, they will simply attract those of similar taste. Be who you are as an author, and allow natural attraction to draw people.
  • A fresh movie release shifts the actor’s focus to a new message. As authors, I think hearing the branding mantra sometimes makes us sound stale and boring — think broken record. Personally, I believe it’s not only acceptable, but interesting, if we moderately mix up our messages, while staying true to who we are.
  • Getting Through What You Can't Get Over EndorsementA good actor hunts for new scripts and contracts — sometimes preparing for years before they can make a movie they are excited about. Successful authors should do no less. Keep your ears open for hot topics, and drop ideas, research information, quotes, and more for future books into a program like Scrivener — Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over started this way.
  • Most actors would prefer to spend more time on their craft than on marketing, and many authors feel the same. However, actors and authors both know that without solid marketing, we won’t get the opportunity to do another new project.
  • No matter how many shows an actor guests on, if the movie is lousy, sales will spiral. The same is true of our books. We can’t get around it. Good content is, and always will be, the marketing king.
  • Actors cannot produce inspiring art alone. They require support people like agents, fellow actors, experts in PR, producers, directors, etc. Authors also need a group like this to expand their message reach.

The more I reflect on what it takes to release a successful movie, the more I see the connection to releasing successful books. The Hollywood model has worked for decades, which tells me that as much as things are changing, some things stay the same.

What commonalities between actors and authors do you see that I failed to mention?

 

 

 

Question Everything

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I wish I could take credit for the internet quotation, “The problem with internet quotations is that you can never be certain they’re authentic.” And who gave us this helpful reminder? If you Google it, you’ll find it was Abraham Lincoln.

Yeah, that’s ironic, doubly so when the quote and attribution are laid over an image of Benjamin Franklin. I’m hoping that second irony was intentional as well.

Some inaccuracies are funny. But bloopers, blunders, and blatant boo-boos in our Christian books aren’t. Certainly in our non-fiction, but even in the background details of fiction, we have a responsibility to our readers to provide accurate, correct information. (We do serve Jesus, who described himself as “the Truth.”)

Today, I encourage you to “question everything.” Why? Well, if you happen to Google that phrase, you’ll see it attributed to Euripides . . . no, wait, it was Albert Einstein . . . no, Socrates . . . or maybe Maria Mitchell. (Who’s that? Let’s see . . . Wikipedia offers two possibilities: an American astronomer or an Australian actress and singer.) There’s even an online forum discussing the question, “Isn’t there a Bible verse that says, ‘Question everything’?”

My point is simply this: Writers have a world of information at their fingertips, and it’s very easy to find an online quotation, fact, date, or story that fits their manuscript perfectly. Unfortunately, a certain amount of that information is just going to be wrong.

I could offer countless examples I’ve run across in my day job as a copy editor. But here are just a few, under two troublesome categories:

Questionable quotations:

Mark Twain was right: “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”

Sixteenth century French theologian and pastor John Calvin wrote, “To make intercession for men is the most powerful and practical way in which we can express our love for them.”

Question every quote attributed to a famous person, especially if you found it on an internet quote site. Or, to put it another way, don’t believe everything you see on BrainyQuote, Goodreads, et al.

Here’s a well-researched article describing the “Mark Twain quote” above: http://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/10/26/kindness-see/. And if you search that “John Calvin quote” in Google Books, you’ll find it’s not actually from Calvin, but from a book about Calvin.

Google Books and Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature are indispensable tools for verifying quotations. But even if you determine a quotation is correctly worded and attributed, you should still question its context. Elaboration follows, after this link to a pretty funny article on internet quote sites in general: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2014/05/quote_websites_are_frequently_inaccurate_but_we_use_them_anyway.html)

Concerns over context:

So you’ve found and verified a great quote for your manuscript . . . now take a few moments to “read around” that quote and to look up the author. You may find that the words come from a volume of unorthodox theology, a racy novel, or the pen of a white supremacist (all real-life examples). Those facts don’t necessarily disqualify the quotes, but you should be aware of their source—do you want, however unwittingly, to appear to endorse these writers?

Bible quotations should always be scanned for their larger context, too. What do you think of this one, from Jeremiah 26:14?

 “As for me, I am in your hands; do with me whatever you think is good and right.”

One author used these words as a beautiful example of Jeremiah’s surrender and submission to God. In actual context, the prophet was speaking to the priests and prophets of Judah, who hated his message and were threatening to kill him.

It’s incumbent on writers (and later, editors like me) to ensure every assertion in our book is accurate. And that may take a visit to two, three, or a dozen web pages to get to the actual story. (Not just Wikipedia . . . it’s a good starting point, but double check what you find there too.) If there’s one thing I hope you take away from this post, it’s this: Don’t believe everything you read online.

Why? There are three big benefits to you as a writer. First, you’ll keep your editor on your side. Second, you’ll keep your readers on your side. Third, if you accomplish the first and the second, there’s a greater chance you’ll keep your publisher on your side (and maybe get future contracts).

As an author, you are putting yourself forward as an expert on your topic. Don’t hurt your credibility by believing the first internet page you open. For everyone’s sake, dig deeper. Question everything.

Fitting the Words to the Occasion

Global business strategy

Solving globe puzzle by finding the correct puzzle pieces

In elementary school, I discovered the joys and complexities of writing. Through a summer creative writing class, I learned how the right word choice can make a poem memorable, dialogue meaningful, and a setting realistic. As a graduate student at Harvard University writing scientific research papers and a doctoral thesis, I revisited the importance of precision in writing. Medical and scientific writing employs a special vocabulary of scientific terms, abbreviations known only to others within the field, and a careful, well-organized tone.

Whether you are a professional writer creating highly technical and specialized documents, a journalist, an academic researcher writing for a scholarly audience, a novelist, or an author of a non-fiction book, you need to select the correct words to create clear and effective communication. Here are some ideas that have helped me fit the words to the occasion:

  1. Choose precise words. Resist the temptation to embellish your writing with multiple adjectives and adverbs. Choose “sprinted” over “quickly ran” and “coral” over “deep orangish pink”. Concise, clear writing makes it easier for your reader to follow your message. When you do insert an adjective, make sure it enhances the thought you want to convey. Even in a novel or memoir where you must describe the setting of your story to capture your reader’s interest, edit out superfluous sentences that do not advance the plot.
  2. Listen to the rhythm and flow of your sentences. Writing poetry teaches you to pay attention not only to the meaning of words, but also to the sound of words. Some lessons from poetry can improve prose. If you are deciding between two words that both carry a similar meaning, choose the one whose syllables improve the rhythm of your sentence. To draw your reader into a scene where characters experience fast-paced action, keep your sentences short. To transport readers to a bucolic setting in an historical novel, indulge in writing an opening paragraph of long sentences with descriptive clauses.
  3. Create a consistent tone. Scholarly writing has a consistent tone with logically structured paragraphs and a detached viewpoint creating a sense of objectivity. A “How To” book reads quickly, dispensing friendly advice on a given topic. A chapter in a novel or memoir describing a difficult time in a person’s life usually carries a somber, reflective tone. Pay attention to the connotations of words to create the right tone for your article or book chapter. When writing dialogue for a character, choose words that let the personality of the character shine through. As the character develops and grows throughout the book, allow his or her word choice to reflect those changes. In a non-fiction book with an overall formal tone, you can intersperse illustrations that carry a lighter, informal tone to break up the reading difficulty and keep your reader engaged. Think about what tone is appropriate for your writing in the early stages of your project as you are developing your outline.

What techniques do you use to fit the words to the occasion?

WordServe News: May 2016

Exciting things have been happening at WordServe Literary this month!

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of Water Cooler contributors’ recently released books along with a recap of WordServe client news.

New Releases

duggerLarry Dugger released 40 Days to Defeat Your Past with Charisma House. Just as Jesus squared off with the devil in the wilderness, we must square off with our devils. Forty Days to Defeat Your Past is a one-day-at-a-time process that uses the number forty to help readers identify and defeat the destructive patterns of their past and establish new, healthy habits to lead them into freedom.

ebookJan Dunlap released Heaven’s Gate, the first book in her Archangels series, with FaithHappenings Publishers. Following the character of Dr. Michael Carilion as he uncovers the missing piece of the One Theory—the Holy Grail of theoretical physics—this supernatural thriller wrestles with questions of science, faith, and a shattering new understanding of life after death.

51L8nL3LvpL._SX347_BO1,204,203,200_J. Parker release Hot, Holy, and Humorous with BroadStreet Publishing. Wrongful thinking and attitudes about sex permeate our culture, even in Christian circles. Starting from a foundation of faith and humor, this book offers candid advice for wives who want to make the most of God’s gift of sexual intimacy in marriage.

lead me home

Amy K. Sorrells released Lead Me Home with Tyndale. This powerful novel follows the stories of two men in a small town – one, a young man forced to grow up too soon, the other a pastor of the local church who questions his calling as the church doors close for good. As severe storms roll through, threatening the community, both men confront the fear of losing what they care about most, and reconsider where they truly belong.

51jGauNvGIL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Jennifer Strickland released 21 Myths (Even Good) Girls Believe about Sex with Shiloh Run Press. With honest, straight-forward language, Strickland strips away the lies surrounding dating and sex and shares the myths, the truths, and the practical ways girls can enjoy the pursuit of passion and purity.

New Contracts

Mary Davis signed with Barbour for her work, Unworthy Hearts, part of the Pony Express Romance Collection.

Ken Gire and Donald Stratton signed with HarperCollins to publish the memoir of 93-year-old Stratton, who survived the bombing of the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Melissa K. Norris signed with Harvest House for her next book, The Made-From-Scratch Home. This follow-up to her most recent book, The Made-From-Scratch Life, will be available in early 2018.

Barbara Scott signed with Gilead Publishing for her novella I’ll Be Home for Christmas, which will be included in a Christmas seasonal collection of contemporary romances.

Mike Yorkey signed with Barbour to publish a new book on Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, due out early next year.

New Clients

Linda Clare, Ron Hammer, Mary May Larmoyeux, Phillip Robertson, and Craig Selness signed with WordServe this month. Welcome!