Keeping One’s Voice

It’s hard enough to capture your own voice on paper. It’s harder yet to defend it when well-meaning readers tell you to change so much of what you wrote. Add in the books on the market and it’s enough to make the most well-intentioned writer run screaming for the nearest exit.

I’ve read tons of books about writing. Everything from Stephen King’s On Writing to Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird to Natalie Goldburg’s Writing Down the Bones. All these work in your initial drafts — which all of us should and do keep private.

There comes a day, however, when you want someone else’s opinion. With my current
work, I thought I was done, after five revisions, over a year ago. Then I asked half a dozen friends, both in my Lake Writers group and outside, to read the opus. I would have been better off if I had put on a diaper and ranted like Opus. Instead, I got back copies marked up for grammar (thanks to the three of you who took the time to find every typo and grammo) and five with major revision suggestions. Everything from changing the narrator to writing in a different voice to using a different point of view. I read each set of comments, set them all aside for a while, and let my friends’ words ferment in the old brain stem.

What eventually emerged was the realization that some of my readers were right — the book had to be rewritten. A rewrite is harder than the initial draft. And then come the inevitable edits of the rewritten manuscript. Finally, when you think you’ve “got it,” you put it out to half a dozen readers, three from the original set who were kind enough to offer go suffer through another draft, three “virgins” sacrificing our friendship in the pursuit of honesty.

Two very loud — and not incorrect — sets of comments were: 1) if I were writing this, I would do it this way and 2) you need more drama.

If I took the first comment literally, I would be writing like a Southern red neck. If I took the second comment literally, I would change the novel to a screenplay. Both had elements of how to improve the manuscript.

And now I am in what must be the final tuning and tweaking before getting feedback from agents. (That does not include form rejections, one of which arrived this morning.) I will continue querying with the last — or latest — rewrite and see what happens. Until then, I’ll make very few changes. Certainly not wholesale changes.

On a different topic, did anyone see the Bookshelf article on POD topping traditional publishing in 2008 for the first time. Could be a sign of things to come. Could be that there are so few traditional editors, agents and publishers that people who believe in their work turn to self-promotion. Not yet time to revisit my marketing plan, but I do have one — and it’s a doozy.

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