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Finding My Voice

Last time: A Growing Pile of Rejection Letters

Not so long ago I was browsing through an online music catalog to see if I could find anything of interest. Normally Christian music is listed as a separate genre. In this particular catalog, however, the Christian artists were lumped in with the all the rest under genres like “rock” and “pop” and “easy listening”. This meant that I had to trawl through thousands of artists to try to find something to my taste. What struck me was just how many bands there are out there. Every now and then a familiar name would appear, but the vast majority were names I had never heard before. That got me thinking about what it is that separates the bands that nobody knows from the BANDS that are household names. I think a lot of it has to do with the sound. Every now and then a band comes along that can make music that is not just pleasing to the ear but also distinctive. It is this unique sound that lifts them above the rest and makes them instantly recognizable. It is the same with writing. There are authors out there who are recognizable just from the way they write. Bands have a sound. Writers have a voice.

At school I learned how to string words and sentences together in a logical way to make an essay. The idea was to say what I wanted to say in an efficient, cohesive, easy-to-understand fashion without offending anyone or breaking (too many) grammatical rules. The result was effective but also very bland. I learned to get my message across but the person reading (usually my teacher) was probably happy when that message was over. Later, when I wrote my first novel, I did what I had learned at school and produced writing that got my story across–but nothing else. As a publisher said: it was solid, but not exciting. Many years later I discovered what was missing.

I wanted to liven up my resume so enrolled with a college to study towards a degree in Creative Writing. The first year was straightforward, with an introduction to the fundamentals. I picked up some good habits, but nothing that could really help me add excitement to my story-telling. In the second year, however, the concept of “voice” was introduced. It suddenly struck me. I knew what was wrong with my writing. It had no voice. My school teachers had, while training me to write in an efficient, cohesive, law-abiding way, also removed any trace of my own personality. Whenever I sat down to write a story I would immediately start thinking about the rules. I had to FORGET THE RULES! If I wanted to write as me, I had to learn to tell the story my way and not the way I’d been taught at school. I had to throw off the shackles of conformity and write from my heart. It was liberating! I determined to write until any trace of that dull old voice was gone. I wrote until I felt as if it was me telling the story. I wrote until my own personality started coming through.

I’m still looking for my voice. Sometimes it comes through loud and clear and I can write page after page without seeming to expend any effort of all. Other times I fall back into my old, safe, ways and I have to consciously force those old habits to go back where they belong. Usually this happens when I write with my head and not with my heart. I start thinking of the rules first before I put pen to paper or finger to keyboard. When I think of the rules first, the writing is safe but the joy goes, along with my voice. And isn’t that just like the Christian walk? We need to put Jesus first, and then the rules will follow through love. If we put the rules first, we may feel safe, but where is the joy and where is the love? Now, whenever I write, I do so prayerfully and in joy. The end result is a messy, but joyous, first draft. Only in later drafts do I worry about the rules. If I do this I end up with a story in which the rules are there to support the writing, rather than control it. And hopefully, one day, a publisher will have this to say: “solidly written, AND exciting.”

Next time: Singing, Discus-throwing, and Writing.

About P.A.Baines

P.A.Baines writes computer programs for a living but would much rather be writing Christian speculative fiction, which he does whenever he gets the opportunity. Educated in Africa, he is studying towards a degree in Creative Writing through Buckinghamshire New University in England. He enjoys asking "what if?" but is tired of how speculative fiction deals with religion in general and the God of the Bible in particular. His stories are for Christians who enjoy science fiction but who normally avoid the genre because of its tendency towards an atheistic world-view. His aim is to write entertaining and thought-provoking stories that stretch the imagination, but which keep God in His rightful place as Lord over all creation. P.A.Baines is British but currently lives in a small corner of the Netherlands with his wife and two children and various wildlife. He spends what little spare time he has keeping fit, watching films, and playing computer games with his children. He does most of his reading via audio books, which he listens to while commuting to and from work on his trusty bicycle. He speaks reasonable Dutch and is in the process of learning French.

One comment on “Finding My Voice

  1. Haha, that next title has me intrigued.

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