I wrote this as a guest post for efriend and fellow writer, Chris Hall over on her blog, Luna’s On Line blog. It’s not long but hits the high points of why I think voice is so critical to a writer. If you missed it on Chris’ blog, here it is–enjoy!
I have been writing fiction for about 25 years (non-fiction longer but that’s a different story). When I started, I wanted to write the biography of a prehistoric female–how she survived when experts said she shouldn’t. I took some classes, attended conferences, read a bunch of books, and got excited about writing as a craft. An agent suggested I not write prehistoric fiction because the market was too small so I switched to thrillers. I wrote one, another, both well received but they didn’t sell much. I figured if I was going to write and NOT sell, I might as well write what I wanted so I switched back to prehistoric fiction. My first novel, Born in a Treacherous Time, was rejected over one hundred times but still, I wrote another–Survival of the Fittest. That too was rejected one hundred times (I stopped sending out queries when I received my 100th rejection). Repeat for two more and then I stopped submitting to traditional publishers. I figured that long-ago agent was right–agents just weren’t interested in prehistoric fiction and decided to self-publish. Yes, that approach is confusing, intimidating, time-consuming, fraught with danger…
But none of that mattered. I was in charge of my destiny and that felt good. I’d tried Plan A. This was Plan B. There was no Plan C. I peacocked for a while and then went back to work.
Somewhere along this long path, I found my voice. That was scary at first, putting a book out to the public written the way I wanted but I felt good about what I was writing. I knew the rules of historical fiction, which to follow and which to bend, and understood the importance readers place on how a story is told. In fact, that is as important as rules. By the third book written my way, I began to gain traction and sell enough that I could even call myself a writer.
Don’t get me wrong–my writing has had success. A first place in a writing competition. Quarter finals in a national competition. I even had an agent for a while… That’s another story. I’ve tried quitting, but I’m back at it within weeks, like an addict. I know people who quit smoking and their rough period starts when they quit and continues till they die. Is that what being a reformed writer would be–“Hello, my name is Jacqui and it’s been ten days since I edited my last novel…” I get the shakes thinking of that.
If you’re trying to find your voice, here are my suggestions:
- Know the rules of writing in your genre
- Talk to professionals in that genre about your writing
- Then, write the way you want to, with passion and energy. That’s your voice. You’ll find a group of people who like it and that will be good enough.
I’ll rephrase what has been said about the death of one particular amazing writer whose stories seemed to be effortless:
Talent on loan from God. Talent returned to God.
When you find your voice, that’s what it feels like, as though someone greater than you is whispering in your ear and you darn well better listen.
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular prehistoric fiction saga, Man vs. Nature which explores seminal events in man’s evolution one trilogy at a time. She is also the author of the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers and Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. Her non-fiction includes over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, reviews as an Amazon Vine Voice, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Natural Selection, Winter 2022.