I Hear Voices. Writing Voices!

opera singer

All writing is good writing.

No, not that drivel other people grind out like so much alphabet sausage. I’m talking about your stuff. All your writing is good.

Good for you, that is, like spinach. Even the stuff you didn’t want to write. All those application essays for college, the apology e-mails at work,  the gangster novel you were duped into co-authoring with “52Pickup,” that guy you met on the online-poker site (who, you found out, was also bluffing about his writing talent). Think of it as cross-training, when you work different muscle groups in different ways so you are ready for any fitness challenge.

[I’m assuming that’s what happens to people who exercise]

We bloggers talk often talk about finding one’s “writing voice,” a concept that can be challenging for beginning writers. I even wrote a post on the subject back in the early days of Clawing at the Keys, which you can enjoy or mock right here if you missed it the first time.

If you’ve been kicking around the writing scene for a while, though, you already have your voice and don’t think much about it. The next challenge becomes finding your other writing voices. Like all the “people” manufactured by your multiple-personality disorder, you have other voices, not just the awesome one you show off in your stories and on your blog.

I bring this up because of a mildly humorous comment I left on my pal Shelina’s blog, A Writer Inspired, yesterday. Every April she posts thirty writing challenges in thirty days, and yesterday’s challenge was to rewrite an existing passage or story from one’s own oeuvre using a different writing voice from usual. Earlier, at work, I had finished writing an ad-hoc software-training guide, which of course reads much drier than the stuff I post here, and I jokingly asked her if that counted as fulfilling the challenge (she said yes).

But then I got to thinking about it, and I realized I kind of enjoyed writing the guide. I’ve compose plenty of training material, but this project was far more of the “From the sidebar, select McFly. You will be redirected to the Flux Capacitor page (see fig. 2.1)” variety, which is new for me. When I read the document back for revision, darn it if it didn’t sound like a real technical guide. Of course, it is real, but I was happy to have captured that voice exactly on my first attempt.

singing catWhere did I find my inner software-guide voice? It didn’t come from writing speculative fiction.

Looking back, I think of the surveys I created for research courses I took in college. My papers on medieval architecture. The press releases I had to write for my Public Relations Management class, that 3.5-hour-long beast that ran from 6:30 to 10:00 every Tuesday night throughout my final spring semester.

Even farther back, filling all those high-school English journals. The report on the history of Maryland I had to write and present in fourth grade (I puked during the presentation. Sorry Maryland. Nothing personal).

I’m not sure how those writing experiences conspired to help me come up with polished technical instructions, but I do know I have many distinct writing voices that can be applied in an array of scenarios. I admit I was not excited, at the time, about those writing assignments in college and primary school. Yet here they are, paying back the investment time and again.

So next time you’re slogging through some drab writing project or alphabet-sausage assignment when you’d rather be hammering out the third draft of your novel or weaving a soul-touching tapestry in poem, remember that your writing is still being served.


How about you? What other kinds of writing do you do? Do you consider yourself a versatile writer?

31 responses to “I Hear Voices. Writing Voices!

  • Arkenaten

    Never really tried to write outside of the genre of humour,be it kids stories or what I normally put down.
    The only regular exception would be the more serious religious posts I occasionally put up or the letters I wrote as a youngster.

    • ericjbaker

      i used to do a fake news blog and enjoyed writing in a purposely convoluted journalistic style, with the occasional editorial as a guy who doesn’t understand anything about anything. It’s fun to stretch out and try other stuff, but my fiction voice doesn’t really change.

  • nrhatch

    Mais oui. I have a drips and drivel voice, an alphabet sausage sound to grind out from time to time, lawyerly “heretofor” language, ad hoc humor, poetry in motion, pure dialogue, etc.

    It’s all good. Like cross training for the brain.

  • Jennifer's Journal

    I consider myself somewhat versatile, but of course I do have my favourite types of writing. As for anything being practice, you are absolutely right. (Hmm..can I count shopping lists?)

  • livelytwist

    All those essays I had to write in school? I aced them and loved writing them. Thesis and other academic writing, I did not/do not like, but can write if someone’s life depends on it.

    I have to agree, even the financial reports I had to write earlier in my career, sharpened my writing skills, as did the scribbling in diaries where I had my pity-party! Yes, all my writing, except my poetry is good 🙂

  • Kevin Brennan

    I used to edit medical papers. My God, it almost killed my soul because I was certain that dry, humorless, clumsy, boilerplate style was going to creep into my fiction writing. It didn’t, but I feel like I can write like a cardiologist if I have to. Maybe I have a new character on the horizon… 💓

    • ericjbaker

      I write a lot of client-deliverable reports within a strict and limited style framework, and whenever one of those constructions shows up in my personal writing I cringe, though no one would notice, of course. Sometimes the stuff works.

  • 1WriteWay

    In my day job, I occasionally have to write or at least edit public health reports. The beauty of such reports is that “less is more.” As an editor, I can relish the pleasure of deleting words. I’ve always found it interesting that I, former English major and novelist wannabe, can trim an article on survey results better than my more analytical colleagues. I can, but I don’t enjoy, writing such reports. I can write them well, but I get no pleasure from the effort. It makes being known as a writer/editor a mixed blessing. The upside is I am using those writing and editing skills I honed when I suffered through postgraduate studies in the social sciences.

    I think it’s great that you enjoyed working on that training manual. Versatility is a good quality for a writer to have 🙂

  • Jill Weatherholt

    I find myself jumping genres lately…maybe it’s a midlife crisis, but I like it!
    Kudos to you for finding enjoyment when writing the training manual. “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.”
    Let’s go Flyers! Did you check out that game last night, Eric? Yeah baby!

  • VarVau

    ALPHABET SAUSAGE. (I just had a need to type this phrase in all caps).

    It took me nearly a decade to figure out my writer’s voice(s), which is adaptable to various types of writing while retaining the feel. Most of my writing experience was in formalized term papers for history classes in grade school and later, analytical writing in science projects and science classes. I did more writing for those than English classes. In university, English 101, 102, and 103 made up for what English assignments in grade school lacked.

    My primary writer’s voice takes a lot from the term paper and analytical writing and combines it with creative writing, and the things I learned in English 103 (comparing prose novelists to novelists who are also poets). It is heavily structured, every word placed accordingly in a sentence, sometimes using archaic grammar mechanic practices or idiosyncratic establishments.

    This voice also requires a certain mindset to write, and as I write in it I am also thinking about its editing at the same time I’m thinking about character, plot, story, etc., and I do edit further after a draft to lessen the need for an editor–not because I don’t like editors, I love editors, but learning how to self-edit and recognize things with an editor’s eye makes their job easier. The other explanation of where this voice originally came from is in a piece of advice I was given when I first started, and it’s advice that is usually ‘not’ given to beginners.

    Most advisors say “just write, let it flow out, it’s only a rough draft” or “what comes to the mind first” or “let it spew” or “don’t worry about X at this time in your novel writing process”.

    I was taught: “write as if this is the final draft to be printed tomorrow.” As a result, my entire voice and process, even on first drafts, is geared towards this. It requires knowing exactly what you’re writing about, however, which is another thing all together.

    One might look at that huge block of text and say “this is about writer’s voice, not process” and that’s true, but my process is also my voice, and my voice is my process, completely inseparable.

    My secondary writer’s voice is one that I actually don’t use in any project I currently intend for publication, and is very separable from “process”. I don’t hold it to most of the rules for the primary voice, and it regularly leans towards the nonsensical feel of Douglas Adams or the Monty Python group.

    • ericjbaker

      That’s an interesting point… how the voice is influenced by the process. My sentences in fiction are usually short, informal. and rely on the simplest words (especially my current project, which features exclusively young characters), and my process is the opposite of yours: I type and don’t look back until I get to the end.

      The look of your characters is certainly intriguing, so If your language syncs up with that, the end result should be unique.

  • ujuh

    I keep a diary of sort on an African forum(you did mention you like African these days, maybe you should visit http://www.nairaland.com). If the number of ‘likes’ i receive is anything to go by, I’d say my most potent writing voice is the one that speaks of my insecurities. People tend to relate better with those they admire from afar when they discover they are just human after all.
    I do a bit of humour too, haven’t included that in my blog yet but I will. Mostly it revolves around the things i consider quirky about the rich cultural heritage of my country but delivered without malice.
    Then all that research work in school, dear Lord!! I aced them alright, but ugh I’d rather not write about them.

    • ericjbaker

      I liked writing papers in my art studies minor, because I love the development of art throughout history. That said, I’m glad I don’t have to write any more of them.

      Thanks for visiting and commenting. Sorry if you are disappointed by the lack of Buck Rogers content. 😉

  • ujuh

    I like the look of your blog btw, it makes me think of some 300yrs old man with a Cuban cigar living on a ranch in the middle of nowhere and drives a pickup truck. Drinks horrible black coffee, forgets where he keeps most items and owns a dog(those big sloppy ones that trip over their ears?).
    And great company 🙂

  • B.L.W. Myers

    I’ve found that the overall quality of all my writing (fiction, business, CNF, blogging, poetry, etc.) improves the more I write–the hours add up, no matter what genre. And while I’m definitely more confident in some forms/voices than others, the sea rises with each word written, and my little genre skiffs all rise with it.

  • Janna G. Noelle

    I always say that writing is like prayer – it’s never wasted. And as a largely non-religious person, that’s saying something indeed.

    I consider myself a versatile writer because I’m in love with the concept of communication through the written word. It doesn’t matter to me the subject, the voice, the vocabulary, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction: every piece of writing – even your software manual – needs to tell a story, and finding and conveying that story is what it’s all about for me.

    • ericjbaker

      I certainly look forward to your post every Monday. They’re always interesting and thought provoking. I can’t walk into a store with pink-girl marketing without thinking of your piece. Lots of that at the outlet center on Saturday. Yikes.

  • kriskkaria

    I don’t consider myself a very versatile writer. I like to concentrate on areas that interest me, like comedy.
    I have written training articles for voice and memorization. I also occasionally write business documentation, which is beyond boring.

    • ericjbaker

      I think you’re veering into the versatile range with comedy and training and business docs. And you can probably write more than one type of comedy. And comedy is hard.

      Actually, all writing is hard if you want it to be good. Go us!

  • Dave

    My writing these days consists mostly of e-mails at work (to other software professionals … or is that an oxymoron?), blog posts, and my actual writing. No matter what I’m writing, whether any of the above or a simple facebook status update, I’m always thinking about how well I’m putting it together. About the only time I relax about my writing is when I’m making comments on blog posts where I know the writer of the blog won’t crucify me for grammatical or splling mistakies.

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