Wednesday, October 10, 2018

0 WoW: Barbara J. Hancock talks keeping a Voice Journal

Today, Barbara J. Hancock is here with us for a great, new WoW post about keeping a Voice Journal. She suggests periodically pressing pause on our focus on craft workbooks and technique and instead honing in on the elements of our writing voice. Stay tuned for more information about Barbara and her new book AFTER ALWAYS now available from Entangled Teen. Without further ado, here's Barbara!

Voice Journals: Keeping a list of what speaks to you can help you unlock the secrets of your most powerful tool as an author… 
By Barbara J. Hancock   

We often begin something new by focusing on what we don’t know. When we first decide to write, we have so much to learn: Grammar and punctuation. Submission guidelines. Synopsis rules. We study critiques and rejections to learn and improve our craft and, later, we dissect the manuscripts that sell to understand the difference between a successful story and one that never made it off that coffee-stained flashdrive in the bottom desk drawer next to the emergency chocolate.

Before long, we’re caught in a relentless pursuit, focusing on the craft of writing while we completely forget what we wanted to write aboutin the first place. Or why we wanted to write it. Don’t get me wrong. Craft is important. Vital. But I don’t have to tell you that. I’ve never met a writer who didn’t own at least one stack of How-to books. I’ve known many writers; however, including myself, who’ve spent some time lost, wandering even, because we lost touch with our voices or couldn’t find them in the first place.

Stop reading right now and make a list of things that speak to you. They can be common objects or sounds. They can be works of art by other creatives or quotes you seemed to memorize without even trying.

For example a quick list for me would be:
1. Dandelion fluff

2. Old oak trees

3. Palette knife paintings

4. Ashes

5. Jane Eyre

6. The Madonna, mother and child

7. “As long as I’ve got a brush in front of me, I’m alright.” Folk artist Maud Lewis

8. The curves and hollows of a handcrafted instrument, especially a wooden one

After you’ve made your list, pick one item and concentrate on it. Why does it tickle your imagination or tug at your heartstrings? Can you remember when you first noticed a mailbox with its bright red flag up or spider floss glistening on an autumn breeze? For some reason, you never forgot that flag or those webs. They’ve become quiet parts of you that have been whispering for your attention while you worried about how to format a manuscript.

By all means, learn the manuscript formatting.

But take the time to stop and listen to the whispers too.

For me, dandelion fluff reminds me of the first time I read a person could make wishes on it. (Weed seeds are wishes!) After that, I always wondered why people wouldn’t want fields of wishes and I would shamelessly disperse the seeds with the idea of planting MORE wishes with no regard for anyone’s lawn maintenance efforts. If there was a war between grass and wishes, I knew which side I was on. There. It’s revealed. I’m whimsical. Sometimes, darkly so. I was wickedly planting weeds all over the neighborhood, after all. Poor gardeners. Dark whimsy is a part of my voice.

My biggest secret is that dandelion fluff got me published. Not because it granted my fondest wish in return for my devotion. Or at least I don’t think so. You find your voice by paying attention to what speaks to you, be it dandelion fluff or mailboxes. I’ve been driven by what speaks to me since I was that small child puffing dandelions to life. And the truth is that voice adds a resonance and richness to our work so that perfectly formed sentences say more than flat words on the page. Voice matters. As much or more than market research and website algorithms.

Take a look at my list again. It’s filled with art and artists. Art appreciation is a part of my voice. Some would say I most appreciate the drama and devotion—the obsession—of art and artists. The last seven books I’ve sold featured artistic obsession. Without my lists, I might never have written them because I might never have made the connection between what I wanted to say and what characters I needed to create to say it.

One short list isn’t enough to unlock your voice. (Although it might free up a story idea or two.) My best advice to writers is to pick a journal from that stack of journals I bet you already own and use it to keep a perpetual list of things that speak to you. And then find time in between word count arithmetic and analyzing plot structure to figure out why you paused during a busy commute to write something down. What caught your attention—cherry blossom petals falling like pale, pink snow or steam rising from a cup to surround the coffee drinker’s contemplative face?

Why did you care? Why did you stare? What analogies and metaphors did those moments spark in your mind? Your list will be constantly growing and changing and while it does it will begin to reveal your voice. Many people explain voice by linking it to theme, but it’s more than that. Voice is how you see the world and it’s being able to bring readers into that vision. You can’t share your vision if you don’t see it and feel it for yourself.

How many stories featuring ashes can one writer create? (A lot. The answer is a lot.) As an abuse survivor, dispersion and rebirth is important to me, a part of my voice. There’s darkness, and then there’s hope. That’s what I want to say. That’s why I write. It’s why I take my characters into the shadows and through them into well-earned happily ever afters.

We talk a lot about tropes and plots, about pitches and proposals. All of those storytelling and business tools can be powered by a good voice journal. Your voice is your fuel. It’s also your steering wheel. As a manifestation of your voice, your journal will steer you toward the stories you need to write. In all likelihood, you’ve been subconsciously keeping a list since you were born, but there’s value in putting it on the page and giving yourself permission to listen to what it has to say. And once you’re connected with your voice, your well-honed craft will come to life.

About Barbara J. Hancock
Barbara J. Hancock lives in a cabin in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains with her many rescued pets and the guy who lured her into the wilderness with promises of lots of peace and quiet for writing. To this day, the Appalachian wildwood is the best gift she’s ever been given. Her favorite pastime (besides animal rescue) is bringing darkly romantic stories to life by firefly light.

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Lydia’s life felt like it ended when Tristan died. Sure, they had their problems and he could be a little…intense at times. But he’d promised to love her forever…

When her parents propose a summer across the country with a music teacher who runs an inn, Lydia agrees. But it’s different from what she expected. There’s a presence there she can’t quite reconcile—and it feels like it’s hunting her. It seems Tristan’s promise followed her…and may have graver consequences than she could have known.

Then there’s Michael Malone, the one light spot in an otherwise dark existence. Lydia can’t help but be drawn to him, and as they try to uncover the evil plaguing the inn, they grow closer. But guilt over Tristan’s death still consumes her. Can she and Michael uncover what evil lurks in the inn before it takes another victim?

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