Monday, April 23, 2012

Hemmingway, Da Rules, and How I found my Voice

In this nonfiction audiobook, I heard a story about how Hemingway got his sparse writing voice.

Before he got published/famous, Hemingway left all his manuscripts on a train. Lost. No computer firewall to save them or backup flashdrives...just gone.

A writer friend told him to rewrite everything he could remember as quickly as possible.

And the rest, as Hemingway would say (as sparsely as possible), is literary history.

Hemingway's story reminded me of the unconventional way I feel like I found my voice:

You see, I used to LOVE long sentences. My high school Senior Comp teacher had us find the average number of words per sentence in one of our papers, and I had the most in my class. Twenty-eight, I think. Or maybe thirty-two.

So, when I started editing my first novel, I knew a lot of cutting and slashing would need to come first. For this I turned to Write Tight and The First Five Pages.

Because of The First Five Pages, and my growing hunger to get published, I went through a phase where I thought if I could just follow ALL the rules ALL the time I could create an unrejectable manuscript (Ha!).

Repetitions, to-be verbs, and adverbs became my mortal enemies, description got cut and scattered to create more white space, and I even avoided alliteration. Alliteration. Really.

I fought a war on the page, preserving creativity within the bounds of "da rules."

Untold pages/hours of revising/editing later...and with the help of my critique partner...I finally got a clue, but my writing was forever changed.

The incomplete sentence had become my friend. Flow came easier. And, most important, I sounded more like a teen than an adult with an English degree.

And that's how an overzealous preoccupation with "da rules" helped me find my teen writing voice.

What about you? Has anything helped/hindered your voice along the way?


  1. Interesting question!

    I think trying to write serious fiction hindered my attempts to find my voice. I

  2. My WIP is in dire need of tightening up. My sentences are beyond wordy. I'm not sure if anything has really helped me find my voice. I'll have to think on that. It's worth thinking about :)

  3. Finding your voice is tricky business---not sure I've found mine yet.

  4. "Before he got published/famous, Hemingway left all his manuscripts on a train." Nightmares! I have nightmares about something like this happening.
    Although, what a cool story for finding one's voice. When I start to stray, I pretend whatever I'm writing is an email to my best friend--and then my natural voice magically reappears.

  5. Love this post, and all the comments, too. I think my own voice is still a work in progress. I like it, but I don't know if I can describe what makes it what it is, or how it got that way. If that makes sense. :0)

  6. Well...I do talk at times in long sentences and find that sometimes that's just natural for teenagers to do although I do know those long sentences you're talking about - the ones with fifty descriptive words that make you sound like you're a Harvard scholar. I used to write those too. I hardly ever use adverbs in my stories anymore. And I do have a lot of those short sentences too. I think we all eventually find our writer's voice as well as the character one. Great post!

  7. Interesting post. As a reader I read so many different authors books. All different writing voice.