We’re back with Les Edgerton, author of Hooked (as well as many other tomes), and today we’re talking about voice. That magical quality that editors and agents constantly say they’re looking for and every writer wonders if they have it. I think you’ll be heartened by what Les has to say.
Write On asks: Can voice be taught? Is talent essential?
Les: Voice can be “rediscovered” in my opinion. If you’re 18 or 68, you already have a voice. You just need to go back and find where you stowed it. Is talent essential? Of course. But, if you can read this sentence and understand it, you have talent. Can you write a single interesting sentence? If so, you have talent. You just need to write a second interesting sentence and then a third and then a… you get the picture.
BTW, talent is vastly overrated. What’s more important to being successful as a writer is perseverance and patience and a solid work ethic. I’ve been teaching writers for a long time, and I can almost always pick out the ones who are going to “make it” within the first week of class. There is always the “genius” everybody’s praised all his or her life, who writes these amazingly wonderful bits of writing. It’s obvious to all that he or she is “talented.” Will he be successful? If he rewrites the original bit submitted and it’s better, he has a chance. If he keeps relying on that “talent” he won’t. There is also that person in the back who keeps a low profile and the first thing he or she submits is… well, not that good. When I get the rewrite of his or her work, then I know if that person is going to succeed as a writer. If it’s better, that’s a writer who has a great chance of being successful. It will probably take awhile, but he or she is going to make it if he stays the course.
It helps to have a tough skin. Actually, it’s a vital necessity. If a person can’t take criticism of their work in a professional manner, they should probably get into a line of work in which criticism doesn’t affect them. Like surgery. If you botch up a surgery, the critic is room temperature and won’t give you any guff and hurt your tender little feelings.
Write On asks: How does a writer learn to “hear” their own voice?
Les: By listening. That’s a flip answer, but it’s true. If you’re not sure if you’re writing in your voice, grab a piece of your writing that you feel reflects your true voice and another piece where you feel you’ve lapsed into that “academic” or “beige” voice and ask a close friend to read both and tell you which is “you.” Then, go over both pieces and see what’s different. The things that are different are the things you probably need to exorcise.