Permission to Write—Granted

This was going to be a completely different post. I was going to consider writing rituals—those choices of location and atmosphere that we feel inspire us to be more creative. I was going to talk about superstition, and how it can sometimes be a good thing, if, like a magic feather, it helps to trick your mind into performing.

So I started doing some research. What do other writers—ones with far more authority than I—do to get the creative juices flowing?

I began by paging through my copy of On Writing, by Stephen King, which I first read about seven years ago. But after only a few minutes of this, I was hooked. I opened the book to page one and read it straight through. I finished the next day (it’s not a very long book, and it’s an easy and engaging read, half autobiography and half pep talk).

I’m a more seasoned writer now than I was the first time I read the book, so I noticed different things this time around. Bits of advice that had seemed profound many years ago (avoid adverbs whenever possible, kill your darlings) were now simply nice reminders. What surprised me the most, though, was the message I took away from this second reading: with nearly every page, King grants us permission to write.

It turned out to be a message I really needed to hear that day.

You see, I was feeling a little down about all the time I’d been spending with my laptop. Maybe I was even slightly ashamed of it. “I, uh, write a bit,” was a huge—I mean huge—admission for me. As if my friends and family were going to demand a resume, a bibliography, and three years worth of tax returns to prove my credentials.

You may be familiar with imposter syndrome—that idea that whatever success you’ve had is a fluke, and you’re about to be found out. There have been some excellent Thinking Through Our Fingers posts on it, such as here and here.

Why is this so prevalent among writers? Is it because writers tend to be such an introspective bunch that self-doubt comes naturally to us? Is it because popular culture only venerates the bestsellers, the blockbusters, the top-forty hits? Or is it because the statement, “I’m a writer,” calls to mind stereotypes of pretentious know-it-alls who delight in correcting one’s grammar?

If you (or any of your friends) play golf, you probably don’t mince around with the word golfer. You don’t say, “Well, I golf a bit, but y’know, it’s just something I do when I have time. I haven’t been able to earn a living at it yet.” No. You say, “I’m a golfer.”

My husband’s hobbies are rock-crawling (extreme four-wheel-driving) and desert racing. And while I can’t say he’s never made a dime at it, I can affirm that he’s spent far more money on it than he’s ever made doing it. And he’s never apologized for it, because he loves it. It’s part of what defines him. He’s a rock-crawler. I’m a writer.

Say it with me. I’m a writer. There, that wasn’t so hard.

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So if you’re feeling a little down yourself, feeling like you’re maybe wasting your time, here are some words of permission by Mr. King himself.

“…when you find something at which you are talented, you do it (whatever it is) until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head. Even when no one is listening (or reading or watching), every outing is a bravura performance, because you as the creator are happy.” (p. 150)

“If you feel you need permission to do all the reading and writing your little heart desires…consider it hereby granted by yours truly.” (p. 150)

“In writing classes, if nowhere else, it is entirely permissible to spend large chunks of your time off in your own little dreamworld. Still—do you really need permission and a hall-pass to go there? Do you need someone to make you a paper badge with the word WRITER on it before you can believe you are one? God, I hope not.” (p. 235)

“I have written because it fulfilled me … I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for the joy, you can do it forever.” (p. 249)

So what are you waiting for? Write. Even if you never make a dollar at it. If it makes you happy, write.

For what it’s worth, you have my permission, too.

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Kristina Starmer lives in Southern Utah with her husband, son, dog, and more cats than she likes to admit. When not working as a university chemistry lab manager, she can most likely be found rereading one of her favorite books. She is passionate about traveling to new places, ice cream with lots of mix-ins, and the peaches from her garden. Her favorite children’s book is The Owl and the Pussycat and her favorite element is copper. She writes renaissance-era historical fiction topped with a generous scoop of magic.

Back to School, Back to Writing

I didn’t intend to skip most of my writing days this summer. No, we weren’t gone on tons of family vacations. Most days we didn’t even have much going on. But I have 6 kids and they generate a lot of noise and distraction, so writing was super difficult to come by.

Now I’m sitting here, on my kids’ first day back to school with my thoughts jumping here and there, my own distractions (ahem, I’m looking at you Facebook and email!), and I’m struggling to get back into the swing of things.

Really, this is a pep-talk to me, but you’re welcome to come along if you can admit you have a problem (the first step is acknowledgement…).

How to bring focus back to your day

Writing isn’t our only priority in life. We have house cleaning, other jobs, kids to take care of, bills to pay, grocery shopping, etc. But it’s easy to waste the day clicking refresh on email or scrolling social media instead of actually getting anything done. But how do you get done what you need to and still write?

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How many of us save writing for “later” or when we’ve finished everything else?

Stop that and try these:

  • Make daily lists. Be specific. What do you need and want to accomplish today? Put in a specific writing goal whether it’s 100 words or 10k words. Check it off as you go along. If you are accomplishing everything and still wasting a lot of time, you may need to up your goals.
  • Accountability partner. Having a person you check in with throughout the day or at the end of the day helps keep you on task. You exchange lists and cheer each other on as you achieve your goals. They can also help encourage you (or threaten you) to work harder.
  • Yoga, meditation, and grounding exercises. Sometimes focusing is hard because our mind is anything but quiet. Finding ways to calm your thoughts is necessary to help you focus. Some need meditation, some need yoga. Being mindful of yourself is healthy. You will figure out what you need to calm the thoughts and focus.
  • Healthy diet. If you feel good physically, it impacts your mood and your ability to think. I was at a retreat last week and had healthy, fresh, non-processed foods every day. It really made me realize how much what we put in our bodies impacts our ability to work hard. If we don’t feel good, we don’t function as well.
  • Set a timer and turn off social media. Make yourself sit butt in chair, fingers typing for 30 minutes to an hour. Then get up and walk, dance, or move in general. Find a healthy snack or get a drink. Do another task, or get right back to it.
  • Reward yourself. Sometimes we’re like little kids who need some positive reinforcement to work harder. Say your goal is 10k words for the week (doable, right?). If you achieve that goal, maybe then you get to buy a pair of shoes, or get a massage, go to dinner with friends, buy a new book, whatever will motivate you. Find your “currency” and offer it to yourself as a reward for achieving a larger goal.

Hopefully some of these help me this year. Maybe they will help you as well.

What nifty tricks do you have to keep yourself focused and writing?

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576A6469Wendy Jessen is the author of more than 500 articles—family-oriented articles on familyshare.com and book reviews. She recently started a website for something she is passionate about–helping victims of sexual abuse find hope and healing. Wendy is the mother of 6 spirited children ranging in age from 5 to 15. In the throes of writing a few books (fiction and nonfiction), she finds ways to procrastinate which usually involves scrolling through social media. Wendy often stays up way past her bedtime reading, loves kid-free date night with her husband, family vacations, and kids’ bedtime, aka, the human version of whack-a-mole.

I Open at the Close: On Harry Potter and the Universal Experience of Death

It’s been a little over a month since my sister’s husband died. It feels like longer and not that long all at once.

He was diagnosed with bone cancer almost exactly two years ago and all our lives were turned upside down. It has been a roller coaster that steadily got worse and worse ever since. But what I want to talk to you about, and the part that has to do with writing, is what happened June 30.

That was the day we got the news that his bone cancer had metastasized to his lungs and there wasn’t much time left. We knew this was coming but it was still a shock, and I had to take my pain outside to walk around my neighborhood over and over and process it all.

And do you want to know what’s interesting? I’m a religious person. I find great comfort in scripture and prayer. But as I circled my block in the dark, the words that kept coming to me were not from scripture, but from the final Harry Potter book. “I open at the close.”

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Those are the words written on the golden snitch that Harry carries with him to face Voldemort and sacrifice himself.

I open at the close.

And those are the words I couldn’t get out of my brain.

Because as much as my brother-in-law’s death was a too painful and too soon ending, it was also a beginning. A beginning for him of an existence free of pain. A beginning of a new (if unwanted) chapter for my sister where she and my niece would face the world without him. The beginning of a new family for all of us, where we hold tight my sister and niece, lift them up, protect them.

I didn’t want the close. But it was not the end. Life would go on. There would be new beginnings.

I open at the close.

I raced home and pulled my copy of HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS off the shelf. I flipped to the back and found the scene I was looking for. I walked with Harry away from Hogwarts. Away from life and friends who were family. I cried when he whispered, “I am going to die.”

Do you know how hard it is to say that? To admit it and face it? It takes an inordinate amount of bravery. I don’t think people actually understand this until they see someone have to do it.

I continued to weep as one by one, Harry’s family came with him, to walk him home. I thought of my brother-in-law’s mother and sister who had already passed. The ones who seemed to be visiting him in his dreams those last few days.

And then Harry asks, “Does it hurt?”

I don’t know J.K. Rowling’s life story. I don’t know if she has watched someone die. But this is word for word the question that plagued my brother-in-law. That plagued my sister and all of us. And when Harry spoke the words that were slowly choking all of us, I couldn’t contain my emotion.

How did she know? How did she know all the feelings and thoughts I was facing in that moment? The feelings and thoughts my brother in law was facing?

Over the next few days, we said goodbye to him. We stood in his room and watched and waited as he took his last few breaths. And when his chest stopped rising once and for all, I thought of Sirius falling through that veiled archway. Passing from one plane to the next. Just gone.

And again the words came.

I open at the close.

When the pain felt too much to handle. When the world seemed so incredibly unfair. When I was facing unspeakable emotional pain. It wasn’t scripture where I found that first initial comfort. It was books. It was characters who felt real to me. It was the insight of an author I’d never met. The humanity of a universal experience. One we will all have eventually.

And I’m not sure I realized how important books were until then. I’m not sure I fully understood what it is that we, as authors, are doing. How divine the work of creation truly is.

You are not just creating stories and made up worlds. You are forming a mirror and a rope that binds us, as humans, together. One that says, “You are seen and you are not alone.”

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Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in southwest Wyoming with a library right out her back gate, which accounts a lot for how she turned out. She now resides in central California where she is a gardener, chemist, homeschool mom, Yosemite explorer, and Disneyland enthusiast. She writes middle-grade fiction and is represented by Elizabeth Harding at Curtis Brown LTD.

Five Reasons Why I Rejected Your Manuscript

Last month, I wrote about some of the differences between writers and publishers, as well as some of the challenges of getting your work published. Here’s a quick recap: Publishing is a business (GASP!). Publishers want to make money (and that’s okay). Writers also want to make money (and that’s okay, too). It’s not easy to get published (no duh!). But that doesn’t mean you should give up (yay!).

This month, I want to talk a little more about the publishing world, and see if I can’t help give you some more perspective when it comes to that all-important question: Why did you reject my manuscript?

I hear that question a lot, and unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. Saying “It’s not personal,” while technically true, doesn’t do much to ease the sting of rejection. Neither does the standard rejection letter that most publishers send out, which are often devoid of specific reasons for the rejection.

As a slush pile reader, I don’t make the final decision about whether something gets published or not, but I often make the first decision. And while a “yes” or “no” from me carries a fair amount of weight where I work, it’s someone higher up the food chain who ultimately decides your story’s fate.

Here are five of the most common reasons I will recommend rejecting a manuscript, as well as some possible solutions.

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Reason #1: It’s badly written. Hands down, this is the number one reason I will pass on a manuscript. “Badly written” encompasses both the content and the style. Maybe the plot is thin, or the characters are flat, or the dialogue is stilted. Or maybe there are grammatical errors as far as the eye can see. Now, a few problems here and there are not deal breakers—even the most professional authors make mistakes and need an editor’s help—but if the whole thing is a hot mess, I’m sending it back.

Solution: Write better. No, seriously. Write better.

Reason #2: It didn’t follow the rules. Every publisher has specific rules for submitting, and few things will red flag your manuscript for rejection like trying to go outside those rules. Some publishers will only take submissions from agents, for instance. Some publishers only want a cover letter and three chapters. Some only want an electronic copy, and so on. When a manuscript comes in that isn’t in the format that we require (12 point Times New Roman, double spaced, one inch margins), or it is clear that the author didn’t bother to read our submission guidelines, we know they’re probably not very serious about their craft. Or, it may as simple a thing as an author not even doing basic research to see what kinds of things we publish (which is how we once got a hand-illustrated horror story about a serial killer in the Deseret Book slush pile).

The reason for this is not because publishers are super nit-picky (although they are), but because when every manuscript follows an identical format, it levels the playing field. I don’t want to see your manuscript; I want to see your story. I want the manuscript to disappear into the background so that your story can take center stage.

Solution: Whatever publisher you’re submitting to, do your homework and play by the rules.

Reason #3: Timing. Here’s the thing: there are hundreds of manuscripts in the slush pile at any given moment, and we read them (more or less) in the order in which they were received. So it’s quite possible your post apocalyptic YA paranormal romance thriller is, in fact, amazing—but it arrived in the slush pile two months later than another post apocalyptic YA paranormal romance thriller that we really liked and are going to publish. That’s not your fault, it’s not your story’s fault, and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. It’s just bad timing, and sadly, nobody has any control over that.

Solution: IDK, try a different publisher?

Reason #4: It was my fault. Look, I’m human. I make mistakes. I try to give every single manuscript that comes across my desk a fair shake, but every once in a while, I completely and totally blow it and pass on something that was, in fact, really good. I wish I had a good reason for why this happens, but I don’t. Maybe you just caught me on a bad day. Maybe it’s because you write in a genre that isn’t my personal favorite. As with the timing issue, it’s not your fault. It’s not because you’re a bad writer. This one, while rare, is all on me.

Solution: Okay, this one requires a little more than a pat answer. Problems like this are why I’m not the only slushpile reader. Every one has bad days, and this is specifically why we will often have multiple readers look at manuscripts. And the good news for you is that I’m usually aware of when I’m in a bad mood or when I’m just not into your story because of the genre. When that happens, I will make specific mention of it and suggest that someone else take a crack at it. My solution for this problem is to trust that the right readers will see your manuscript 99.9% of the time.

Reason #5: What does the market want? Ah, there’s the question publishers get more than any other. As I wrote last month, publishers and writers are always looking for the Next Big Thing. The challenge is that publishers are always looking and planning really far ahead. For instance, the publisher I work for has 2018 titles all locked down, and is already looking at 2019 and even into 2020. What is being published right this minute is what we hoped would be the Next Big Thing two years ago. Writers see what’s popular at the moment, and think “I’m getting on that train!” and then we get inundated with thousands of the same kinds of stories. So it may be that your manuscript got rejected simply because the market trends are changing. Again, writers don’t have control over that.

Solution: Like the timing issue, there isn’t an easy answer here. Trends go in cycles, so be patient, I guess?

Rejections are not fun, and nobody pretends like they are. The submitting/rejection phase is probably the worst part of being a writer, maybe second only the marketing/self promotion side once you do get published (but that’s a post for another day). But remember that every published author has been rejected many, many times before—and often, even after they’ve been published! So take heart, because you’re in good company. Rejections can be an opportunity to improve your skills as a writer and to strengthen yourself as a person. Keep at it, and don’t give up!

Also: I swear it wasn’t personal.

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Dennis Gaunt has worked as a slushpile reader for Deseret Book and Shadow Mountain publishers since 2000. All those years of reading other people’s words inspired him to take a crack at writing himself. His first book, Bad Guys of the Book of Mormon, was published in 2011, and he has since published other books and magazine articles in the LDS market, and has even recorded talks on CD for LDS youth and young adults.

Though primarily a non-fiction writer (for now), he loves reading and talking about what makes great fiction stories work. His years of wading through the slushpile from the other side have given him a unique perspective on the writing and publishing processes, and he’s excited to be a part of Thinking Through Our Fingers.

Dennis lives in the Salt Lake City area with his wife, Natalie, who still has the text he sent her all those years ago that read “Holy cow–I think I’m writing a book!” In his spare time, he enjoys photography, playing the guitar, cooking (hold the onions, please), going to Disneyland, and Godzilla movies.

Just Like the First Time

Movies like Looper and Memento take you through a whole film just to bring you back to the beginning.

I thought about this in this period between publishing my first book and revising the second. The first book took a lot out of me, from getting through scenes that hit too close to home to overcoming the fear of hitting that dread PUBLISH button. But it was okay. Once I got through it I’d never have to deal with any of that again, right? I’d be a master of all thing pertaining to the self-publishing world.

That’s what I thought.

As I sit with the laptop screen staring back at me I’ve been struck with the fact that I came to the end of the journey only to have a vindictive director to say “Oh no. You’re not done yet.” All the quotes that I tuck in the back of my head about positive outlooks and progress fled from me. Little tricks learned along the way stalled. Fear rose it’s head again (funny since Fear is an actual character in the book). The end of one book returned me to the beginning. And you know what?

That’s okay.

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True it does suck that all the doubts and fumblings of the first time have come back. However if it was easy the joy of writing would probably dwindle. There’s been plenty of struggles in my own writing. Heck, Beyond Here is the third completed novel I did within the fifteen years since the idea first hit me. But it got done.

No matter the trials or the tribulations I kept writing. I kept the dream alive until it blossomed. This next book will be another learning experience as I learn about the process and myself. Julia Cameron says “Writing is like breathing, it’s possible to learn to do it well, but the point is to do it no matter what.” So this is for the aspiring authors, the sophomores, and the vets. Keep going. Learn from each book, from each word scribbled on the page, and keep going! You survived before. Remember that and you’ll survive this time.

Until next time have a writeous day!

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Matt Williams is an avid reader, a collector of many pens, an ever improving father of two, and an all-around fanboy. When he’s not wrestling with cats or a long commute you can find him hunkered down writing something imaginative. He’s working on publishing his first book Beyond Here, a middle grade story involving a coma and a singing flower with a bent stem sometime in 2016, along with a few projects with his other daughter.

Toning the Sagging Middle of Your Novel

As a writer, I fall somewhere in the middle of the pantser/plotter spectrum. I like to plot out basic story beats (Dan Wells’ 7 point plot is my current favorite) and then pants my way from one point to the next. This means that I’m generally pretty enthusiastic about drafting beginnings (when I get to set everything up) and endings (when all the drama unfold), but middles often stymy me.

As a novice writer, drafting my first fantasy novel, I solved that problem by adding dragons. Things dragging here? Throw in an unexpected encounter with a dragon. Don’t know what to do here? Add another dragon.

Needless to say, this isn’t an efficient long-term solution. (Or even a very good one to begin with).

So what can you do to draft a stronger middle?

Understanding the purpose of the middle is an excellent start—the midsection of the story is not just about filling time until you get to the exciting climax. The middle needs to be consciously building toward both the disaster and climax of the story, as events both increase tension and stakes. (For more on the middle, see Janice Hardy’s description of the three act structure).

But the middle needs to escalate not only the external plot, but the internal plot as well. Often, the middle contains a “point of no return” for the character, where they’ve committed to a choice or course of action that—whether it succeeds or fails—means they cannot go back to the person they were at the beginning of the story. Some irrevocable bridge is crossed.

James Scott Bell calls this the “mirror moment,” when the character recognizes some fundamental truth about themselves and their situation that changes their understanding of the world.

Janice Hardy describes something similar with her midpoint reversal: “Something unexpected happens and changes the worldview the protagonist has had all along. His plan no longer works or is no longer viable, and things have to change. This choice and new plan is what sends the plot into the second half of the middle.

“A good midpoint reversal will also raise the stakes, even if they were high to begin with. It often adds a level of personal consequence that wasn’t there before, or reveals a secret (or problem) that was hidden. Sometimes it requires a sacrifice, be it a personal belief or an ally. Sometimes it’s all of these things at the same time.”

In short, the events of the middle ought to be as crucial to the story as the climax or inciting incident. If you can remove them without damage to your climax, they’re not serving the story.

That’s all well and good, but how do you craft these escalating events that lead, inevitably, to the climax?

Here are a few ideas:

1. Build in a try-fail cycle. Or several. The protagonist needs to spend the middle section learning the skills that will allow them to defeat the antagonist—part of learning this is learning what does not work, as well as building a skill set. (Ideally, each try-fail cycle gets bigger and comes with bigger consequences.

2. Add conflict with increasing consequences. In a recent episode of Writing Excuses, Mary Robinette Kowal suggested asking, “what’s the smartest thing my character can do?” Give your character a choice—and then give that choice a consequence. For each choice/action, ask: did they succeed? If yes, add a “but”—yes, but then this happens to complicate things. Or “no, and . . .” then this complication happened. Using yes/but, no/and can be a helpful way of escalating consequences.

3. Borrow some ideas from Chuck Wendig (language warning).

When you’ve finished drafting, here are some helpful tips on revising the middle. Above all, the middle should be something that both challenges and delights you to write–just as it will hopefully challenge and delight your readers.

What tips do you find useful for drafting the middle section of your book? (Bonus question: can you tell what section I’m currently drafting?)

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Rosalyn Eves is a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she’s often found reading. Her debut novel, BLOOD ROSE REBELLION, is now available.

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Let Them Hear Your Voice

By Nancy E. Johnson

The one thing that pops up on almost every agent’s wish list is a book that has “voice.” Rarely do you find a modifier like “edgy voice,” “alluring voice,” or “baby voice.” No, they keep it simple and at the same time make the whole thing fairly esoteric by just saying they want voice. It’s like that “it” quality. You either have it or you don’t.  Never despair though because you can find your unique voice, develop it, and use it to connect with your readers.

Voice can be difficult to define. I believe it’s the unique, original way that you and only you put words together. It’s also your outlook on the world and human nature that serves as your fingerprint in literature. A few years ago, I participated in a literary idol contest where three successful authors judged an excerpt of my novel-in-progress while I tried to play it cool with a blank face. Once they got past the first paragraph and then the second, I remembered to breathe. Young Adult author David Yoo described my writing by saying “that’s an assured voice.” I bit my lip and conjured up sad memories, which is my little trick to deflate my euphoria in moments where it might be inappropriate.

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Sometimes it’s easier to recognize talent in others, so be on the lookout for voices that captivate you. When I first read “The Mothers” by Brit Bennett, I was blown away throughout the entire book. The Greek chorus of church mothers who spoke as one wore the sass and all-knowing tone familiar to anyone who has spent time around seasoned black women, especially those on the usher and deacon boards.

A girl nowadays has to get nice and close to tell if her main ain’t shit and by then, it might be too late. We were girls once. It’s exciting, loving someone who can never love you back. Freeing, in its own way. No shame in loving an ain’t-shit man, long as you get it out your system good and early. A tragic woman hooks into an ain’t-shit man, or worse, lets him hook into her. He will drag her until he tires. He will climb atop her shoulders and her body will sag from the weight of loving him. Yes, those are the one we worry about.

 Now don’t tell me you didn’t just slap your laptop or throw your phone across the room after reading that passage. It’s fresh and bold and original. Also, this serves as a great example of how you can give a collective group of people a rich, narrative voice on the page.

I felt a similar connection when I read “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman. In the passage below, you can picture and hear this stubborn, crochety man and get a glimpse into his worldview. The “voice” of Ove rises from every page of the book.

“Now you listen to me,” says Ove calmly while he carefully closes the door. “You’ve given birth to two children and quite soon will be squeezing out a third. You’ve come here from a land far away and most likely you fled war and persecution and all sorts of other nonsense. You’ve learned a new language and got yourself an education and you’re holding together a family of obvious incompetents. And I’ll be damned if I’ve seen you afraid of a single bloody thing in this world before now….I’m not asking for brain surgery. I’m asking you to drive a car. It’s got an accelerator, a brake and a clutch. Some of the greatest twits in world history have sorted out how it works. And you will as well.” And then he utters seven words, which Parvaneh will always remember as the loveliest compliment he’ll ever give her. “Because you are not a complete twit.” 

You, too, can find your voice as a writer, but it takes practice. Other writers who have read my pages describe my voice in fiction as raw and visceral. That was never intentional on my part. I never studied voice or tried to channel it. My voice continues to reveal itself naturally, but I still think I’m in the throat scratching stage. In my early days of writing, I’d try to mimic my own literary idols, marveling at their turns of phrase and wordsmithing, hoping I could co-opt just a sliver of their shine. That formula fails every time. Only when you put your authentic self on the page time after time will your distinct voice emerge.

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nancyNancy E. Johnson is a senior communications leader with an Emmy-nominated, award-winning journalism background. She contributed to O, the Oprah Magazine which published her personal essay in the November 2015 issue. Nancy serves as secretary for Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter and was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association’s 2016 Rising Star Contest and one of the winners of Writer’s Digest’s “Dear Lucky Agent” contest. When she’s not reading, writing or pontificating about politics, she’s running and eating chocolate, sometimes at the same time. The Chicago native is writing her first novel.