About the Book
Could your personal and writing habits be holding you back from becoming a successful writer?
Perhaps you’ve discovered, as have many others, that being gifted or knowing you are called by God to write is not enough to be successful at it. There comes a time when every writer must develop the gentle art of discipline – establishing certain practices, or habits, that make it easier to carry out the right and good thing.
This anthology deals not so much with the technical or how-to aspects of writing but rather, with seven key areas that are seen as essential for Christian writers to succeed. They are:
* Time with God
* Healthy Living
* Time Management
* Honing Writing Skills
* Crafting a Masterpiece
Navigating Voice by Pam Mytroen
(Theme: Honing Writing Skills)
A well-developed voice depends primarily upon listening. When our first-born daughter, Diana, was born, we were fascinated at her reaction to our voices. First her breathing would speed up, then she would fling her arms out to the side, kick her legs, and her eyes would grow large. Within a few weeks she began cooing and babbling to herself in the mirror, thinking she was talking to another baby. As the days went by, babbling turned into long, happy conversations that gushed from her constantly, followed by a pause as she waited for a response. Apparently she knew what she was saying, though we hadn’t the foggiest clue. Those first sounds, though nonsense to us, were imitations of the world around her. When clear words began to emerge, we had many laughs. Her favourite program as a tiny toddler was Bugs Bunny and she memorized several lines that she would use to engage others. When guests would arrive at our door, she would say, “Give me twenty-bucks!” When they left our home, she would remind them, “See you in the city, slicker!” Her voice even took on an exaggerated Boston accent like the cartoon character. When she turned three she liked answering the phone. One time I heard her say clearly, “No, Daddy is not home. He’s driving the smurf-truck. He is out making money to buy food and clothing for us.” Hmmmm . . . sounds like something she may have picked up from her Mama! Everything she said in the first few years was a response to what she had heard, and that’s primarily how voice develops –through both focused and peripheral listening, and by many humorous attempts at first words.
Focused listening for the writer is equivalent to reading. While a child has no choice as to the voices surrounding him, as writers we have the opportunity to immerse ourselves into specific writing voices. We begin to speak and write like those we read.
But before we hoist the sails we should consider the larger Voice that informs our work with its depth and direction. If we want to stay the course, it is imperative we listen to the Voice of Truth.
Truth speaks to us through the Word of God, whispering into our desires and our fears. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27). Truth, not deception, has the ability to fill our scripts with both simplicity and depth, clarity and mystery. Only One Voice can both convict and set free. Discern the Voice of Truth. Trust it. Obey it. Imitate it.
Sunder Krishnan in Catching the Wind of the Spirit, says that the Word of Jesus is not just information, but invasion. Do we want our writing to be mere facts to add to our reader’s impressive head knowledge? Or do we want our writing to whisper the breeze of truth into their limp sails? Whether we draft a newspaper article, a lyric, or a story, our compositions must nudge our fellow sailors out of the stagnant sloughs of deception and into the open waters of faith. While we chart our course under the Heavens, we are leading others.
If voice is a vessel, and we stay afloat and on course by focusing on the unmovable Rock of Christ, then how do we develop voice and what distinguishes one vessel, or one voice, from another? Voice is as innate as your eye color and pattern. You wouldn’t want it to be exactly like somebody else’s. We grow our voice by practicing and by being ourselves on the page. Studying a particular author or genre will not necessarily give you a voice—you already have one—but focusing on specific authors will help your voice grow in consistency.
While some authors are known for their voice of beauty, others are known for their reasoning ability, their humour, their punchy, clipped style, or their long, fluid phrases.
Beauty is one vessel that bows to truth. To pen words that speak beauty we must soak up the artistry of creation. The words of our InScribe poet, Violet Nesdoly, draw deeply from the well of God’s exquisite color; grace flows through her lines. There is only one way to imitate beauty, and that is to spend time with the Creator and His creation.
However, voice is not limited to genre. Take for example the powerful vocals of the best-selling Canadian music artist of all time: Celine Dion. The timbre of her voice is recognized whether she sings opera, classical, pop, or gospel. In the same way, a voice marked by beauty can be found in other genres besides poetry, such as in works of fiction by Marilyn Robinson and Leif Enger.
Do we want to write with a voice of reason? Study authors such as Ravi Zacharius, R.C. Sproule, and Del Tackett for their compelling wisdom based on God’s Word. The further we stray from the Voice of Reason, the more adrift is our rhetoric. Logic doesn’t have to be boring; these writers share riveting stories to make the invisible visible.
A voice of humour and gentle sarcasm stands out in authors such as Phil Callaway and John Grisham. Though one writes mostly non-fiction and the other fiction, their clever voices are similar, and it’s this common quality that captivates their readers. Their humour depends fully on the absolute standards of right and wrong. It is the unyielding boundary of right that allows authors to poke fun at wrong. In the absence of truth, humour dissolves into a cruel and malicious tirade that only serves to expose a shallow, arrogant writer. True humor lifts up and encourages its listeners to ride out the rough waves. While it may use the literary technique of exaggeration, humour still depends upon truth to float its boat.
One voice that I appreciate for its authenticity is Dee Henderson. Obviously having done her research in all things law-enforcement, her novels nod with accuracy. But rather than belaboring her points, she dives in and moves on quickly. This quality of her voice sails on through several different series of stories.
Many of these authors openly rely upon Jesus as Captain. This is not to say that every writers who espouses truth in their storyline confesses to their need for a Savior, but they have found absolute standards to be reliable, and necessary, in crafting a piece of writing, and on that unfathomable ocean their voice has deepened and matured.
Even Biblical authors, though inspired to write the infallible Word of God, wrote God’s story in their own voices. Notice the difference between their styles. Mark the gospel author, wrote with a sense of urgency and efficiency. One can practically envision him keeping all the disciples on schedule as they moved quickly from one place to another. His favourite phrase, “at once” or “immediately” is sprinkled liberally throughout his account. On the other hand, a reader of the Pauline epistles imagines Paul laboring over his script, revising, scratching out, and starting over until each sentence was a masterpiece. His frequent metaphors are consistent and balanced, much like a bookkeeper’s accounts. Though we can never add to the complete revelation of God’s Word, we still listen His voice today, and then we write in our own God-gifted way. God fills our sails with His life and hope while He trusts us to voyage into the discovery of our own unique voice.
As others begin to recognize our voice for its distinct features, will it stay buoyant in faith or will it capsize in rough waters? And as we engage with our readers, where will our voice lead them? Will it sweep them away to shipwreck in a shallow reef? Or will we light the way to good water?
Push away from the shore. Set your sail for deep waters where you cannot be distracted by shifty breezes and meaningless chatter. Focused listening must be your priority. Put your anchor down and plumb the infinite depth of God. Listen to Him, soak Him up, and then write. Your manuscripts will begin to echo the beauty of God’s Voice, and you will find that in His grace He sets you free to sing in your own words.
Teasers from some fiction stories
“Then she looked up and said aloud, ‘Lord, it’s been a while since I’ve been out for a walk—and even longer since I’ve been on a prayer walk. I thank You for the beauty of Your creation. And Father, I’m stuck in my writing. I need Your help.’”—Kimberley Payne, “A Way Out”
“Tears began to form in Jordan’s eyes and he squeezed them shut. He read the scripture quote four more times, resisting the tears less with each reading and letting them run down his face and fall onto his shirt. Who had written the diary page? What did it all mean? The writer wrote as if she’d spoken with Jesus face to face. How had it survived through the years, let alone land in his line of sight? Instinctively, Jordan knew he might never know the answers. But one thing was certain: The message was intended for him. He folded the paper, tucked it into his pocket, and headed home.” —Terrie Todd, “In His Time”
“For the next few weeks, Gillian floated. She had been so productive on her computer, sending query letters and requesting writers’ guidelines from many publishers. She had realized as the emails kept popping into her inbox, she needed a filing system. She knew some of her writer friends might laugh, but she didn’t care. She pulled out the beautiful, old green ledger that she’d had for years. She liked the feel of the big book, so she decided this was where she would document her submissions.”—Glynis Belec, “The Pursuit of Passion”
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