Voices

Okay, tonight I’m going to start with a few statistics. Don’t worry—I won’t be talking about them for long. I hate numbers as much as anyone.

By the time I wrap up this post, I’ll have written 12,000-odd words in 30 days, which averages out at around 400 words a day.

(You can relax now. That’s the end of the number crunching.)

And by writing a page every day for close to a month, I seem to have found my writing voice. I’ve looked at a dozen of my posts, and they all sound like me. (Feel free to tell me otherwise.)

This is a big deal, at least to me. A few years ago my voice was a poor imitation of whoever I was reading at the time. But despite working my way through The Stand, it seems to be pretty consistent this time around.

And I’m reasonably happy with that voice—efficient, but not formal. To me it sounds just like the way I talk, which is what I’ve been aiming for all these years. Hopefully I’ll reach the point where someone can pick up something I’ve done, take one look at it and say, “Yep. That’s definitely Bill Harper’s writing. Got anything else?”

But every so often I wish my writing “sounded” better than the way I speak. I wish I’d done better in all those creative writing classes I’ve done over the years. And today is one of those days.

A friend of mine is a copywriter, and a damn good one. (I think we actually “met” on Twitter through a discussion about some copywriting she was doing.) Her copy is very efficient because that’s what it needs to be, especially when it comes to web writing and that whole SEO thing.

Writing-wise, I thought we were on the same page (pun intended). But after reading one of her blog posts I realised we’re not only on different pages, we’re on different continents.

I won’t quote any of her words here. You’ll have to follow the link and read them yourself. But it’s a beautiful piece, and right now I can only dream of writing anything that comes close.

The good news is I’ve got plenty of blog posts in front of me. And a person’s voice can change over time, can’t it?

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Russell Smith February 7, 2010, 10:01 pm

    I’ve got news for you Bill, and it’s all bad. Well, not really.

    I have had the pleasure of reading your written works for over 2 decades. I still have some hard copy printouts of some stories that pre-date the interweb. Can you young’ns out there spell dot-matrix ?

    I my opinion your written voice has remained quite consistent over time. Please don’t sell yourself short, because I think I could recognise a common voice right through you writing career. Not just the last 30 days. I am currently 17,000km from home, so I can’t dig out the oldest stuff of yours right now to make a good comparison.

    It’s in my memory though, that you’re stuff is consistent. And there’s the rub. Memory is such a faulty device, I think it amplifies the things we love, and hate – and turns the rest into a kind of sepia toned episode that we may have observed but not participated in. We remember the good times, we remember the bad times. Wild tangent, but trust me there is a point. I have very clear memories of Bill’s writing – ok maybe not every piece if it that he’s written – but I clearly can still clearly remember pieces that I may have read 20 years ago.

    (Tangent Warning : Bill wrote a piece about ‘Air Travel’ (circa 1991) – There was a brilliant passage in there explaining the causal links between UHT milk capsules and turbulence. I have no way of know if this piece constituted a work of ground-breaking writing, but I clearly (vividly) remember exactly where I was when I read it.)

    Before you go out and climb to the top of the highest bridge, and start screaming to the world : “Why have I wasted all this time at university, writing courses, professional development conferences, and dreaming up an even more clever response to the eternal – ‘Explain in 25 words or less, why you’re the next big thing?’ competition.” – let me clarify this a bit.

    In terms of writing, I am a consumer not a producer. Content is king, so says the internet media. I enjoy the stories. The delivery is almost secondary to me. This reminded me of a post in the “Gradual Interview” by Stephen Donaldson, an author that I have read since high school…

    http://stephendonaldson.com/fromtheauthor/gi_view.php?Year=2005&Month=05&NewWindow=yes&Filter=6&all=&any=experience&none=

    Stephen Donaldson, in this blog entry, really captured for me the difference in experience (in his opinion) between the writer and the reader.

    In some ways I almost feel like an impostor, replying in this blog. The blog, in some posts, is a ‘blog about blogging’. There’s some really good exchanges between Bill and Jen, about the process of writing. (I would expect to be banished from a writing class for the construction of this reply *Do you KNOW the correct use of a Colon ?!* – maybe not the content)

    What you write, or the pieces that I have consistently consumed over a long period of time, are small pieces of comic observation. When I think back to some of the earlier pieces, delivered on 3.5″ Amiga floppies through the post, these were blog entries – just 15 years before the name blogging was coined.

    EUREKA – This reply was struggling for a conclusion – Building up the argument, but no way to articulate it…

    You recently posted a blog entry about music – what you like, what you listen to. Musicians evolve too. (Stay with me here…) One of my favourite bands is Dire Straits. No one can doubt their later work (Brother in Arms, Love Over Gold, On Every Street) have a production, and polish to them, that far exceed their earlier work. But during my recent tripping I have listened a lot to their entire collection again on my iPod. Their early work, for want of a better phrase : ‘is what it is’. It exists in a time and a place. They are pieces of music that stand on their own, and are as good if not better than some if their later famous work. I am not sure Mark Knopfler was capable of writing ‘Brothers in Arms’ in 1978, but then again, I am not sure he was any longer capable of writing another ‘Sultans of Swing’ in 1985. Art (prose, poetry, painting, sculpture, music) is produced by the artist in response to something within them at the time.

    What I am trying to say, in a very long winded fashion, is that regardless of the ‘Voice’ that you use to speak with, I think something deeper will always show through – who it is to be you. And ultimately it will be in the eye of the beholder. Self analysis will give you one perspective. You as a writer are so lucky that 10’s – 100’s – 1000’s – more – can all consume your work and find their own thing in it. Some will forget it before they get off the bus, some will remember what you wrote for the rest of their lives.

    One final footnote. There are 2 pieces of writing that will remain with *me* forever. Each for very different reasons. Interestingly neither were ‘comedic’ pieces. One piece affected me for deeply personal reasons. The other had a twist at the end that was so unexpected that it physically gave me a chill down my spine.

    I hope this response is of some use – looking at the writing process from the view of the humble reader.

    Reply
    • Bill Harper February 9, 2010, 1:51 pm

      Damn! I’ll have to be careful when I talk about the stuff I’ve written, won’t I? Not only can you argue, but you’ve also got the evidence to back it up. *grin*

      I haven’t visited the site you’ve linked to, but in my mind the reader and the writer will always have a different perspective. All the reader sees is what’s there, the finished product. But the writer sees every change, every revision that went into the piece. They don’t see what’s there. They see what was supposed to be there. And in some cases the two are painfully dissimilar.

      I had a look at some of my earlier pieces, and in some cases you’re right: my voice has been pretty consistent. (But I’ve written about that in another post, so I won’t bore you senseless by repeating it here.)

      And before I finish up, this line was pure gold my friend: “Art (prose, poetry, painting, sculpture, music) is produced by the artist in response to something within them at the time.”

      Reply

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