Friday, March 18, 2011

Getting Back to Business by Nancy Hinchliff


Nancy Hinchliff owns and operates a bed and breakfast in Louisville, Kentucky where she also blogs and writes on line at Examiner.com, Eye on Life Magazine, Pink magazine and Hub pages. You can find her blogging at Business and Creative Women’s Forum, Inn NotesInn business  A Memorable Time of My Life, and Louisville Bed and Breakfast Association  In 2008, she co-authored Room at the Table, for The Bed and Breakfast Association of Kentucky for which she won their president’s award for outstanding work. She is currently working on a memoir titled Operatic Divas and Naked Irishmen: An Innkeeper’s Tale, a humorous and poignant account of how an admittedly asocial retired school teacher reinvents herself as an Innkeeper. This intimate tale recounts 16 challenging years of self-discovery.

Getting Back To Business

...the business of writing, that is. For the past two or three months, my memoir has been sitting on an obscure corner of my desk upstairs in my office...out of sight...out of reach...out of mind. I haven't gone near it. What I have been doing is trying to figure out what in the world is wrong with it. Why do I only like Chapter 8 and Chapter 12?


I have three fourths of the book complete. And now I see that I have to do a major re-write on it. Why? Well, I finally figured it out. I can't hear my voice...at least I can't hear it all the time. It comes through in different places, like in Chapter 8 and Chapter 12, but it does not infuse the entire book. And that really bothers me.

So, what to do about it? Well, I finally retrieved my manuscript from my desk on the third floor...that's a start. Then I divided it into four sections. Each section has around four chapters. Now, what I am doing is re-writing every day for a set amount of time. I am going chapter by chapter, sticking with it until I have it the way I want it...looking for my authentic voice and planting it on the pages one sentence at a time.

Just what is writer's voice anyhow and how do you find your own? According to Wikipedia,“Writer’s voice is a literary term used to describe the individual writing style of an author. Voice is a combination of a writer’s use of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works). Voice can also be referred to as the specific fingerprint of an author, as every author has a different writing style.In creative writing, students are often encouraged to experiment with different literary styles and techniques in order to help them better develop their “voice.” Voice varies with the individual author, but, particularly in American culture, having a strong voice is considered positive and beneficial to both the writer and his or her audience.”

Finding your writer’s voice may be compared to expressing your personality in real life. It's that authentic way of thinking, speaking and telling that each one of us has. “Confident writers have the courage to speak plainly; to let their thoughts shine rather than their vocabulary.” says Ralph Keyes, author of The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear I strongly believe that one way one can find their true voice is through blogging on a regular basis. When I first started blogging a few years ago, I focused mainly on the content of what I was writing and was not too concerned about the way in which it was presented, as long as the grammar and punctuation was correct. I was not really writing to connect with my readers.

In the Elements of Style, Strunk tells us that "style is an expression of self, and [writers] should turn resolutely away from all devices that are popularly believed to indicate style – all mannerisms, tricks, and adornments." I believe that if one continues to blog, their voice will eventually be freed. “As you become proficient in the use of language, your style will emerge,” writes Strunk “because you yourself will emerge…” so the more comfortable you are with the rules for good writing, the more your writer’s voice will shine.

I have found this to be so true. And, it wasn't until I felt my true voice starting to come out that I even entertained the idea of writing a memoir. I wanted that memoir to be an expression of "me". But somewhere along the line, in trying to complete my work, I lapsed into my old ways of focusing on the content, not on my reader. And that's what I'm trying to get back.

Now, I am working that out, chapter by chapter. I am reading my writing aloud to see if it really sounds like me. This is very helpful, by the way. I had already stopped comparing my writing to other writers. Comparing how you write or your writer’s voice to other writers is destructive and suffocating. So, my motto is: admire other writers’ styles but nurture your own. And focus on ways to improve your confidence as a writer.

*A final tip: try picturing one specific reader — one that you're not trying to impress – and just communicate with her.

4 comments:

Melissa Crytzer Fry said...

I love this post! I am intrigued by the wonderful things you've probably seen, learned, heard as a schoolteacher-turned-innkeeper! And I especially love the lat line of your post: "admire other writers’ styles but nurture your own. And focus on ways to improve your confidence as a writer." Does that say it all, or what?

Thank you for the wonderful tips on voice. SO, SO important!

Kara Garbe Balcerzak said...

Thanks for this great post. Reading my writing aloud was definitely a move that has helped me. Another element of voice, I think, is the level of honesty present. How much will a reader trust that voice? I'm also in the midst of a painstaking edit of a memoir, and one thing it took me years (years!) to realize was that I was saying the things I thought I was supposed to say, rather than the things I really believed. I'm not sure if that's more a piece of characterization than voice, but they all seem closely tied together to me.

Nancy Hinchliff said...

Melissa, Thank you so much for the lovely comment. I'm glad you like the post and support my philosophy of nurturing one's own style...I think it's so important.

Nancy Hinchliff said...

kara, Honesty is definitely the key to a compelling and meaningful memoir. If it isn't present, the reader can sense it immediately. It's a hard thing for some writers to do...be completely honest, open, and authentic. It took me a long time to get to that point. But getting there unleashed a whole passel of interesting stuff and taught me a lot about myself.

"These are the days when Birds come back/a very few/a Bird or two/to take a backward look."

"These are the days when Birds come back/a very few/a Bird or two/to take a backward look."