Today’s post is written by Susan Bearman, a semi-finalist in the Write It Sideways regular contributor search. Thanks, Susan!
Do you hear voices? I mean from people who aren’t in the room, but in your head.
If the voices are telling you to harm yourself or others, seek psychiatric help. If the voices are telling you stories, explaining who they are, or having dialogues with other characters, chances are you’re a writer.
In my case, every time I take a shower, I hear dialogue. This has been going on for as long as I can remember. It took me years to discover that this was both unusual for regular people and perfectly normal for writers.
Hearing voices is important for good writing. I’ll go so far as to say it’s essential. Which voices you listen to and how you respond will make all the difference.
Listen to your characters
It’s ironic that hearing your characters’ voices in your head is probably the best (and only) way to get inside of theirs. Let them speak to you:
- Absorb their dialects.
- Note their quirky speech patterns.
- When do they get shrill? When are they quiet? When do they shout with joy?
- What does it sound like when they laugh? Or cry?
You also need to listen to your character’s wants and needs, hopes and dreams; in other words, your character’s inner voice. When any character, especially your main character, tells you something you couldn’t possibly have known or made up, you’re on the right track. Only then will you be telling your characters’ story, not your own.
Listen to your heart
I recently heard a writer say: “It’s all about me. What interests me, what questions I have, what bugs me. That’s what I write about.”
Listen to the questions in your head and your heart. Some of the questions that can lead you down the right path are:
- I wonder why nobody has ever written about this?
- Can I write this another way? Can I write it as fiction? Or nonfiction? Or poetry?
- Can I write this for another audience? Can I write it for teens? Or children?
If you’re interested enough to ask the question, do the research and write about it well, that’s practically a guarantee that someone else will want to read it.
Listen to your head
Finding a good critique group or a couple of trusted beta readers is a must for the revision process. Their input can be invaluable, so listen carefully, don’t interrupt or be defensive, and take good notes.
Now comes the hard part: learning to evaluate that criticism. This is an entirely different skill because, as writers, we tend to listen with our hearts. But when it comes to criticism, it’s important to learn to listen with that keen editor’s voice in your head. That takes practice, a little distance and a lot of objectivity.
After a critique session, take your notes home, and put your writer brain to bed. Wake up your editor brain and read your notes over again. Your editor voice should be ruthless. It will know whether your critiquers are right and will advise your writer self to go back and revise.
But if your inner editor tells you that your critics are way off track, listen to that, too. Give their suggestions a fair shake, take the good suggestions to heart, and ignore the criticisms of those who only want you to rewrite your story their way.
There is one voice you should ignore at all costs. You know the one. It’s the voice of Self Doubt.
We all have an inner devil buzzing in our ears occasionally, telling us that we’re foolish, talentless and wasting our time. That demonic voice can paralyze you, drowning out the creative voices that got you started.
Learn to trust yourself. It’s one thing to set aside a fresh work and come back to it with a little perspective and a more objective eye. This is an essential skill for every writer. But don’t let that fiend Self Doubt get you down.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once said: “Writers aren’t exactly people … they’re a whole lot of people trying to become one person.”
E.L. Doctorow said: “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”
I say, you’re not crazy, you’re a writer. Embrace your other voices. They are a gift.
Susan Bearman is a writing veteran of more than 20 years, working as a ghost writer, technical writer and business editor. She teaches writing and social media for writers, and her current works-in-progress include several picture books, a memoir and a mystery. You can follow her on Twitter.