How I Got My Groove Back

This is the super special sparkly awesome 1st content post of my blog! The actual 1st post is here, full of introduction stuff and at least one wondrous Tina Fey gif. Obviously, you want to go there. 

WARNING: This is a writerly post about finding your voice. All sentimental tropes apply. Cheesy metaphors WILL happen. 

When I first started taking writing workshops in college, I decided that I was going to be Serious Annalise who wrote about Serious Things and Like Life and Stuff.

Serious Annalise wore black turtlenecks and smoked in Paris cafes. Serious Annalise did not write about androids or aliens or old ladies living in shoes.

That was cigarettes in Paris, not milk on white linen tables

Give me a break, I was 18.

Okay, that’s not much of an excuse. There are tons of 18 year olds who do not think such silly things. Apologies to all 18 year olds in the crowd.

Let me rephrase: give me a break, I was 18 year old Serious Annalise, and I looked around at my workshops, and people were writing about pot and sex and horrible parents. Don’t misunderstand, these are not bad things to write about. I still write about these things. Come on – pot and sex and horrible parents! Sounds like a party.

But I was afraid that I would get laughed or at least politely coughed out of class if I submitted my talking dragon, so I tucked said dragon somewhere in a corner where the poor thing choked on dust and cobwebs and did not speak anymore.

There is a conversation here about why I thought that. A very old conversation, but a conversation that still remains relevant when great writers insist that they do not write science fiction, they just use science fiction in their fiction. Um, okay? By the way, I don’t write fiction, I just make things up. Lol hey over there!

Let’s table that conversation for now. For whatever reason, for multiple reasons, for reasons largely created in my own head, I was embarrassed of my talking dragon. Probably I could have submitted anything and it would have been fine, because honestly, people in fiction workshops are so paranoid about their own work that they’re not going to have a fainting spell just because you have, well, spells in your story.

So for two years of writing workshops, I wrote some horrible fiction. Learned a lot. Don’t get me wrong. But my stories were just…eh, meh?

In my third year of college, I actually didn’t take any writing workshops. Enjoyed the classes I did take, they were practical and all, but writing was not a priority anymore.

Come my senior year, I decided that I better take some writing workshops again. After all, my graduate school plans had nothing to do with writing, so this was my last chance, really. And I decided to do something a little different. Since this was possibly my last opportunity, I decided to write and submit a story about two robots – a story that had been banging around in my brain for years, but that I had never had the courage to actually write or submit to workshop.

So I wrote my little robot story. Polished it up. Submitted it to class with my stomach churning and my fingers still sticky with ink.

Then a funny thing happened.

Okay, no, people did not fall wildly in love with the story. They did not throw me a parade or vote me as Most Awesome Writer to Ever Write About Robots. (Hello, Asimov.) In fact, my recollection is that there was a lot of polite befuddlement, some critiques, some “Oh, but I liked this part. Do this more.” Pretty par for the course for anyone who’s ever been in a critique group before. My writing professor was very encouraging and supportive, because that is what good writing professors do, and I have been blessed with an abundance of good writing teachers in my life.

But here’s the thing.

I CARED more about that story than all of the previous stories I had submitted in my college career COMBINED, and the feedback electrified me, and I went back and worked on that story and I made it better. And then for my 2nd story, I submitted something about an alien and people liked it even MORE and I cared about it even MORE and I went back and made that better, too. And after years of feeling ‘Eh’ or ‘Where did I go wrong?’ about writing, THIS is how I felt about writing for the first time in a freaking long time:

In my mind, the winning streak continued for the rest of my senior year. I wrote about time travel and ghosts and some of it sucked but even the stuff that sucked MATTERED. Like, to me. Personally.

Here’s the thing. Stories that matter to you personally tend to be of a higher ilk than stories that don’t. Readers notice. They’re smart cookies.

Smart cookies

And I had an epiphany that Serious Annalise was ALSO Robot Alien Time-Traveling Ghost Annalise. That I was never more serious about writing about humans than when I was writing about robots or aliens or time travel or ghosts.

But that’s not even the point – had I only wanted to a write a story about three generations of women living in the same house (which was my living situation growing up, and this IS a story I want to write once I get a few dragons out of my system) but felt constrained for whatever reason, then I would have been doing an equal disservice to myself by stifling my own voice.

I just wish it hadn’t taken me 3 years to learn this lesson – a lesson that I believe most people learn in junior high.

But enough about me.

I want to hear about YOU.

Have you ever tried to hide your authentic self? In writing, or otherwise?

If so, how did that turn out? How did you handle it?

Have you ever been embarrassed to send out a story for feedback because you thought people might think the subject matter was silly? How did you handle that?

And finally, have you made any profound realizations about your writing style or thematic choices?

How would you characterize your own voice?

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10 Comments

  1. This is a great post, bordering on epiphany. You discovered the secret to writing important serious stuff so much faster than many of us (that’s the Royal us, by the way). The serious and important stuff is what matters (whatever subject it is) to us on a personal level.

    Sometimes that’s tough to put out there because it makes us vulnerable or we know other people are going to look sideways at us and think “nutjob!” while they smile and nod and step away. But I think it’s got to happen. You’ve got to be authentic and write what matters to you (no matter what it is or how many other people think it’s unimportant) because the wrtiting journey is a lot about figuring stuff out about ourselves. It’s not ALL about me, but it goes through my head before it rolls out on the paper for other people to read.

    And those readers are smart and I don’t want any cookie crumbs littering up my desk, so I try hard.

    Reply
    • Thank you! I agree. You have to be authentic – that’s when you’re going to shine through your writing! And the authentic me is a little fanciful, I think. Of course, it’s not going to be everybody’s cup of tea, but you can be rest assured that someone out there in the wide wandering world will like your tea – and that’s what matters. /metaphor about tea

      Reply
  2. Amanda Rudd

     /  August 22, 2011

    Hey! Congratulations on your first two posts ever!

    This is a great way to start, and I love both the topic matter and all the crazy gifs. Seriously, the Donna gif is the best! I vote for more Donna everywhere!

    As for writing voice, well, I write a little of everything. I’m a true eclectic in that I LOVE so many different kinds of things (often somewhat contradictory things) that I can hardly keep it all straight in my head or on paper. Mainly, I write fantasy. But I also write some science fiction, and I’ve written a number of, to use your term, “serious” short stories (that are just chock-full of horrible parents and deaths in the family and big serious life-altering decision-making), and some day I WANT to write a mystery/crime novel, and I want to write a musical, and… I could go on…

    I’ve never felt tied down to one topic or genre. On the other hand, I haven’t gotten to the point where I let many people read my work either. I have a few friends (of the writerly and non-writerly persuasion) who read almost everything I write, but that’s it.

    So when I get to the point where I feel like something is “done” enough, and I’m ready to let other people look at it… well, then I’ll let you know how much I freak out (which is liable to be rather a LOT).

    Reply
    • Thank you! Glad you like them.

      I’m the same way in being interested in lots of different stuff! Right now my brain is full of dragons and robots but I don’t think it will always be this way. And I also want to write a mystery novel…I have a charming female detective in mind…kudos on the musical aspirations! Truly a Renaissance writer.

      Letting other people read your work can be daunting. It’s part of why writers have to have a lot of courage. I usually freak out a lot. It stings but it can be SO WORTH IT afterwards.

      Donna gifs FOREVER (She might be my favorite Who character/okay she is/funny redheads always win)

      Reply
  3. Ha! I took a writing workshop similar to that when I was in college too. Except instead of pox, sex, and horrible parents, we wrote about cancer, alcoholism, dead parents, and sisters with eating disorders. No, I don’t really know what was wrong with my section either.

    For the most part, I suppressed my tendencies towards wacky supernatural shenanigans because I got the sense That Was Just Not Done. Except I slipped one story in that had time travel (and a dead parent because my section had been a bad influence on me) and while I got good constructive feedback about the characterization, the time travel really confused everyone. Looking back on it, their reactions were kind of hilarious!

    After that, I never took another writing workshop again but I did keep writing about wacky supernatural shenanigans!

    Reply
    • Yes, I’ve heard nightmare stories about professors who actually told their students to stop writing things with speculative or fantastical elements because it was less mature or something. That has never been the case for me – let the record stand that I think all my profs were awesomesauce! And that I think the majority of my peers would have been fine with it had I even given them the chance.

      I also picked up a That Was Just Not Done vibe in some of these classes, partially because they kept talking about how much they hated magical realism, and partially because of my own projections. (Magical realism is one of my FAVORITE genres and I challenge anyone who makes blanket statements to go read Aimee Bender or Kelly Link.)

      Lol, my time travel story also confused a few people, I remember one person said, “Can you write this story…but just without time travel?” I was like 0.0

      Reply
  4. I’ll join the chorus and say that this is an awesome first post! I can absolutely relate to feeling awkward about sharing your work with others based on the type of stories you write. On the bright side, I’m hoping to take a sci-fi/fantasy creative writing course this next semester, in which case such awkwardness will be nonexistent! *crosses fingers*

    My profound realization about writing came to me in the midst of an interview about my writing, weirdly enough. I realized that I tend to make fun of the styles/genres I am most uncomfortable with. Feeling insecure about writing an earnest romantic scene? Have the characters crack jokes to keep things from getting too serious. Nervous about your ability to pull off lit-fic-style sentences? Have your narrator make fun of his own efforts to sound poetic. I suppose I do it because humorous writing is something I know I can pull off. The others? Ehh…

    At any rate, since this epiphany (which happened about a year ago), I’ve been pushing myself to face my fears (e.g. I wrote an entire romantic chapter into my 2010 NaNo). Does it make me nervous? Yeah, but I think it’s good for me. 🙂

    As for my voice…it’s difficult to say. I mean, it kind of depends on the story. I guess one common feature is that nearly every story I write has at least one sarcastic/snarky character, whether it’s the narrator or someone else. I would also say that my prose tends to be straightforward—I’m not really one for poetic similes and such (see above). It’s an interesting question, though. I’m curious: how would you characterize your own voice?

    Reply
    • Oooh, have fun in your sci fi/fantasy workshop! I wish such things had been available for me. But the workshop that I DID open up to was taught by a comic book writer, so I think people felt generally more comfortable submitting genre stuff – this was the first class I’d ever been in where people submitted fantasy and sci fi, which makes me wonder (*cue Maroon 5*) if I’m not such an isolated phenomenon.

      I’m also uncomfortable with romance! But I like how you challenged yourself to write things that you would normally shy away from. I think that’s very smart and mature and maybe I should do that too hmmmm.

      Haha, the voice question is harder than I realized.

      There’s a children’s fairy tale vibe, even with stories that don’t SOUND classically fairy tale on the outskirt. People have told me that I’m funny in a dry sort of way – I very rarely set out to write something funny, but sometimes a sarcastic line will come to me and I just have to put it in. I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that my stuff is dark, sometimes very dark – I never set out to write dark stuff but it seems to happen under the guise of “raising the stakes” and also because I heart morally gray characters.

      Miyazaki + Kelly Link + Truman Capote? Yes. And maybe a little George R.R. Martin too. *just cited people that she will never live up to* *realized this* *but cited them anyway*

      Reply
  5. Hi Annalise. What a way to start your blog! Kudos and welcome to the blogging world. Tons of good peeps here. 🙂

    Oh yes, I’ve hidden my authentic self before in life situations and in writing. I know now it was because of a fear of judgement. I generally don’t show what I write (short fiction or personal essay…even blog posts) to general friends and family. I tend to write quiet dark fiction that bends towards horror and essays that are a bit too truth telling. I hesitate to share that with certain people because they’ll be wandering in my business and/or giving me the “ooo, she’s crazy” side glance. Just because bad stuff seems to happen to some of my characters doesn’t mean I’m going to do those things in real life. Bwahahahaha.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much! I’m excited to join the blogging world. 😀

      As someone else who writes a lot of quiet dark fiction that slants towards horror, I commiserate. I often worry that my stuff is too dark, which is weird because I’m a sunny person in real life.

      We can’t help it! We just like to torture our characters. >:D

      Reply

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