Rewriting In Your Voice

Writing is a challenge. It takes a blank page and then it involves scrawling onto it whatever words you want to put there. It’s been addressed in a lot of different ways. One of my favourite ways to describe it is that the act of writing is a violent one; where violence is the curtailing of options through force, a writer takes a blank page of infinite possibility and reduces it down to just one. Another way to see writing described is as a form of agony; one merely stares at a blank page until your forehead starts bleeding, the line goes. I don’t think these descriptions are necessarily trying to describe a particular kind of pain, but it’s a sentiment that I think is easy to reflect. Fanfiction tumblr, I’ve seen in particular, is filled with people who wish to murmur of the dreadful agonies that come from a want to write and a lack of ability, time, focus, concentration or will to do so.

To those people, I will suggest that you can also, if you want, not write.

I mean it’s okay.

Hell, have you considered a micropodcast? Grab a microphone and just tell a recording ‘I want to tell a story that’s about this and this and this,’ and just see where that process takes you. Be okay with making a little, or only concepting a little. The making is the fun part, you’re not getting graded on your fanfiction here.

Nonetheless, much writing is made about writing and I think that’s good. Turns out that writers, in general, are always looking for things to write about, and writing about writing can often come easily. It’s also a chance to show off how the thing we choose to do is actually quite hard and I didn’t spend an hour today fine tuning a tree farm in Minecraft, I was actually letting the ideas and words turn in my head while I tried not to cry.

I try to avoid writing about writing unless I’m going to give some clear and concrete advice. In this case, it is the way that I would like to offer advice that was first, terribly, presented to me as write drunk, edit sober.

I don’t drink so that’s meaningless, of course. I don’t do anything drunk, and I imagine if I tried to write drunk it would look very bad considering that my primary way to write is based around fine motor control I’ve spent oh god so long refining. The idea, however, seems to be built around the notion that one should have one mindset for the creation of writing, and then another mindset for improving and refining that thing. It’s a vision of a very real experience I have, where the creation of a thing can be rough and unreliable and loose in words and meaning because I’m trying to get the core things out and in the right space. Editing, going back over what I wrote and checking if things should be another way or if they should be in a different order, that should be done with some time and distance from the original writing.

Particularly awkward is when you write a sentence, then come back to it a few days later, and read it aloud, and realise you have no idea where in the sentence there’s meant to be an emphasis. There’s this idea of garden path sentences where a phrase may be structured in a way that fools you into momentarily thinking the sentence is spoken one way instead of another. You might also see them called crash blossoms.

This is something that stands out to me in this blog because I write in a style that I think of as oratory. I know that when I read some phrases aloud, that there is an escalation, a dudgeon that I bring to bear in the way I write. It’s why, I think, I am comfortable with the writing of Tycho from Penny Arcade in a way that my peers often aren’t. There is a cadence, a musicality to the way he writes, that begs to be spoken aloud.

Therefore, my first piece of advice, for when you return to your work, is to read it aloud.

I will now give those of you who write porny gay fanfiction an opportunity to uncringe.

It’s true though! What you are writing is trying to be encoded in the mind of another. Reading it aloud will show you when your own writing trips you up, when your writing slows down, when you have the ability to convey dialogue in pauses rather than in statements, and if you necessarily are setting the right tone with the description of that text.

Dialogue in fanfiction is amazing because, chances are, you like the characters because of dialogue. Dialogue is how characters express a lot of who they are, in how much of it there is and how little of it there is. It is spoken aloud, in many cases, by actors, and read into audiobooks. There is nothing weird or wrong about speaking the voices of those characters aloud and seeing how their words settle in your brain afterwards.

It is embarrassing, not gunna tell you otherwise. Waiting until your roommates are out of the room so you can read back and forth to yourself about the way two Gundam Kissboys engage with one another and see if it ‘feels right’ in your head? That’s pretty challenging. It can make the writing even more private, because now you need a way to see if the characters that resonate in you resonate with the world outside your head, and also you need to do it in the garage so nobody hears you describing how they fuck.

But also, doing so can highlight things to you. It can bring to your attention mistakes. You might notice that when you read it aloud, you don’t need to include three statements about a person putting their hand on a table, because it’s on the table, and the dialogue itself bridges to the next piece of dialogue. You can find your own foibles and you can make them better. And also, you can use that voice to just map out scenes vaguely, and see how they feel.

I am lucky in that I have an audience that wants to hear me read my articles aloud, and that can help me catch mistakes or realise when I have a problem in the text. If you can find people on a discord call or in a friend group who want to do this for you, or are willing to do it for you, and yes I know you may be talking about gay sex fanfiction here but the point stands, then you should thank them and trust them and see what it can do to help improve the way you write.

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