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Find Your Writing Voice Through Guide Poets

Finding Your Writing Voice
“Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery – it’s the sincerest form of learning.” ― George Bernard Shaw

As writers, we tend to strive for originality. We don’t want our work to be a copy of someone else’s; we want to write words that are unique. But what if I was to tell you that you should imitate other writers? Would you believe me if I said that mimicry can help you write more authentically? The fact is, every one of us has authors who influence the way we write, and by studying those authors, we learn how to grow in the areas we care about most. Guide poets can lead the way as you find your writing voice.

So What is A Guide Poet?

A guide poet, put simply, is a writer whose voice resonates with your own. Think of your guide poet as a kindred spirit. In their works, you’ll find a style that matches the tone of your words or a way of thinking that speaks to you. Their writing will sound like something you would say. This isn’t just an author you like; it’s an author you understand and who you feel understands you, although you’ve never met.

How to Find Your Guide Poets

Choosing guide poets is a bit like choosing friends: it’s a mix of chance and intentionality. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

  1. Start with your nightstand-The collection of books you keep ready at hand are a great indicator of your current interests. Make a stack of the books you always have nearby; the books you list off as your favorites and the ones you reread often. Even though not all of your favorite authors are guide poets, chances are your guide poets will be found among your favorite authors.
  2. Evaluate your collection— Look at each of the books in your stack and consider why you’re drawn to them. Do you like them just because they’re fun to read or you learned from them? Or, do they connect with you on a deeper level? If you find yourself underlining whole passages of a text or thinking “I wish I’d written that,” then you may have found a writing guide.
  3. Pick your guides–Ultimately, who your guide poets are boils down to who you want them to be. If you feel like you connect with a bunch of different writers, focus on the ones you’d most like to emulate. Find the ones who best match the goals you have for yourself and make them your models.

 How Your Guides Help You Find Your Voice

Once you find authors whose voices resonate with your own, who you feel connected to and want to learn from, it’s time to consider how they can help you find your voice. There are two main ways these writers can help.

First, Defining Your Voice:

Guide poets can help you decide what you want your voice to sound like. Your writing voice is the underlying tone and message that weaves through everything you put on the page. It’s the flavor that makes your writing distinct, and it stems from both the way you write and the reason you write. Guide poets help you define your voice by helping you recognize the aspects of writing you are most focused on.

When you read the work of the authors who influence you, take note of why you connect with them. Do you love the way they write characters? Is their message something you care about too? Make a list of the different characteristics you admire in their work and then compare it to your own writing. As you begin to find overlap between your style and goals and theirs, you can start to put into words the characteristics of your voice.

For example, studying my guide poets (J.R.R. Tolkien, William Joyce, and Annie Dillard) helped me realize that one of my main goals in writing is to take small, simple parts of life and show the value and wonder to be found in them. I realized I love books with lots of description, color, and light, and so these were aspects that I wanted to focus on in my projects.

Second, Developing Your Voice:

Guide poets can also help you develop your voice through imitation. By mimicking the aspects of your guide poet’s style which resonate with you, you can test out different parts of your voice. You aren’t giving up your uniqueness, but rather using similar authors to learn the skills you need to grow. In taking on the style of another, we can’t help but make it our own. That’s why a thousand different poems can be written in the same form without becoming the same poem. The guide poets simply become a shell, an outline, that we fill with our own color and design.

Here’s a simple exercise to try.  Give yourself 30 minutes to write as much as you can in the voice of one of your guide poets. By putting on their style for a moment, you’ll exercise your creative muscles in the areas you desire to develop.

 

At the end of the day, God has gifted each of us differently. Your story is distinct from all others; your voice is unique to you. The influence of others doesn’t take away our ability to find our own tune, but rather enhances our ability by offering us a chance to sing in harmony.  When we learn from guide poets,  we take what is offered to us and make it into something new.  In them, we find both mentors that guide us as we find our voices and friends who make the journey easier to travel.

So who are some of the guide poets in your writing journey?

 

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Karley Conklin is a part-time librarian, part-time editor, and full-time bookworm. On her blog http://litwyrm.com/, she discusses all sorts of literature, from poetry to picture books. Her goal is to use the power of stories to remind others of hope and joy in a world that all too often forgets both.
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Grow Your Writing Skills — Part III

Polishing your writing is the final step in Ian Lurie’s copywriting course.

In an effort to grow my copywriting skills, I took Ian Lurie’s LinkedIn Learning course “Learning to Write Marketing Copy.” He broke copywriting down into four easy steps: create a plan, free write, write your first draft, and polish your writing. While the course focused specifically on writing marketing copy, I’ve been able to apply his method to fiction writing, blog writing, and even journalism.

For the final blog in this series, I’d like to focus on Lurie’s fourth and final step: polish your writing.

Polish Your Writing

When I first started my job as a promotional writer with Liberty University Marketing, I noticed something almost immediately. Writing only takes up a small amount of my workday. The bulk of my time is spent editing and proofreading my work (and other writers’ documents).

Our editorial process has several levels it must pass through to meet the university’s quality control standards. Because everything that comes from the marketing department must be properly branded, there are very specific guidelines we must follow when creating an email, letter, or advertisement. 

Our editorial team, called quality control, checks for grammar, spelling, clarity, and, of course, our brand. They ask questions like Does this piece sound like it was written by the president of the university? Is this email consistent in tone with our other pieces?

However, before they ever lay eyes on my projects, I need to polish my text to be the best it can be. Lurie suggests taking three steps when polishing your work: get help, edit, and proofread.

Get Help

Always be willing to ask for help when polishing your work. Readers will often catch mistakes that you do not.

No matter what kind of writing you do, it’s always good to have another pair of eyes on your work. If you’re writing a company newsletter, have a fellow employee read over it for you and offer suggestions for improvement. If you’re working on a fictional piece, reach out to a friend who enjoys reading fiction. 

As one of eight promotional writers for my department, I have seven other writers who review my work for me before it goes to our quality control team for proofing. Generally, we try to have two “reads” on our work before we hand it over to quality control. 

This is helpful, especially when I’m writing something similar to what I’ve written before. Every month, I write monthly offer emails. These emails generally advertise similar offers, but I often leave information out because my brain writes on auto-pilot. Having coworkers who are unfamiliar with the material lets me know where I need to improve. They ask questions as both a reader and a writer, offering insight and sparking conversation.

If you cannot find someone to review your work for you, take some time away from the piece. Anywhere from an hour to a few days will give you “fresh eyes” when reading the document, and you’ll find mistakes you didn’t catch while writing. Reading your writing aloud is also a great way to spot errors.

Edit

Editing is making large structural changes to your work, while proofreading is checking for grammar and spelling.

Lurie describes editing as “reorganizing and modifying copy.” Basically, this means you should make large structural changes before worrying about the details of a piece.

When editing, you’re looking for readability and flow. You want your piece to make sense to the reader without them having to work too hard to understand what you’re trying to say. (Many readers will stop reading if the writing is difficult to decipher.) Editing can be as simple as rearranging a few paragraphs to totally reworking sentences. 

At the end of the editorial process, your piece should have a logical flow that gently guides the reader from sentence to sentence. 

Proofread

Proofreading is a little different than editing, though the two often get lumped together. Lurie says proofreading is “correcting spelling and grammar.” Spelling and grammar are difficult for many people. Understandably so.

My suggestion for proofreading is to make it easy for yourself. Always write with spellcheck turned on. Download Grammarly for free to have your work automatically proofread as you go.

Tools are great for proofreading, but they will fail from time to time. That’s why it is so important for you to have a basic understanding of English grammar. I keep a couple of books on my desk at work to help me with proofreading. You don’t have to know everything about English grammar, but using these resources will help you grow more comfortable with it:

  • Merriam-Webster Dictionary — Because spellcheck doesn’t always work the way you need it to
  • The Elements of Style by Strunk and White — Great basic overview of English grammar
  • The Copyeditors Handbook by Amy Einsohn — Excellent resource for mastering copyediting

Never rely solely on built-in tools to proofread your work for you. Always proofread your work all the way through before submitting it to your editor, posting to your blog, or sharing online.

At the end of the day, writing is a skill that you develop. You may be a passionate young writer with many exciting stories to tell, or you may be a seasoned professional struggling against the daily grind. No matter where you are in your writing journey, know that there is always room for improvement. Just remember Lurie’s four steps: plan, pre-write, write, and review.

Follow these four steps, and you’ll see improvements in your writing in no time.

Emily Babbitt is a promotional writer for Liberty University Marketing. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband. Learn more about Emily here.

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Grow Your Writing Skills — Part II

In an effort to grow my copywriting skills, I took Ian Lurie’s LinkedIn Learning course “Learning to Write Marketing Copy.” He broke copywriting down into four easy steps: create a plan, free write, write your first draft, and polish your writing. While the course focused specifically on writing marketing copy, I’ve been able to apply his method to fiction writing, blog writing, and even journalism.

This week, I’d like to focus on his second and third steps.

Freewriting

Freewriting is a great idea to develop ideas for your writing project. Whether you’re working on a short story, a novel, or a blog post, jotting down ideas through freewriting will help “free” up your mind and flesh out your ideas. 

Lurie suggests setting a timer for 5-10 minutes and allowing yourself to write without thinking about spelling or grammar. Just write down everything that comes to mind about your topic, even if you end up going down some rabbit trails. Don’t stop writing until the timer is up!

When the buzzer finally rings, stop and step away from your computer or paper for a few minutes before you review your writing. Then, highlight any new ideas that may have sprouted during your freewriting time.

I apply this to my own work, especially larger projects. A lot of my work is quick (i.e., emails, banner ads, social media ads, etc.), but I have several large pieces per month that require quite a bit of cognitive effort on my part. 

Freewriting is a great way for me to get some ideas out on paper, especially if I’m not sure which direction I want to take the piece. 

Writing Your First Draft

Writing your first draft is always the hardest part of starting a new project. Depending on the length of the piece, you may want to break it down into manageable steps for yourself. For example, if you’re working on a novel, take it chapter by chapter or scene by scene. Once you have a goal in mind for what you want to write, set a timer for 45-90 minutes and begin writing!

Writing your first draft is a little different than freewriting because you need to allow your goal to guide your writing. Keep your goal, writing style, and the type of piece in mind. Keeping the type of piece in mind just means that you need to remember the context. If you’re writing a novel, ask yourself: Where does this chapter or scene fit into the rest of my story? 

When writing your first draft, Lurie suggests leaving the introduction and heading for last. This just gives you the opportunity to develop your ideas before you introduce or conclude them. I often leave headers and subject lines on emails for last, and I often wait until I’m done writing body text before writing salutations in letters or direct mail pieces. Having all of the other copy written first gives me a good idea of how to introduce it.

When the timer is up, Lurie suggests stretching for a few minutes, smiling at your accomplishment, and then polishing your writing, which we will discuss on Jan. 2!

About Emily

Emily Babbitt is a promotional writer for Liberty University Marketing. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband. Learn more about Emily here.

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Book Nook: By Way of Introduction

If you read good books, when you write, good books will come out of you. Maybe it’s not quite that easy, but if you want to learn something, go to the source. —Natalie Goldberg

Hello everyone,

My name is Karley Conklin, and I’m a new blogger for Write2Ignite.

I’ve been able to attend Write2Ignite on four different occasions, and I must say, it’s been one of the best parts of my writing journey. The first time I participated in the conference, I was a timid high school senior, with no experience and no idea what to expect. Despite my fears, the conference planted in me a grain of confidence. As I introduced myself to editors and agents, I began to see myself as more than just a dreamer. Professionals in the publishing world were offering me consistent encouragement and affirmation, and I left the event feeling certain I was called to write.

Since then, I’ve graduated college with an Interdisciplinary Literature and Christian Studies degree—which is to say that my writing has sadly fallen to the back-burner. Though I’ve yet to publish the middle-grade novel I wrote four years ago, I’ve still managed to keep my creativity simmering, through editing, through smaller writing projects, and most of all, through reading.

It shouldn’t surprise you that a lit major (and now part-time librarian) would be an advocate for reading as much you can. Even though I’m biased, I firmly believe that reading is one of the best ways to learn to write well. In every book, we find examples of what works and what doesn’t. We find lessons in the flow of language, the nature of plot and setting, and the magic of character development. Reading allows us to observe the art we hope to master, and observation is a powerful tool.

My blog posts in the upcoming months will focus on sharing with you the best books on writing I can find. Mixed in with these textbooks of the trade, I’ll add reviews of children’s literature to encourage you to keep honing your observational skills.

I look forward to learning and growing with you all and hope that you’ll share your thoughts with our Write2Ignite community.

Since you now know all about me, I’d love to hear a little about you. What’s one of your favorite books, one that has inspired you or challenged your thinking?

(Mine would be Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, but more on her later.)

 

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Karley Conklin is a part-time librarian, part-time editor, and full-time bookworm. Her fondness for books borderlines obsession, as she engages in not only writing and editing, but also in book-binding. On her blog http://litwyrm.com/, she discusses all sorts of literature, from poetry to picture books. Her goal is to use the power of stories to remind others of hope and joy in a world that all too often forgets both.
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Are You Willing to Be Rejected?

Nobody likes to be rejected. And when we’ve poured ourselves into a writing project, only to see it rejected by agents and editors, it’s easy to take that rejection personally.

“My manuscript isn’t good enough.”

“My writing skills aren’t good enough.”

I’m not good enough.”

Is that true?

Before you believe the lie that you’re not good enough, consider the truth.

Maybe your manuscript does need more work. And maybe your writing skills could use improvement.

Or maybe the agent just signed an author who writes in the same genre you do. Or maybe the editor knows he can’t contract your book because his company is releasing a book on the same topic in a few months. Sometimes a rejection has nothing to do with you or your skills and everything to do with timing.

Then again, maybe the timing is fine, but you and the agent or editor simply have different likes.

Agents Are Human

I attended a writers conference years ago where agent Steve Laube served on the faculty. Participating in an agent panel, Steve mentioned that agents don’t always make the right call. He cited a well-known author whom he regretted rejecting several years earlier. During the Q & A session, several multi-published authors prefaced their questions by noting (with a laugh) that Steve had also rejected them. He finally asked the audience to raise their hands if they had been rejected by his agency. I lost count of the hands raised across the room as laughter erupted.

Agents are fallible!

Editors Are Fallible Too

Are you familiar with the anthology series, Chicken Soup for the Soul? The authors spent 3 years developing the first volume and finally published it in 1993, after 140 publishers rejected it. Thirty-three publishers turned them down in the first month alone! Their agent finally returned their manuscript, saying, “I can’t sell this.” Yet in more than 20 years, the series has sold more than 115 million copies with 250 titles, and there are more to come. Inspirational “soup” books have been published for kids, teenagers, parents, women, couples, dentists, sports fans, veterans, nurses, pet lovers, chiropractors, and others.

Yes, editors don’t always recognize a bestseller, either!

Rejection Can Be a Stepping Stone

Author and teacher Kay Arthur once shared an illustration of a donkey that fell into an abandoned well. After many failed attempts to rescue it, the farmer reluctantly decided to end the donkey’s life. So he began to shovel dirt into the well. But with each shovelful that landed on its back, the donkey shook the dirt off and stamped it down. Eventually the farmer observed that the donkey stood a little closer to the top because the additional dirt had raised the floor. The farmer continued shoveling, and the donkey was able to step out of the well.

You and I can use rejection as a stepping stone too. We can use the added time to

  • research agents and editors for a better fit
  • improve our writing skills
  • learn more about the genre we’re writing in
  • join a critique group for objective feedback
  • draw near to the Lord to learn what He may want to teach us
  • encourage other writers who are facing similar circumstances

Don’t take rejection personally. Use it to grow into the person and writer God created you to be!

How has rejection helped you be a better writer? Share your thoughts in the comments.

 

 

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3 Ways to Celebrate Short Story Month

Woman reading an open book on a stone wall by water

“Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.”
―Neil Gaiman

May is here, and that means it’s National Short Story Month! Short stories may be—well—short, but if done right, they’re certainly not shallow. With the power to convey deep emotion and pull readers in with compelling characters and settings, they pack all the explosive punch of a firecracker. Who can forget the unforgiving wilderness of “To Build a Fire,” the tragic beauty of “The Happy Prince,” or the hilarity of “The Ransom of Red Chief”?

How can you best celebrate Short Story Month? Make the most of May by trying these tips.

Read Short Stories

What better way to commemorate Short Story Month than by reading great short stories? Visit your local bookstore to find anthologies, or browse online for collected works. And don’t forget to branch out: If you usually read mysteries, try a humorous story. If you’ve never ventured beyond historical fiction, experiment with science fiction. The sites below, which contain links to classic short stories, might help you get started.

The Poe Museum: Poe’s Works

American Literature: O. Henry

Jack London’s Writings

Share Short Stories

Help others discover the beauty of the short story. Some people avoid reading because they’re daunted by the thought of reading a long work. If you know reluctant readers, help grow their interest in reading by introducing them to your favorite short stories. Or suggest short stories in a genre they enjoy.

And don’t forget the smallest readers! Short stories for children abound. Take your children to the library to borrow Aesop’s Fables, or read your grandchildren the story of the Ugly Duckling. Older children might enjoy Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories or some stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Write Short Stories

Try writing your own short stories! There’s no set limit for the word count of a short story, but keep this gradation in mind: short story, novella, novel. You can find excellent advice for short-story writers at Jerry Jenkins’s website.

Who knows? Perhaps writing a short story will give you unexpected ideas. Maybe writing a somber story will inspire you to write a poem about bravery in the midst of loss. Maybe you’ll realize that your story’s protagonist would be the perfect character to star in a mystery novel.

Whatever you do, don’t pass up the chance to celebrate Short Story Month! Whether you choose to revisit classic stories or write your own tales, you’re sure to strengthen your writing abilities and widen your perspective.

What are your favorite short stories? Tell us about them in the comments!

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The Good, the Bad, and the Mediocre of Self-Publishing

Kenneth G. Winters, author of the YA novel The Lost Crown of Colonnade, served as a Navy chaplain; a few years ago, he retired from full-time ministry. After investigating several Christian self-publishing companies, he published this first novel in 2011. He shares here, in the fifth of our Write2Ignite author interviews on self-publishing, what he learned in the process.

1. Don’t sign to self-publish until your book is totally ready. I learned this the hard way. In 2010, I committed with XULON Press to publish my WIP (Work in Progress). They were offering quite a good deal, including some publicity that was not a part of the normal package, so even though I wasn’t totally satisfied with the book at that time, I signed a contract. After that, I had one year to get my finished file (manuscript) to them. One year is plenty of time, right? I was working full time and writing in my spare time. I put myself “under the gun” in terms of having a self-imposed deadline. When I publish book two, I will definitely have my finished and fully proofread file ready to submit.

2. Unless you pay extra, self-publishers provide no proofreading or editorial suggestions. I knew this when I signed, and this is not necessarily a bad thing, if you have a peer who will be honest with you about troublesome paragraphs (or chapters), and an outstanding proofreader(s). I did have a fellow writer to help recognize character development weaknesses and conflicts or weaknesses in plot or narrative. I also had good proofreaders. But what I didn’t have were proofreaders who knew the nitty-gritty final manuscript format requirements of XULON Press. [Though I was aware of those requirements, I didn’t catch format errors, and my pre-publication readers didn’t know to look for them.] As a result, the first printing of my book was double spaced, taking twice as many pages as it should have.

3. Every time the self-publishing company sends a sample copy, you must proofread it again before it goes to print. On first glance, my sample copies looked correct. However, Tammy Doherty, a talented self-publishing author, noticed that the title on the header of every page was incorrect. Instead of The Lost Crown of Colonnade, the title read The Lost Sword of Colonnade. The cover, title page, and publishing page with the ISBN all had the correct title. I had to return the books (at no charge to me) for correction of the title on each page header.

In the second sample, the title was correct on the cover, title page, and page headers. However, once again, we found an error. On the ISBN page, the title now read The Lost Sword of Colonnade. Fortunately, we detected the problem. I proofread the book both of those times. My correct final draft/file was used in both of the first two samples.

The publisher made that one small correction, showed it to me in the file, and sent me two printed copies of the book with the correct title on the cover, headers, and ISBN page. After this “minor” change (just one word), I failed to proofread the book in this final format. I assumed (no comments) that the book had been prepared from the same draft . . . used the previous two times. Wrong. Somehow, someone had gone back to my next-to-last draft, which had a number of formatting errors and about 25 typos, including one interchanged sentence. I gave my approval without proofreading or having anyone else proofread the book one last time. In most self-publishing houses, the author is responsible for all editing. When he or she gives final approval, the book is set up and printed that way.

A few weeks later, I received 1,000 copies of my book printed from the next-to-last draft, with all those errors. This wasn’t a total disaster financially, because I sold most of them and gave away about 100 to Christian schools. I was honest about the errors with people who bought the book, and most were gracious enough to buy the book anyhow. I more than broke even, which is pretty amazing. Even though [the double-spaced] printing meant each book was about 460 pages, my costs were quite fair. The initial “Bestseller Package” was $1,799. For printing and shipping, the 1,000 copies cost me $4,899, so my initial investment was $6,698. If the original printing had been single-spaced (232 pages), I would have saved about $1,000 on printing.

I did contact XULON about the mistakes. Although I was ultimately responsible for this major mistake, XULON admitted [some responsibility] in it and gave me a significant [price] break on making the changes. I really appreciated this. Those who buy the paperback or e-book are now receiving the version I intended to release.

By the way, XULON provided me with what I consider a beautiful cover (front and back).

Now, I am preparing to publish book 2, The Enchanted Bride of Colonnade. I believe I am better prepared to avoid the [problems] I fell into with The Lost Crown of Colonnade. (I was tempted to put the word sword in place of crown, just to see who would notice.)

This time, I will be using Kindle Digital Publishing (KDP), [which allows me] to create the e-book and paperback file for free, paying only printing costs. KDP offers stock graphics and guidance on creating front and back covers. However, I will pay someone to do the cover.

Initially, I plan to give Amazon exclusive rights to the e-book version. Doing so [allows me to] include the book in what is called “Kindle Unlimited Free Books.” [Subscribers to that service] can download any book [in] it for free. [Those who are not . . . Unlimited subscribers] . . . pay the normal Kindle price of $2.99, and I receive the full royalty. If an individual selects my book on Kindle Unlimited, I receive a much smaller commission. However, [Unlimited] is a great way to build an audience and gain reviews. People will click on a free book from an unknown author to check it out. They might not pay $2.99 to do so.

I am still studying KDP procedures to understand all of the details of creating and producing the paperback version. In any case, I retain full rights to my work for both versions, and I may cancel my agreement for either version or both with five days’ notice. The printed version will be available for sale through all book outlets. XULON [set the price for my first book], but [with KDP], I set my own price for the paperback.

I hope my lessons learned are helpful to other writers. There is certainly a place for the self-publishing companies, but I’m going to try this less expensive approach.

Contact Information
Author name: Kenneth G. Winters

Phone: (774) 922-4144
E-mail: winterskn@gmail.com
Amazon author page for Kenneth G. Winters: https://amzn.to/2IlR9I7

Barnes & Noble link: https://bit.ly/2Io8zQ9

Interview series by Deborah S. DeCiantis, director of Write2Ignite Conference