Finding the Writer’s Voice

by DiAnn Mills, @diannmills

When I was four, my mother took me to my first dancing class. I wanted to watch before I joined in. I didn’t understand that I had to participate to be a part of the class, even if I made a mistake. A writer who wants to develop a unique voice can’t simply read novels, she must write.

Does the subject of voice make you want to run? You’re not alone. Explanations run the gamut from the way a writer pens her prose to bigger-than-life characters who attract us with their view on life. Voice is everything the characters experience and express according to their traits and the writer’s individual style. A writer chooses unpredictable characters, both in actions and in dialogue, and establishes a voice that draws us into the story.

A writer’s voice is her fingerprint, a way for a reader to identify style. It can’t be developed by studying a textbook or taking a writing course. Each writer has a unique way of stringing together words and sentences, a subconscious activity stamped with personal style, word choice, originality, and passion for the project.

We develop our voice over time—by writing, polishing our craft, and knowing our characters. It’s much like our unique conversational style, but with a strong additive: the character’s voice. That means no two characters ever quite sound alike. A strong writer’s voice doesn’t overpower the character, but hooks the reader’s attention and refuses to let go.

I like how Donald Maass describes voice: “not only a unique way of putting words together, but a unique sensibility, a distinctive way of looking at the world, an outlook that enriches an author’s oeuvre…An original. A standout. A voice.”

Your ability to dive into character and create an adventure strengthens your voice. In establishing that voice, weigh each word choice. Is it succinct and descriptive? Use strong verbs and vivid nouns, the ones your character would use. Have you chosen the best word in the character’s voice, one you’re comfortable with? A writer’s genre also influences word choice. A lot to think about, but when you tune out the critics and write the story of your heart with a character you love (or love to hate), voice will be in your fingertips.

I went through several stages of forming my voice while following rules, not following rules, then allowing my writing to morph into my voice. When I concentrated on good writing and put the guidelines into perspective, aside, my voice came.

As Thomas Merton said, “Not all men are called to be hermits, but all men need enough silence and solitude in their lives to enable the deep inner voice of their own true self to be heard at least occasionally.”

How have you established a writer’s voice?


High Treason

When Saudi Prince Omar bin Talal visits Houston to seek cancer treatment for his mother, an attempt on his life puts all agencies on high alert. FBI Special Agent Kord Davidson is the lead on the prince’s protective detail because of their long-standing friendship, but he’s surprised – and none too happy – when the CIA brings one of their operatives, Monica Alden, in on the task force after the assassination attempt. Kord and Monica must quickly put aside inter-agency squabbles, however, when they learn the prince has additional motives for his visit – plans to promote stronger ties with the US and encourage economic growth and westernization in his own country. Plans that could easily incite a number of suspects both in the US and in countries hostile to Saudi Arabia. Worse yet, the would-be assassin always seems to be one step ahead of them, implicating someone close to the prince – or the investigation. But who would be willing to commit high treason, and can Kord and Monica stop them in time?

DiAnn Mills is an award winning writer who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She currently has more than fifty-five books published. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists and have won placements through the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Carol Awards and Inspirational Reader’s Choice awards. DiAnn won the Christy Award in 2010 and 2011. DiAnn is a founding board member for American Christian Fiction Writers and a member of Inspirational Writers Alive, Romance Writers of America, and Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. DiAnn is also a Craftsman mentor for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas. Find her on the web at www.diannmills.com.

When Coffee Isn’t Enough to Finish Writing the Book

by Jaime Jo Wright, @jaimejowright

Coffee fuels my writing. You could say it’s my muse, but that may be giving it more credit than it’s due. But for all of us writers, something fuels us. Perhaps it’s coffee, tea, or cocoa. Maybe it’s something with more depth, such as fellowship with other writers, prayer, time with family. Or there might be an idea that just fuels you until the last and final page.

At some point though, that “fuel” will not be enough. Some refer to it as “writer’s block”. Others may refer to it as “lack of inspiration”. Or, if you’re like me, I just refer to it as “life drained me, I got nuthin’ left”.

Whatever the reason, the root question becomes, what do you do about it? Here’s where I get a little blunt and hard-truth-it.

What you do about it, is you keep writing. You may pen 30,000 words of gruesome vocabulary, but you don’t stop. I’ve witnessed writers take this time of “blockage” as a need for “me time”, or for time to “refuel”, and there’s a place for that. However, all too often, the “me time” stretches out indefinitely, so that 12 months down the road, you’re still fumbling through writing chapter ten.

How do you stay on task when you don’t feel inspired? I sort of view it like Writer’s Boot Camp:

  1. Stop looking for inspiration. If you hit pause to wait for a push of excitement, or a wonderful idea, a word from God, or even encouragement, you might be pausing for a very long time. All the latter is important to a degree, and I don’t discount it, but often inspiration comes during the doing, not waiting to do.
  2. Ask yourself if you want this. Do you want this? Yes, sir! I asked, “DO YOU WANT THIS?” I do, Sir! You don’t want this! You’re standing there doing nothing! Show me you want this! Drop and give me 200 words! Yes, Sir! Sorry, Sir! Extreme? Maybe. But as writers, ideal circumstances don’t often come. We can’t wait for the rain to pass, the trenches to dry out, and the bullets of life to stop flying. It’s not going to happen.
  3. Be forgiving. Forgive yourself for six chapters of random prose. It’s six chapters you didn’t have last week. We often say, “well that was a waste”. Guess what? It wasn’t! Why? Because you worked through You stuck with it. You maybe learned what not to write –and that isn’t a terrible thing.
  4. Realize that there is rarely a “good time to write”. If you’re like me, you either went through a stage or are going through a stage where you don’t write because you’re waiting for the good time to write. My good time to write is a stretch of 4-6 hours where I can immerse myself in story, drink coffee, and ignore the world. Where I’m caught up on household chores, the day job isn’t calling, and other commitments are fulfilled for the time being. But the truth is, often at best, you’re going to get maybe an hour a day—two, if you’re lucky—and probably broken into fifteen-minute segments.

 You’re faced with a choice: write for 15 minutes, or become discouraged that there’s no “good time to write”. In 15 minutes, you could jot down 50 words. Even 50 words is 50 more than you had 15 minutes ago. If you wrote 50 words for 8, 15 min increments a day, you’d have 2,800 words a week. Times 4 weeks, that’s 11, 200 words. Times 12 months, that’s 134,400 words and you’ll be chopping down word count to make it more editor-friendly!

It’s your choice as a writer to wait for “a good time to write”, or to just take the time given and make something of it.

Stories are in you. They are a part of who you are. They are often what keeps you inspired and dreaming. Sometimes, stories stall. It’s during those time, that you have to make a conscious choice. Are you a writer? Or are you a writer when it works for you?

Honestly, either one is fine, but it’s what you expect the outcome to be that determines your satisfaction. If you want to write just to write, then when you’re inspired to write, when you have good writing time, you can just enjoy the warmth of penning words to page. AND THAT’S OKAY! But if you want to be a writer—someone who wants to get into the world of serious publishing—then the hard words for you are written above. Writers’ boot camp. Push through. And if you do? You’ll probably come out with a full-fledged novel. Not a perfect one, but a darn good start.


The House On Foster Hill

Kaine Prescott is no stranger to death. When her husband died two years ago, her pleas for further investigation into his suspicious death fell on deaf ears. In desperate need of a fresh start, Kaine purchases an old house sight unseen in her grandfather’s Wisconsin hometown. But one look at the eerie, abandoned house immediately leaves her questioning her rash decision. And when the house’s dark history comes back with a vengeance, Kaine is forced to face the terrifying realization she has nowhere left to hide.

A century earlier, the house on Foster Hill holds nothing but painful memories for Ivy Thorpe. When an unidentified woman is found dead on the property, Ivy is compelled to discover her identity. Ivy’s search leads her into dangerous waters and, even as she works together with a man from her past, can she unravel the mystery before any other lives–including her own–are lost?

Professional coffee drinker & ECPA/Publisher’s Weekly best-selling author, Jaime Jo Wright resides in the hills of Wisconsin writing spirited romantic suspense stained with the shadows of history. Coffee fuels her snarky personality. She lives in Neverland with her Cap’n Hook who stole her heart and will not give it back, their little fairy Tinkerbell, and a very mischievous Peter Pan. The foursome embark on scores of adventure that only make her fall more wildly in love with romance and intrigue. Jaime lives in dreamland, exists in reality, and invites you to join her adventures at jaimejowright.com.

Web site: www.jaimejowright.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/jaimejowright
Twitter: www.twitter.com/jaimejowright
Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/jaimejowright 
Instagram: www.Instagram.com/jaimejowright 
Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/author/show/13916081.Jaime_Jo_Wright

Do Writers Get Second Chances?

by Peter Leavell, @PeterLeavell

John Howland is forever known to history as fortunate. And with his second shot at life, he didn’t hold back.

Writers, it’s never one and done. You get second chances. And with the second chance, you’ll be all the smarter.

Prevailing winds chilled Howland to the bone. He grasped the rail as the ship lurched, rolled, then dipped, leaving his stomach behind.

He couldn’t know that the Mayflower was poor construction. True, she was only 100 feet long, 80 livable feet (11 or 12 living room couches end to end), and 24 feet wide (about the width of a tight, two-lane road), but that wasn’t what made her lean to the side. What made her pitch was her height—she was small but tall, with two and ½ stories with masts towering into the sky. Her center of gravity was high, and she swayed at alarming angles.

Sailors ran around him, doing things a landlubber like himself didn’t quite understand. He didn’t know they were furling the sails and turning the ship into the wind, a rare act of seamanship, but the howling wind in the lines seemed to calm, and the raging storm offered a break.

Why did he come to the deck? Because the storm up here was better than conditions below.

For 2 ½ months and 3000 miles, averaging 2 miles per hour, the Pilgrims lived in the gun deck, stretching 5 ½ feet, floor to ceiling. Dark and cramped, one 102 men, women, and children shared the tight space with the mast’s base, and a boat that was taken apart to be reassembled in the new world.

He wouldn’t have imagined going on deck the first half of the journey. There had been one particular sailor who would have stopped him.

The sailor had teased the Pilgrims and their ways, using filthy language and crude jokes. The sailor thought the Pilgrims silly. First, the Pilgrims had left King James and his religious oppression for the freedom of Holland, but the economy of Holland was turning the minds of young Pilgrims to pursue money instead of God. They left Holland for the solitude of the New World. The sailor couldn’t imagine why they kept moving. And then there were the strange customs. The Pilgrims didn’t sing hymns (they’re not inspired by God, but written by humans), didn’t celebrate holidays of any sort (not even Christmas). So, he teased them mercilessly.

Then the sailor died of disease. The only death on the Mayflower. God’s wrath on the wicked, the Pilgrims confirmed.

Without harassment, Howland felt free to leave the cramped quarters to take a breath of fresh air.

The ship calmed, but the clouds still scurried low over the mast.

He let go of the railing.

The ship lurched.

He slipped over the side of the Mayflower and plunged into the swirling ocean. He fought the thousands of feet of darkness that pulled him down into oblivion.

He reached for the side of the ship. The smooth wood was slipping by. If it passed, there was no way to turn around and he would drift on the bottom of the sea forever—John Howland’s final resting place. No marriage. No children. Just the end of his earthly existence.

Every inch of the Mayflower that passed, his small chance of survival dropped even lower.

His opportunities were sliding away.

Something touched his arm, a rope that had fallen into the sea and dangled from a yardarm.

He grabbed tight.

Ship propulsion dragged him behind. He instantly plunged ten feet underwater. He held tight.

In a moment, Howland resurfaced. A quick glance told him sailors were pulling the rope, a boat hook ready. Soon, he was standing on deck, shivering in the cold.

God had given him a second chance at life. And he would make the most of it. The girl he liked on the Mayflower—Elizabeth— he married. They had 10 children and 88 grandchildren. Living to age 90, he was privileged to greet them all into the world.

As writers, we find ourselves with second chances, because we fail over and over. Just like John Howland, he found God’s providence in his life, and a little wiser, understood better what life was about. If you’re rejected, know that there are second chances, and you’ll be better prepared to tackle that next project!

SOURCE: Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War


Shadow of Devil’s Tower

Philip Anderson is a reluctant gunslinger whose fame has spread through the Dakota Territory. He can’t escape his reputation as the hero who took down the entire Maxwell Gang, and he’s even had a popular dime novel written about him. All Philip yearns for is to live a quiet life raising horses and to finally marry his beloved Anna. He’d gladly give up his half of the treasure map his murdered father left behind, but until Jacob Wilkes is captured he can never hang up his gun. Bent on destroying Philip and everything he loves, Wilkes has his eye on the hidden cache. And on Anna.

Just when Philip thinks he might be able to bury the demons of his past, the unthinkable happens and Anna and her family are kidnapped. Riding his Arabian mare Raven, he is forced into the race of his life as he desperately tracks his enemies across the desert. Can he rescue Anna before it’s too late? Joining forces with old friends like Teddy Roosevelt and Running Deer, Philip is pushed to the breaking point. Will he ever be free, or must he make the ultimate sacrifice for those he loves under the shadow of Devil’s Tower?

Peter Leavell, a 2007 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history, was the 2011 winner of Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest, and 2013 Christian Retailing’s Best award for First-Time Author. Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho. For entertainment, he reads historical books, where he finds ideas for new novels. Whenever he has a chance, he takes his wife and two homeschooled children on crazy but fun research trips. Learn more about Peter’s books, research, and family adventures at www.peterleavell.com

Writers’ Words – a Gift to the World

by Yvonne Lehman, @YvonneLehman

I wrote this on November 7, the 99th birthday of the famed evangelist, Billy Graham, and looked back at how his life and words touched not only millions of people throughout the world – but changed my own life.

Decades ago, when I was led to the Billy Graham School of Christian Writing, the spoken words of faculty opened up a whole new world to me and resulted in my career of written words. Almost immediately, I wanted to put my ideas into novels, feeling that fiction was truth in living color.

But… nonfiction was not for me!

No? Look back through the years

  1. What about the years in grade school English classes and writing essays? (learning)
  2. What about later years of rewriting Sunday school lessons I taught because the writers didn’t verbalize or present the lesson “my way”? (learning about and expressing my voice and faith)

What about the writings I did while “typing” (I didn’t say writing!) my first novel?

  1. The Poem – 8 rhyming lines of iambic pentameter published in a small magazine? (I learned I’m not a poet but more importantly expressed my belief about the power of prayer)
  2. The Articles – for three months in a take-home publication? (eliminating the unimportant by paring down 2000 words into 500 each week – and seeing my four children’s “antics,” not with frustration, but as material for articles)

What about when that first novel was “returned”? (experienced devastation which led to renewed determination)

  1. Began taking college literature classes, one at a time (accepting that the original idea is the beginning of a story, not the end. One doesn’t begin at the top of a profession, but puts in the time and effort and work which leads to success)
  2. While revising, interviewed people for newspaper feature articles. (some of these led to their stories being material for characters in novels, i.e. the man who made violins in his basement – my novel in the collection, Music of the Heart)

Non-fiction a sideline? No! Our words are valuable, whatever form they take, whether teaching or reaching… ourselves or others. That has been confirmed more strongly since I was “led” (I hadn’t intended to compile non-fiction books) into stories for the Moments series. When it “happened” I intended only one book. Now there are ten Divine Moments books comprised of themed personal stories in each book, written by multi-published and first-time published authors.

You’re invited to send your stories. Who knows where it might lead? Maybe to an entire family coming to Christ (the result of a story). Or to a novel. Or simply your telling a story meaningful to you. God knows how to use our written words, whether it’s to reach the world or to tell us we need to learn a little more on how to write them. For information about the Moments books, contact me at yvonnelehman3@gmail.com (see www.yvonnelehman.com).


Christmas Moments

Gigi Graham’s grandchildren are looking at the pictures in One Wintry Night, written by Gigi’s mother and the children’s great grandmother, Ruth Graham.

In the fourth Christmas Moments book, 41 writers with 51 articles are saying “Merry Christmas” to the world by, again, donating all their royalties to Samaritan’s Purse, an organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people (www.samaritanspurse.org).

The writers of this book share some of their memories of Christmases past that include happiness, joy, lighthearted celebration, family traditions, singular occasions, happy times, trying times… and so much more.In its own way each story illustrates how, no matter what our circumstances, at Christmastime we will find happiness and joy when we decide not to focus on ourselves and instead choose to celebrate Christ’s birth.

If you love stories that express the wonder of Christmas, touch the heart, and stir the emotions,you will love Merry Christmas Moments.

Yvonne Lehman is an award-winning, best-selling author of more than 3,000,000 books in print, who founded and directed the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference for 25 years, is now director of the Blue Ridge “Autumn in the Mountains” Novelist Retreat. She earned a Master’s Degree in English from Western Carolina University and has taught English and Creative Writing on the college level. Her latest releases include Have Dress Will Marry (Heart of a Cowboy collection, Mountainbrook Ink), Better Latte Than Never (Winged Publications), Stupid Moments and Additional Christmas Moments in the non-fiction Divine Moments series (Grace Publishing). Her popular 50th novel is Hearts that Survive – A Novel of the TITANIC, which she signs periodically at the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge TN.