I listen to a lot of podcasts. Mainly writing ones. In addition to the novel-writing ones, I also love Scriptnotes, featuring John August and Craig Mazin, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. But mainly, I look to those concerning books.
First up is the Self-Publishing Podcast, in which Sean, Johnny and Dave shoot the shit for thirty minutes about what they’ve been up to, then get into the meat of that week’s theme. The first part used to annoy me, but once I got used to it, I now need that fix each week. I’m sick, I know. However, the second half has always been valuable. Great advice, with occasional guests.
The Creative Penn, a series of interviews hosted by fellow Brit, Joanna Penn. Always punctuated with her endearing giggle and packed with excellent advice, focusing largely on the business side, but also the craft. This was the first place I heard the phrase ‘authorpreneur’, and the rest of the site is also packed with great resources for indie authors.
The Sell More Books Show is hosted by Jim Kukral and Brian Cohen, engaging chaps with a lot of knowledge who round up the week’s publishing news and go a little deeper into a specific theme or guest.
Rocking Self-Publishing, hosted by another Brit, Simon Whistler. Sage advice and cracking interviews. In 2015 he pledges to ensure his interviews are more focused on a specific topic than they have been to date. And, to date, they’ve been pretty good, so I’m looking forward to 2015.
Finally, Writing Excuses, hosted by Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinnette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells, it’s fifteen minutes per episode, because you’re in a hurry and they’re not that smart. While the others are a mix of craft and business, often weighted heavily toward practicalities for independent authors, Writing Excuses is more craft-based, and when they do mention the business it’s usually from a traditional-publishing perspective. Also, they’re mainly fantasy, horror and sci-fi authors, but they know their stuff and it is usually transferable to other genres.
What almost all advice shows have in common, though, from screenwriting through the indie-publishing world and into the realms of six-figure advances, is at some point they will have a guest on, or a host, who espouses the piece of advice that most infuriates aspiring writers:
Find your voice!
It’s so annoying because it’s almost impossible to teach. It takes TIME. No shortcuts. You have to write a LOT. You won’t succeed with your first attempt. You might think you have but you probably haven’t. And even if you get a semblance of success, it will still evolve over time. I know if I wrote His First His Second now, it would have a slightly different voice to the one you see in the current novel. It was almost there, but I’ve tweaked my style because, well, that’s what it has evolved into.
Sometimes you can identify a common theme in a writer’s style, whether it’s word choice, paragraph structure, the said-bookisms, whatever, you can spot them if you look. Readers, though, don’t look. They know they love a particular writer but don’t always know why. You hear, “I love the way she writes,” or, “His prose is incredible”, but when you start analysing why it’s sort of like deconstructing a joke, ruining it for all time.
Find your voice?
So what the HELL does that mean?
It’s really hard to say, actually.
I like to think I’ve found mine. I now know how I handle dialogue-heavy scenes, and it isn’t the same way as Michael Connolly or Dennis Lehane or Hugh Howey. I know how I write action, and it doesn’t sound like Andy McNab or Lee Child or J.K. Penn. I can tell you now, in all honesty, if you placed my car chase next to one written by James Patterson or Dan Brown or A.G. Riddle, mine would be as different from them as they are from each other.
So you’ll see I prefer “John said” to “said John”, and I’ll put that at the beginning of a line of dialogue more often that at the end or broken up in the middle. Why? Well, I think it attributes the dialogue more readily than putting it later, and—technically—it’s more like the way we talk to each other, so for me it flows better. Of course, that’s not a rule; it’s just my preference. Thousands of authors prefer to open with the dialogue itself and attribute it later. If I need to break up a line with a beat, I’m not averse to placing “John said” later in the sentence.
But that’s such a small, basic, scratching-the-surface example I’m tempted to edit it and give a better one. Like how to break up that dialogue-heavy scene.
Find your voice…
In the end, it’s just one of those things a writer has to figure out alone. By writing. By writing a lot. Lots of words, lots of short stories, maybe an essay or a blog or two. Certainly, you won’t find it by sitting down and banging out 80,000 words straight out of the gate.
Sorry, but no short cuts for this. Be patient, put in the time and effort, and you’ll find it.