Many years ago I sent a manuscript to an agent, her reply confused me. She explained as she politely rejected it, "Great story, but there's no voice." I have to say, I was perplexed. I thought angrily, "Of course there's a voice! Didn't she hear my characters? Didn't she read the story?"
What I didn't understand about her comment was that it wasn't MY voice.
Let me explain.
Ever since I started writing novels, I've written them for other people. I've always had someone else's wishes in mind. Sure, most of what I was writing was literally from my own mind, but I always considered who the book was for. Some books I wrote for my husband who loves fantasy, others for my children or immediate relatives; many for my friends and fans. I even named characters after some of them as a way of honouring them. Many read my books, of course; several stated that they were too busy or 'didn't read books' (who doesn't read books?! lol).
But when one friend, my best friend, declined to read my book based on her religious beliefs regarding ghosts, I was devastated. When I wrote Dimensions of Genesis, I actually had her in mind. She'd lost two family members within just a few years of one another, and I wrote a book about Heaven and lost loved ones. I guess I thought it would comfort her somehow, being able to imagine them as spirits en route to a better place.
It was then that I began to wonder, who was I writing for?
There have been many, many moments where I was writing and I was struggling, the words just didn't want to come, the characters resisting to speak or 'act' for me. Writing became a chore, difficult and frustrating. And, truth be told, I was bitter for a long time after my friend's rejection. It took me eight years to figure out why writing was so hard: I was trying to force the words, force the characters to do what I wanted them to do because I thought that's what writing was. Those are the moments when you are not using your own voice, you're trying to will the story towards a direction of your choice. Funny thing is, it's not your choice how the story goes.
Real writing is magic.
Your subconscious is amazing! It has this way of stitching together the story without you even knowing. Your subconscious IS the voice! I used to draw up outlines, I'd spend days sorting out what I wanted my characters to do, the chapters, the scenes, and how I wanted the story to end--only to have the characters hijack the story and march off in a different direction, hence destroying my precious outline. Finally, after years of struggling, I surrendered. I let them do what they wanted--I let them tell the story. And you know what, the story was so much better. The writing was better. (And easier!)
And so, let go.
When you are writing, let the voice go (you know, the literary voice that starts rattling out the story faster than you can type, and the characters that plague you at 3:00am with their incessant chatter and endless antics). Don't try to edit it, or control the ideas or flow of the story, just let it go. Now, I'm often amazed at how when I start writing, a movie of my characters begins to play inside my head, the words flow freely, scenes appearing on the screen like magic--if I simply let go. Don't think of anyone else and how they are going to feel about this scene or that; and whatever you do, don't write with anyone else in mind. You don't need to listen to their voice or their story, you need to listen to your own.
So what is my voice now?
Scary, apparently. It's ironic, I don't even watch horror movies, but that's what my voice likes to write: Horror (not gory, just creepy). All my book ideas are scary and dark, the kind that keep you from sleeping or makes you look behind you as you run up the basement stairs.
Why do I write Horror then?
Well, I think it's because we cannot appreciate the light until we've been lost in the dark. Fear teaches us how strong we are. It shows us what we can overcome, and what we can live through and still be whole.