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Discovering Your Writing Voice

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Discovering Your Writing Voice

When I was in Junior High (what they call Middle School now!), I had a Language Arts teacher whose primary purpose in life seemed to be to get us to write with adverbs and adjectives. In her view of the writing universe, the more flowery the better.

I loved that teacher, and for years I tried my best to fulfill her vision of good writing. In retrospect, however, while I appreciate the need for adverbs and adjectives, I begin to see that she was training us to second guess our natural writing voice. We became so preoccupied with finding exactly the right word that, ironically, we rarely found the right word - instead we found the word that seemed most flowery, or profound, or elegant, but almost never fit either our natural writing voice, or the particular piece of writing we were creating.

We were taught to develop what I would (with tongue in cheek) refer to as the Paolini Style. Instead of trusting yourself with your own simple, straightforward prose, you second guess yourself and fill your writing with words that fit neither the style nor the occasion of your writing, and repeatedly yank the reader out of their experience of the writing. Why would you say "argue belligerently", when in most cases that is reduntant? Why would you "whisper secretively", when that, too, is redundant?

Writers talk about developing your own "voice". And unfortunately, many would-be writers think that discovering and developing your writing voice means analyzing and re-working the same piece of prose fifty times to get the wording exactly right. But think about this: how did we develop our speaking voice? By babbling baby talk, and then as we grew, interspersing a few real (although badly pronounced) words, and then, as we continued to grow, replacing all of our baby babbling with real words, which improved month by month in its pronunciation.

And it all happened naturally as we simply talked. We didn't spend hours belaboring every word we spoke, we simply spoke, and over time we improved.

That's not to say that there is no place for flowery language, or revising and editing. But students who want to be writers need to have a place where they can just simply write, and write regularly. A journal or diary is a good place. A blog is another.The website Fifteen Minutes Of Fiction was specifically designed for this perpose. At the FMOF website, writers are encouraged to take just a few minutes each day and write something. While you write, a timer ticks off the minutes. There is no time limit on your writing, but that constant reminder of passing time encourages the writer to simply get the words out. The result is a more natural, flowing poetry or prose than my Junior High Language Arts teacher ever dreamed of!

Regardless of how you encourage your students to write, encourage them to write often, and relax and enjoy the experience!

Lesson by Mr. Twitchell

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