Ever go through periods when your writing sounds really awkward? Pardon me, but I’m having one of those days. It’s not the same as writer’s block. Writing is happening, but I feel like I’m trying to do a complicated dance. (I’m a bad dancer.) I’m able to write today, just without finesse. Without any discernible style. I literally lost my “voice” and writing authentically feels like speaking a new language. In short, I need to repair this disconnect between me and my writing.
Today I’m immersing myself in things other than books to work on style. Reading books on writing or quotes by inspiring authors sometimes leaves me feeling even more alienated from my own writing. However, before I talk about how I work on stylistics, I’d like to know: how do you deal with reestablishing your voice? I have a few tricks, but sometimes (like today) those tricks feel worn out. Also, I suspect I’m not the only person whose writing style occasionally suffers from an identity crisis.
The first thing I turn to isn’t a how-to book: it’s music. Music helps me write more rhythmically and inspires a host of metaphors. When writing fiction, I choose music that will provoke specific emotional responses and when writing nonfiction, I almost always pick upbeat music. Something about the pace helps me write terse, snappy sentences. (Right now, I’m bouncing between the Chicago soundtrack, Gorillaz, and the Kinks. Makes for super choppy sentences.)
Sometimes writing by hand and taking breaks to get artistic adds a sensuous element to my writing style. Note: sensuous, not necessarily sensual. I write in cursive—something about “drawing” words gets me in tune with the way words sound and look together. Try writing words like mellifluous or frazzled in cursive. Or any onomatopoeia. Words like that sound the way they look and writing them in cursive can give me a better feel of where and how to use them.
Besides writing in cursive, I like to sketch things in the margins of my journal. Sometimes I’ll doodle something and begin writing about my illustrations. Drawing and writing in the margins lowers my inhibitions, probably because margins lie outside of the “proper” writing space. Also, browsing through photographs and artwork helps me with my diction. I can spend hours scanning BBC News’s In Pictures web page and Shorpy’s photo galleries for inspiration. I put down words and phrases that come to mind while gazing at photos; it’s an exercise that facilitates vocab recall and generating figures of speech.
It just hit me, though, that distancing myself from the OpenOffice and engaging in sensory experiences is what all my tricks boil down to. Staring at a screen with a bunch of black squiggly marks can make anyone feel a tad out of touch with themselves and the world. And really, one’s writing can only benefit from exploring other mediums.
In addition to writing for WriteByNight’s blog, Jenna Cooper writes for BE Mag and a blog called FemThreads. Aside from writing, Jenna served as an AmeriCorps Member from 2008-2010 and will start her M.S. in Information Studies in Fall 2012. She graduated in 2009 with a B.A. in English from the University of Texas.