Karen M. Wicks ~
To help discover your authentic voice and be true to yourself, try following the process I used in writing Twisted Silver Spoons. Start by journaling freely in longhand in a notebook or on loose sheets of paper, with the inner critic turned off. Writing for the joy of playing with language can liberate your voice. Force-feeding the words produces “writer’s block” or lifeless prose. Writing exercises may help you break free and lead to ideas you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. For example, as an exercise, I studied objects in my surroundings such as silver spoons and a clawed cherry armchair. The silver spoon metaphor and her fingernails digging into the cherry claws of her chair became integral themes in Twisted Silver Spoons.
To discover your unique voice, try starting without an absolute end in mind. Write scenes that don’t necessarily flow one after the other. Let the plot and characters emerge on their own. When you have organized the scenes, type the draft. Then re-read and mark up the text to start shaping and pruning the narrative. Develop the emotional lives of the characters through imagery, and let them change in ways you aren’t necessarily anticipating. The choices the characters in Twisted Silver Spoons made along the way surprised, delighted, and at times made my heart sink when they chose unwisely. When characters disappointed me, I let them, instead of trying to make them into someone they weren’t. When they went off script, I let go of control. Through this process I discovered aspects of my voice that I didn’t know existed, because I didn’t limit its range.
To sharpen your voice, once the narrative seems complete, let the draft lay fallow for weeks and even months at a time. I put aside Twisted Silver Spoons numerous times to give me objectivity and room to let go of unnecessary scenes that my heart held onto. When you re-read the text, look for the flaws and the jewels. Then chisel away the detritus and polish the language for le mot juste—the right word or figure of speech for each occasion. As the plot and the characters develop depth, add missing dialogue and descriptive language that provide the necessary tonality and rhythm or beats. Then you’re at the point to ask a trusted reader or two to provide feedback, but don’t let them stifle or shape your voice or cause you to lose heart. Use their comments to go through the process afresh when you have more objectivity once you’ve let the narrative breathe.
It is helpful to read widely during this time—not just fiction in various genres, but nonfiction as well. In addition, pursuing other creative pursuits—what one writer has called filling the well—can provide material that often ends up in the narrative. When you think you’re ready, re-read your latest draft and start anew. Writing and editing are necessary parts of discovering the depth and range of your voice.
I started writing the story that developed into Twisted Silver Spoons more than a decade before its publication. It began as part of a series of short stories that came from my observations about how individuals with different learning styles dealt with challenges in their lives. Among the five stories, three became longer narratives, and George Leibnitz’s story wouldn’t let go of my imagination. Over time his story took my voice in new directions as I let go and let the characters evolve. I filled reams of rule-lined paper as I listened to their voices. I trusted them to tell me where they wanted to go. Over time, I picked up the book multiple times and let my critical eye do the work that had been too painful to complete in prior readings. This process continued several more times, which deepened my voice, and I knew the essential truth of George’s story had been told.
I’m not the first writer to struggle with finding my distinctive voice. Your process of discovery may be different from mine, but one thing I know: You can’t let the arduous revision and editing process silence your voice. Rather, view the process as the means of letting it emerge. Be open to trusted readers’ feedback, but don’t lose yourself in the process. If you don’t give up, your truth will be told.
I read Twisted Silver Spoons now and fall in love with the characters, even the antagonists, as if I’ve never met them before. This journey has enriched my life.
— Karen M. Wicks
Karen M. Wicks holds a doctorate from New York University and has taught in middle and high school and at the college level. She has served as director for curriculum and instructional development at the College Board. She and her husband Les co-founded a supplemental education company and the K-12 public school, Royal Live Oaks Academy of the Arts & Sciences Charter School, in South Carolina, where Karen has been the Executive Director/CEO since 2012. Her creative pursuits include writing, singing, cooking, and gardening. Les and Karen have traveled widely and feel blessed to have made many long lasting friendships.
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