Tag Archives: voice

My Q&A with Marya Hornbacher

28 Aug

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Marya Hornbacher‘s first book, Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize when published in 1998. The book has changed countless lives, is now taught in universities across the country, and has been translated into sixteen languages. I had the humbling opportunity to interview her, and I asked her about what it was like to publish at twenty-three years old and what advice she has to other writers, how she practices self-care while writing about difficult topics, and her latest project on the women’s solitude. Check out my interview with Marya here.

Marya Hornbacher and I will both be teaching this year at the Festival of Women Writers, taking place this September 6-8. I’ll be teaching the writing workshop Wild Women on the Road, which you can register for here. If you’re taking my workshop — or are just interested in the topic — I recommend checking out Marya’s Longreads essay “The Ways of a Wandering Spirit.

Marya’s workshop is called INVENTING THE ‘I’: Crafting A Powerful First Person Voice. Here’s a little bit about it:

This workshop will explore the risks and rewards of writing in the first person—the ‘I’ persona.

Whether we’re writing in the voice of a fictional character or in the guise of our nonfictional “selves,” the voice of the storyteller, that narrating I, must be compelling enough to carry the reader from the first word of our work to the last.

This workshop will explore how this voice of I becomes a character in her own right, one with depth and dimension, insights and blind spots, strengths and failures and flaws, one whose perception of reality is engaging enough to keep the reader turning the page.

Through both generative writing exercises and examples from literature, we will explore techniques for finding, strengthening, and clarifying our use of the first person voice.

You can register for the workshop here.

See you in the Catskills for this writing retreat!

 

Writing Wednesday: The Schizophrenic Writer

23 Feb

“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”

~E. L. Doctorow

I’ve been attending a lot of seminars on the importance of branding oneself as an artist.  Branding makes sense.  After all, categorization makes buying and selling easier.  Consumers like to know what they’re getting and how to find it, and companies like to make it easy for consumers to find things to buy.  That’s why movie genres like horror, sci-fi, and comedy and music genres like hip hop, country, and pop are so helpful.  If you hate a certain genre, you can just skip over it to find what you do like.

As a writer, though, I have a hard time with branding.  I don’t want to be branded as just The Greek Writer or The Art Writer or The Religious Writer.  Call me schizophrenic but I like having different writing personalities.  I wouldn’t want to only ever watch crime dramas so why would I want to only write about one topic in one voice for the rest of my writing career?

Well, if I want to build up a readership, I have to consider my audience.  Does Stephen King have the same audience as Nicholas Sparks?  Maybe, but not necessarily, and certainly if a reader is in the mood for horror she’s not going to pick up a Nicholas Sparks book.  Whether I like it or not, branding impacts who’s going to read my books.

Some authors, Stephen King included, use pen names.  That’s a great way to keep one’s writing identities separate.  The downside, of course, is that loyal readers that may have taken a chance on a book in a different genre or subject matter (hey, readers don’t always stick to only one genre either!) by the author may miss out on a book they’d love because it’s (supposedly) written by an author they’ve never heard of.

Perhaps then, a better solution is to focus mainly on branding the book instead of the author.  Think of it this way: just as a parent’s children are unique so are an author’s books unique, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not all connected and show traces of the author’s presence in them.  After all, Stephen King’s pseudonym was cracked when a reader thought that a certain Richard Bachman wrote an awful lot like King.

That said, a schizophrenic writer can also be an immature writer who has yet to find her voice.  We all have strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, and sometimes it takes time to discover how those attributes come into play for us as writers.  I, for instance, went through a period where I wrote on any topic that came along with a paycheck.  The articles weren’t bad but one of my readers mentioned they could tell when I was really passionate about a subject.  That made me reevaluate my priorities and my skill set.  Now I still like to experiment with different subject matters but I’m more selective in the voice I use when writing.

How do you deal with writing schizophrenia?

Writing Wednesday: Impersonating My Voice

16 Feb

I dress according to my mood.  I don’t mean I just dress for the occasion; I mean my style itself is subject to whim.  On Monday I could fit into the category of preppy but by Thursday I could be mistaken as a hipster.

Is it any surprise, then, that one of my biggest writing frustrations is finding my voice?  It seems absurd that one would need to find her writing “voice.”  Isn’t voice something inherent?

Yes, and no.

The Million’s recent interview between novelist Bill Morris (Motor City, All Soul’s Day) and personal essayist Carl H. Klaus, author of the new book The Made-Up Self: Impersonation in the Personal Essay, confirmed my thoughts on voice.  In the article, “When We Aspire to Write Like Ourselves,” Klaus discusses the “fluid nature of the self,” and says,

To think that I could in fact create a style that was an echo of such a multi-sided thing as the self – that’s simply a cuckoo notion.

I feel vindicated.  Critics have been saying for years to beware of the constructed identities of authors.  However, it’s refreshing to consider the author’s struggle in creating a portrait of self.  While, writers may acknowledge creating a personae—a “character”—of themselves, either out of convenience or agenda, there seems to be less talk about the struggle of figuring out who their “character” is.

I certainly have a perspective that is uniquely my own, but depending on the subject matter, my feelings toward it, and whom I suspect will read my work, my tone, diction, and style shift.  I’ve feared that this might be a sign of immaturity, but I really do feel that who I am and how I write ebbs and flows.  I will admit there is a predominant voice to most of my personal essay writing, but I don’t think that is my only voice.

If I am to present the most accurate portrayal of myself, how can I limit my voice?