Friday, December 4, 2009


© Joanna Challis 2009 all rights reserved

That is one piece of advice I ignored for far too long.

When writers start becoming focused on the publication dream, we often forget two golden rules: Voice and Write what you love. We study the market, we enter competitions and somewhere along this journey the need to ‘conform’ rears its head and completely transforms us. We read endless articles on how we should write, what we should write about, what to target, and even the more specific – write it this way.

The advice can come from anyone in the industry from agent xyz to writer’s critique group and down to Aunt Jane the reader. We take all this advice on board and try to conform. If the market is publishing this…I’ll need to write like this. If xyz subject is hot, I’ll need to jump on it. Often in our quest to conform, to fit in, to break out of the slush pile, we commit the mortal sin of forgetting about voice.

What’s voice? Voice is our most precious writing weapon. No one else can have your unique voice. It’s what sets your writing apart from everybody else. It’s your version of the Chinese whisper and eventually, it’s your voice is what sells your story.

How do we harness our voice? It comes back to that other golden rule: write what you love. No matter what the market is doing, concentrate on the core essential of why you want to write. You write because you have a burning idea in your head that refuses to go away. You write because you love reading stories in that genre. You write because you have your own story to tell. Never lose that original focus. Doing so jeopardizes your natural voice and don’t be fooled. When we try to ‘conform’ we single-handedly kill our natural voice and that turns off agents and editors.

Maybe we forget agents and editors are ardent book lovers too. They want to find a great story. But more importantly, they want to find a great voice. A new voice on a tried subject. A new voice on a new series. A new voice willing to go beyond the boundaries of the popular and stick with their first love: whatever drives them to write.

So how do we write what we love? After going back to the roots, the answer should be staring at us from our computer screens. Maybe it’s that first attempted novel with all those hand-written notes. Or a character diary we charted and never finished. It could be anything but whatever it is, we feel a passion for it. We feel comfortable with the character, setting, and plot. It’s familiar to us, as familiar as our closest family member. It’s real and it motivates us to keep writing, to finish the story of our heart, that novel we always wanted to write.

Doing so requires courage. It might put us out of our “perceived writing-for-the-market” routine. We might fear writing what we love will push back publication for years. But it won’t if you believe in your work, you love your work, and you are aggressive in marketing it. You’ve honed your unique gift, “your voice,” and now are just waiting for it to find the right home or capture the attention of the right agent/editor.

I learned this lesson the hard way. Writing for the market. Writing in a genre that I liked to read but I didn’t love it. It wasn’t my first love and when I look back over those novels, my natural voice is worse than in a captive’s state. It’s short. It’s doctored. It’s not me. It’s…conformed. Dead. And no doubt that is what agents & editors thought when they pushed it aside and printed out a rejection letter. Sometimes, a glimmer of our precious gift of voice shines through and prompts an editor to give a more in-depth feed-back. Treasure those rejection letters. Study them. Often they all will point to the missing element: voice and maturation of voice.
Then I remember a well-known published author giving the advice: write what you love. Light bulb moment! So simple and so right. I remember drinking in the words, closing the book on projects and starting something new, something I loved. Something which came naturally to me and it did end in publication, my first hardcover, and it also led me to my new agent and a 3-book contract with a print publisher.

So remember to write what you love. And you’ll never lose.

Joanna Challis’ new release MURDER ON THE CLIFFS, St Martin’s Minotaur, out this month, is the result of writing what you love.

About the author:

Joanna Challis lives and writes in a colonial house with wrap-around verandahs and an English garden in Queensland, Australia, surrounded by family, old paintings, and anything fleur-de-lys. She is the author of several romantic suspense novels; Murder on the Cliffs is her first series mystery.


C. N. Nevets said...

My first response is that I am doing both. I am writing what I love, but trying to approach it from the perspective of the market.

But then, as I think more deeply about what you said, especially about your suggestions to look back at early attempted novels...


This is uncomfortable food for thought. I'll be chewing. Hopefully I'll swallow soon. We'll have to see how it sits.

Marta Stephens said...

Joanna, thanks so much for sharing this great bit of advice with us. Something along these lines happened to me this year. I kept pushing (for months and months) to write the third book in my series,and it wouldn't come. I wondered if I had started to lose my voice or hadn't found the one thing in that book that should have made me want to write it. Looking back though, I think it's because I felt forced (self-imposed deadline) into writing the next book in the series before I was ready to do so.

I decided to set it aside and started writing a new book that was inspired by a recent event in my life. Holy cow, the darn thing just wrote itself in 50 days. It really is amazing the difference it makes when you write from the heart.

Many thanks.

Kim Smith said...

Great words to live by, Joanna. If I could add to it I would say to love what you write. If you love it, someone else will too. Thanks for being on the blog!

itsamystery said...

I love your post - My son's freshman honors English teacher chastises him because "he has too much voice" - it's not easy to write with voice - I'll tell him he's on the right track!

Anonymous said...

And...never give up! I think we are born writers :-) Joanna Challis

jpodonnell said...

Great post. In fact, so good that I went back and read it three times! In the end, it's really what keeps us writing.