Friday, September 4, 2009

Hearing Voices

"Friends, Romans, Country men, led me your ears!" (from Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare),

Weird way to begin, I agree. However, if you noticed the title of this post it makes perfect sense.

Today I'm talking about the voices (both characters and others) that float around in a writer's head on any given day.

Example of a voice I hear:

"Be is a linking verb! NO linking verbs!" courtesy of my high school English teacher.

Yes, I still can hear the voices of my high school English teachers. Does that strike you as odd? Maybe. But you have to understand the English teachers I had.

I went to a co-ed private Catholic high school. The English department was incredibly strong at the time (I don't know how strong it is now, but when I was there it was rock solid). For essays, et cetera, we we not, by any means allowed to use linking verbs! That was one of the mortal sins of writing in high school English.

In almost any other class we could. But not English.

This meant that anything dealing with the word "be" or "seem" that worked as a linking verb was worthy of a lightning bolt upon your paper. (I'm exaggerating a bit here, but I'm sure, especially my Junior Year English teacher, would get a laugh out of my bemoaning this; she already knows how it drove me nuts--my junior English teacher is a delightful woman, by the way. I'm still good friends with her to this day).

Of course there's the whole probably with "seems" and "appear", too.

How do I know these voices are still in my head? 2 ways:

1. Sometimes I hesitate when typing the word "be" or "seem/s/ed" in my stories (despite the fact that I use those words)

2. It comes out when critiquing Tessy's work. (She's a good writer, I just have to stop hearing those voices LOL).

Now, there's nothing seriously wrong with not having linking verbs in one's essays. It forces you to think, to get creative, to mind what you're doing. And that helps improve writing. However, when you're a fiction author, it can get in the way (well, I'm sure nonfiction writers would have problems with this as well, but I don't know, since I don't write nonfiction...at least, not so far).

The other voices a writer can hear besides his or her characters are people who either gave them good criticism or bad cricisim.

Bad criticism consists of the type of critique that doesn't give anything constructive. It's things like "You suck." or "What was this person thinking? They can't write their way out of a bucket." Those things don't suggest how a writer can improve, they merely assume that the writer is a hopeless case. Which, isn't true. Writers can and do improve, but if they're not aware of how or where or why, then what can a person expect to happen? Not a thing. They're going to keep going the way they are until they decide to change, or someone says "Hey, you know, you've got this right, but have you ever thought of maybe changing this to this? It would enhance this scene by..."

Good (or more appropriately, Positive) criticism consists of constructive criticism (as I showed above) and things like "I really liked this character. I thought the way they handled x,y, z was great." or "I think you know how to bring a scene alive." Writers need that kind of words, but they have to be honest. You can't just be an idle flatterer. You have to mean it.

So, it's a combination. Constructive criticism on how to improve and positive criticism on what a writer has done right.

We have to get the bad critical voices out of our heads. Writers don't suck. They just have places they can improve. Things they can do better. How different is that from anything else in the world? Improving for the better strengthens a writer's talent. However, without the right kind of feedback the writer can become stagnant.

So, what kind of voices do you hear? Which ones are the loudest? The quietest? The nicest?

I might still be hearing the English teachers on linking verbs, but I'll be all right in spite of it. Each of my English teachers was wonderful for different reasons (sense of humor, teaching style, support and encouragment). I liked every single one of them. I just wish I could get them to be silent about linking verbs. LOL.

Have A Free-From Unhelpful Voices Friday!


Regina Milton said...

The voices I most often hear (I don't know where they come form) are ones that tell me I can do this. I sit down and right a lot of shorter projects and it's knot always the easiest thing to be inspired. Some voices say, "don't start this, it will take too long" while the ones that come right after are saying "just do it, you can do it". I like those voices. Eventually I force myself to be seated and to start working.

bethanyintexas said...

I've had some of those voices, Regina. I admire your self-discipline!

J.J. Bennett said...

If I start accually hearing voices...I'll commit myself. j/k Nice voices or not, I still think I was nuts.

The "voice" is someone or something inside you telling you that you can do this. It drives me and you. The great thing about it is that it's almost spiritual in a way. It's brillant!

bethanyintexas said...


True enough.

Stephanie Faris said...

My English teachers SUCKED. Luckily I had journalism teachers in college who helped repair the damage. Most of what I've learned about writing, I learned on my own, mostly through reading books and attending a bazillion writing workshops.

bethanyintexas said...


Sorry you had trouble with English teachers, but luckily you had other sources :-)