Friday, April 6, 2018

Is my #amwriting “voice” schizophrenic? by Leah St. James

In my continuing saga of hoping to someday finish my current work in progress, I took a half day off from work on Monday, determined to make some progress. I  got up  about an hour later than usual, and basking in the luxury of not having to go into the office, lolled about in my pajamas, working on the Sudoku in the day’s paper, until TPM (The Plot Master a/k/a hubby) went off to work for the day. 

After exercising and showering, I got down to work. It was only 10 a.m., and I felt like I’d been released from bondage—hours and hours of free writing time  before me.

I think I reported in a recent post that I’ve been making decent progress, averaging about 250-500 words in the morning before work (which is incredible for me). But something happened that morning that slowed my progress.

I’m working on the sequel to my first  book—a dark and gritty look into the world of sexual slavery, with some consensual BDSM mixed in there. The sequel, which picks up the story about six weeks after the end of the first, is supposed to be a suspenseful, thriller-esque story with a continuing romance. 

But on Monday, everything I wrote was just awful, or lackluster at the best. No emotion. No grit. No suspense. In fact – help me, please – everything came out kind of slapstick-y! 

In my quest to diagnose this condition, I put the laptop aside and did another 30-minute workout, figuring maybe increasing the blood flow to my brain might bring an epiphany. It did not (although I burned calories!), and I struggled to write for the rest of the day.

When I went to bed that night, though, and settled in with my Kindle for my pleasure reading, it hit me.  My writing that day was similar in style and tone to the book I’m reading! It’s a contemporary romance by a national best-selling author with probably 30 published books in several series. She doesn’t write slapstick-y by any stretch, but she does use physical situations in humorous ways. I do believe I  was channeling her tone and voice while writing that morning. (If only it were as good as hers, I’d switch genres!)

It reminded me of a trip to Disney World when I was 16. I’m a native northeasterner with no discernible accent. I encountered a lot of southerners at the park, and at some point, I started subconsciously mimicking their accents. I forced myself to stop when I unintentionally offended one of the performers, a really cute teenage guy from Georgia (blond, blue eyes, nice muscles...I’ll bet he grew up into a fine looking man...).

Anyway, either I’ve transferred that tendency to my writing voice, or my overall mood (happy, relaxed) prevented me from going to the dark place the story calls for. Or maybe it’s a combination of both.

So now my question is, how do I turn off these subconscious voices in my head? Am I destined to finding my own voice only in the pre-dawn hours, when the world is dark and I’m exhausted from the drains of my every-day life?

Is my writing voice hopelessly schizophrenic, helplessly bound by the time of  day or by mood?

Disgusted, I told myself that “professional” writers are supposed to be able to power through these glitches and make it work, and that’s what I’ve been doing—at least the powering through part. I can’t say I’m making it work, but that’s what second and third and fourth drafts are for. Right?

Eventually I’ll be in a dark enough mood, I’m sure, to get back to normal.

If any of you have experienced this phenomenon and figured out a way around, I’d love to hear your tips!


Leah writes stories of mystery and romance – or goofball slapstick, depending on her mood – and the power of love. Learn more at


Jannine Gallant said...

Since the only reading I do lately is to edit, I don't seem to have this problem. I've heard people say to read outside your genre so you don't subconsciously try to "copy" it in your own work. Maybe you need to read INSIDE your genre to get back on track! Or, maybe you've just found your productive time and need to stick with it. Hopefully when you drag yourself out of bed at the crack of moonlight on Monday, all will be back to normal!

Rolynn Anderson said...

You're asking the tough questions, Leah. Can we lose our voice, change our voice; be over-influenced by other voices? (And is that a good thing?) Do we have an endless number of 'good' books in our power to write? Since I'm not one of the lucky ones with stories whirling in my head, I always wonder 'what's next' for there a next?

I'm moving more to mystery and less with the romance. So far I've chosen not to fight the transformation...but maybe I should.

Good make us think.

Anonymous said...

I say go with the flow. If you need a dark and edgy voice, read dark and edgy. May I humbly recommend RISKY REDEMPTION and DEADLY DECEPTION from the dark, edgy, thrilling, and different Rogue Security series. (Ha! My bad! Was I too obvious in pimping my own stuff?)

Alison Henderson said...

I've had this happen before, especially if I've been reading a lot and writing very little. When I write more words more often I seem to get my own voice back.

Leah St. James said...

Jannine, my bedtime reading is the usually only pleasure reading I do. My Kindle has a built-in light, and it's perfect for reading without waking your hubby (or whoever!) sleeping/snoring next to you! I generally fall asleep after about 15 or 20 minutes, but I really enjoy those few minutes. Maybe I do need to find a good thriller to read.

Leah St. James said...

Rolynn, I know our voices can change -- with time, experience -- but I hate to think I'm so malleable I'd just start parroting someone else's! Or maybe it's just part of our brain make-up, to try to be like others we admire. I don't know.

I am also starting to lean less toward romance and more toward mystery. I have a feeling that might be a trend with others of the Baby Boomer-ish generation. Maybe that's a good thing we could tap into.

Leah St. James said...

Thanks for stopping by, Marissa! I have read the first of your Rogue Security books, actually! (Love the name.) And you're right, maybe I should go back and re-read it, and grab the second one! :-)

Leah St. James said...

That's a really good point, Alison. I think that must have a lot to do with it. So hopefully it's fixable. (Relief!)

Anonymous said...

You're so sweet. I apologize for the blatant plug.
I don't think there's anything wrong with channel surfing. You just have to be tuned into the right one.

Brenda Whiteside said...

I don't stay away from my own genre. I usually don't pay any attention as to what I'm reading and writing. But I must confess, when I've needed a boost or inspiration for some particular feeling, I'll resort to reading one of my favorite authors to get my "mood" on.

Betsy Ashton said...

Could it be that you are forcing your voice in the sequel? Could it be that you need to rethink the sequel? I know when I try to force something, my characters revolt, go their own way, and leave me in the dust.

How can we not be influenced a bit by what we read? Sometimes, I need a really dark place. I either put on The Doors "The End," or read a Vince Flynn book. Both work for me.

Good luck getting your mojo back.

Margo Hoornstra said...

My advice when you don’t like what you’re writing is to keep writing. As they say, you can’t edit a blank page. Though I will admit it’s very, very difficult to force your writing when it just isn’t coming to you. It could be your particular muse is very delicate and couldn’t adjust to the time change. Or, maybe you just had an off day, and you’re writing will get back to normal soon.

Leah St. James said...

I like the "channel surfing" analogy, Marissa. And seriously, I do need to check out Rogue Security Book Two! (I don't think I realized the second one was out! And hey, we all know how hard it is to get the word out.)

Leah St. James said...

I like your idea of re-reading your favorites for inspiration, Brenda. Great idea.

Leah St. James said...

I have considered that I'm forcing the story, Betsy. You're right that the characters will go their own way, regardless of our most studiously outlined plots! Hmmmm, something to think about.

Leah St. James said...

Margo, I pushed through and finished the chapter. I may end up cutting it out entirely in edits. Sometimes I think our instincts are smarter than we realize.

Vonnie Davis said...

Yes, you can lose your voice. Is that good or bad? I think it depends. I feel I do my best writing when I don't use a critique partner. I end up writing to their suggestions and can literally feel the author--me--fading as I try to please them.

I have my own system when I feel I'm forcing the story. I hop to another sub-genre. I presently have 3 WIP's. Book two of my Billionaire Dom series--contemporary heat. A book that hops from a love story during the Vietnam era to a present day romance involving the granddaughter of Mary Beth from the sixties--romance or women's fiction, I dunno what to call it. I've sent the first 5 chapters to HarperImpulse and my old editor there is very interested if I clean up some of the language. She likes less swearing while I write how I hear young people talk. I also want to send it to TWRP, too. And, thirdly, a bear shifter/urban fantasy set in Scotland.

While I usually don't force things, there are times I have to decide WILL this project get completed or will I glue my fingers to the keyboard until I finally hit the end? This is often a problem for writers. For me, I'm slowing up. Calvin needs my attention. Don't down yourself. We're all different and work in our own way...and that's okay.

Leah St. James said...

Thanks for sharing your process, Vonnie, and for the pep talk. It really helps to know I'm not alone. The thing is, I like my "dark and gritty" voice, so I want to get it back. I just keep hoping that if I ever get to leave the grind of the day job, I'll have more brain power to write.

I've been thinking of you and Calvin all week, hoping he is improving a bit each day and you're getting some rest (and maybe a little peace of mind).

Alicia Dean said...

I'm glad you're writing, but we definitely don't want you to lose your dark and gritty voice, which I love. I suggest you read at least a portion of Book 1 every day before you work on Book 2. That might help you get your groove back. :)

Leah St. James said...

Good suggestion, Ally. It's been quite a while!!

Diane Burton said...

This is a dilemma for me, too, Leah. Only in the opposite. Usually, my books have a lot of humor. Lately, esp. with the WIP, I find my writing too serious. Maybe it's the topic. Or is it my current mood? You've gotten so many great ideas from the others that I hesitate to add anything. Maybe this book needs a little humor to cut through the angst, the heavy stuff. Give the reader a break. Whatever you do, just know that I'm looking forward to reading this book.