Writing Well: Working Hard to Find the Right Voice

Hard at Work by pangalactic gargleblaster and the heart of gold

In his book Writing Well, Mark Tredinnick claims that good writing is “half gift and half hard work”.  One might debate the percentages.  I’ve heard it said that success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.  But since writing is a form of art, perhaps it does rely more heavily on giftedness.  The point is, though, you can become a much better writer if you just work hard, whether you are gifted or not.

When I was younger, I played basketball.  I played a lot.  I had aspirations of playing professionally, but I had some significant obstacles – my small stature, inability to jump, and lack of speed.  I also had no stamina and occasionally threw up if I ran too much.

But I worked hard and eventually earned a starting position on the varsity team of a mid-size school in the Hoosier state where basketball players are akin to demi-gods.

I played fairly well and contributed to our team’s winning season.  The local newspaper reporter often had nice things to say about me in his articles.  I’ll never forget, though, one comment he made that never made it into print.  He said –

You know, for someone without any talent, that Tony Roberts is a darn good ballplayer.

I was hurt at the time, but I’ve come to view it as a supreme compliment.  He recognized that I had worked hard to play as well as I did.  He acknowledged that I was contributing to our team’s success as much or perhaps even more than more gifted players.

If your goal in writing is to become the next William Faulkner, you will no doubt become sorely disappointed.  But you can write better, serve an audience of readers, maybe even become published and gain a following, if you work hard.

The first area of concern Tredinnick addresses in his book is the writer’s “voice”.  There is an intimate relationship between writing and speaking, but this does not mean we should necessarily write exactly how we speak.  What if we stutter?  What if we struggle to express ourselves when we talk?  Tredinnick states the goal this way –

Good writing is the best kind of conversation you never heard.

Good writing captures the essence of believable conversation (whether it be dialogue or narrative), but it also improves the quality of the cadance, the rhythm, and turns the humdrum sound of careless spoken words into carefully crafted music.

Good writing is a transcendent kind of talking.

Whether it be an essay, a love letter, a piece of flash fiction, a nature poem, an article, or a blog post, we should aim to write our words in such a way that, in stringing them together one at a time, they become a song worth singing – a song full of beauty and meaning.

Here’s an exercise –

Listen closely to a conversation going on around you – in a coffee shop or library or office.  When you have the opportunity, write up the conversation adapting the language to make it sing.

If you accept the challenge, send me a link in the comments section of this post.  In my next post, I’ll show you mine and maybe include some of yours (with your consent).

(picture “Hard at Work” from pangalactic gargleblaster and…, some rights reserved)

2 thoughts on “Writing Well: Working Hard to Find the Right Voice

  1. Hi. Thanks again for commenting on my post. I like the analogy you made here with basketball—I used to play myself, before torn meniscus and mallet fingers forced me to stop. Almost all writers say talent is needed—King, Hemingway, etc.—but it’s not enough. So yes, let’s work hard. 🙂

    I don’t know if I’ll get the book though. My reading list is full with others already, but I’ll mark it to read anyway just in case.

    • Yes, I would recommend you devote your limited time to reading classic literature and exploring decent contemporary writing rather than focus on books on writing. I’m not sure how much I’ll get through myself. I’m mainly using if as fuel for my blog.

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