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As a copyeditor, I respect and honor writing voice. As a writer, I struggle with my own voice. After decades of turning out words for teachers, higher education colleagues, and students, I’ve developed a casual-academic style. I’m not sure that’s a mix I like, and I’m definitely not sure it’s my authentic voice.
Writing Immersion, or the Search for Voice
Dissatisfaction pushed me to put some intentional effort into improving—or at least changing—the way I sound on the page. Within the past couple of months, I’ve thrown myself into books, blogs, articles, online groups, short courses, and webinars—all directed to writing and writers. It has been overwhelming. Writers naturally love to write, talk, and teach about writing. One class, one blog, one article, one group has led to another and yet another, and I’ve been feeling a lot like Alice: completely lost down the writing rabbit hole.
In all this writing-community immersion, I have yet to accomplish my original purpose. My voice still sounds like a cross between a research paper and an e-mail to a student. Of course, it’s one thing to read, think, and talk about writing, and it’s a different matter to practice writing repeatedly, regularly, religiously—and with feedback. In the resources I’ve found, writing advice, motivation, and systems are plentiful; but feedback costs extra, and it seems reserved for writers serious about publishing soon. As in the-next-few-months soon. From zero-to-sixty-in-nothing-flat soon. Scary soon. So-not-me soon.
Publishing Immersion, or What I Found
To my surprise, though, I’ve accidentally learned a lot more about publishing than I knew before I started this writing odyssey. I was already familiar with the esoteric and changing world of traditional publishing; and for the past few years, I’ve recognized the growing importance of self-publishing, packagers, formatting programs, and Amazon Kindle. But when I threw myself into the online writing universe, I didn’t expect the available information would weigh so heavily on routes to publication.
Self-publishing is huge, and I stumbled into many online courses designed to help independent authors learn and master this brave new world. After listening to the promo videos and webinars of several self-publishing veterans, I started to feel as if I, too, should write a book and self-publish it within the next sixty or ninety or one hundred eighty days. The marketing materials are sincere and persuasive, and the courses seem to be based on authentic experience. But I resist, mostly because I still don’t feel that I’ve learned enough, done enough of the right kind of practice, or received enough expert feedback to write a book worthy of publication.
Who Guards the Gates Now, or Why Should Anyone?
It seems, then, that I have become my own arbiter of publishing access. But as we move from a traditional gatekeeping model of subjective publishers into a revolutionary open environment of democratic publication, I wonder: how do we (as an egalitarian collective) now maintain the writing quality that readers need for understanding, enjoyment, or transformation? And where do we (as writers) find the feedback that alerts us we must improve before publishing—and that helps us grow our skills?
So far, I keep returning to this thought: on the road to self-publishing, some independent authors may need to briefly pause before hopscotching straight into the whys and hows of getting their work to an appreciative public. It can’t hurt—and it might help—to explore and consider
Learning to Love Feedback, or Don’t Kill the Messenger
In addition, copyeditors and proofreaders sometimes suggest that potential clients back up a bit and polish their writing before proceeding to publication. Such careful and considered advice usually comes from a sincere desire to help writers invest their time and money as efficiently as possible. And this may be potentially useful feedback, particularly when given by a copyeditor or proofreader who communicates professionally and kindly, without rudeness or condescension.
In any event, when receiving recommendations for further development, taking offense will do the writing no good. Writers who want to serve readers, rather than their own egos, will refrain from reacting before reflecting on the merits of the suggestions. They might even consider seeking another objective opinion or two. And if they find truth at the heart of feedback, trust me: we’re never too old to become students again, to improve our skills, and to achieve mastery through guided practice.
Now I return to my own counsel and continue the search for a learning opportunity that will help me find my voice. And if I do decide to self-publish a book or an online portfolio before my writing skills are ready, I hope my copyeditor will gently nudge me back a step, so I can learn and practice a little more.
What are your thoughts about maintaining writing quality in a world where publishing is possible for many? Please share in the comments below.