Have you ever noticed that your writing alters a bit depending on topic, genre or for other venues? Do you think that your writing is better when you pen a paper for a class or an article for a news outlet, as compared to jotting down a new poem or starting up a new book? What do you think enables or inhibits your writing in these cases?
I noticed that my writing in the case of papers held quite a different tone of authority than the tone underlying my novels back when I was in undergraduate school. This type of writing is something that I often cite as being responsible for honing my craft. In papers and articles, even this blog, the writing must hold more authority. Passive voice has no place here, because it weakens the argument and strength of the point.
The abandonment of passive voice is a skill that is learned early in a writer’s career but haunts them throughout their tenure. Of all the obstacles in writing, this one has stood out as the most discussed by other authors (next to marketing). While writing papers and articles, the voice of the work is in the present—in the moment, if you will. I think this helps to refocus the brain and allows the writer to use confident words and tones.
When writing a historical fiction, my brain is functioning with the idea that this has already happened. the moment is past. Therefore, it laxes into a more passive, past tense and weak tone–as if sighing resignedly about the entire thing. Writing fiction in third person also takes on this temperament and it is difficult to keep reminding oneself that this is in the moment and not the past.
Most writers, I would dare say, connect in these disparate ways to the forms of writing they take on. Perhaps, the help they seek in finding ways to deal with the problems in their writing can be found in connecting these ways of writing more uniformly, as in dropping what is not working and taking up what is working. Indeed, this might be more difficult than just saying to do something one way instead of the other. The brain is a tricky machine, and the desire to do something instead of another is just not that simple.
What if I came to all of my writing with the same sense that is a paper about a relevant and present topic in the moment? That is sort of how I addressed the issue of passive voice creeping up in my work. Of course it still manages to creep up here and there still, but I am aware of it gumming up the narrative and making things weak. My initial writing is more lax, as I am trying to get all my ideas out without loosing them. When I edit, that is when I regard the work as taking place in the moment, instead of the past, though the tone of the story might be that this has already happened, and I’m relating it as it either happened to me, or was related to me in some other fashion. Through this process, the narrative gains strength and authority, molded into the much better writing I exhibit in non-fiction.
Another tool that has helped me realize the different strategies of different kinds of writing is the Script, or screenplay. Given only 120 pages in which to tell your tale, and narrow margins in which your characters will speak, you learn the economy of words. This skill is learned, although some individuals exhibit an economy of words naturally. Some individuals take it too far. (Hemingway, I’m looking at you!)
All of these tools and processes, however, cannot turn uninspired writing into a best seller. I have no answer for writers regarding the ability to pen great stories. That is a question as old as writing, I would guess. To be honest, it’s a subjective assessment. Just like some people have no interest in writing non-fiction, others have no interest in writing romance or mystery or fantasy or even science fiction. Each author has their reasons, based on a subjective assessment of the genre. One should not automatically think their work is uninspired, or insipid, because some of the feedback returned to them suggests the work might be boring. Did you get the right test group?
How you write will always depend upon who you’re writing for.