Since I spend my days editing brilliant stories from all over the world, once in a while I offer advice for writers. Writers and editors have always had a love-hate relationship without the love, and since I was a writer for a lot more years than I’ve been an editor, I think a lot of our writers feel I’m on their side — and I am!
I know what it’s like to have some butthead editor ruin a piece I worked hard on so badly that I didn’t even want to show it to friends. But, as a writer, I had some really talented editors, too, the ones like Dirk Ruemenapp of the New Hampshire Sunday News,who laid out most of the stories I used in my portfolio.
I wrote a story about a New Hampshire couple who identified the work of itinerant stencilers in colonial houses, work that had long ago been painted or papered over. Dirk’s title was “Searching Out Hidden Artistry.”
So this bit of advice comes from an editor who is sympathetic to those poor souls who have to write for a living: consider the person or persons to whom you are writing.
At the Associated Press they tell you to write for your grandmother, and that worked for me because my grandmother happened to be an author and a true cosmopolitan, but that might not be true for everyone.
An essential part of finding your true voice is identifying and understanding the person you have in mind when you’re composing. Your voice and your listener are part and parcel of the same process.
As evidence of this I adduce the works of Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clappe, aka “Dame Shirley,” who wrote “The Shirley Letters” to an adopted sister whom she adored and with whom she shared a dry sense of humor and a million funny anecdotes. In a way it is the sensibilities of the brilliant listener, as much as the sensibilities of the brilliant author that make this collection of letters such a luscious literary find.
If you’re just starting out and trying to find you voice, or if you’re seasoned writer looking for new energy, consider directing your writing to a brilliant listener like Dame Shirley’s sister.