Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Finding the right approach for writing

I'm going to answer a question today. I'm not usually one for doing that, preferring, as we all know, to ask them. But it's a slow news day in the Fibro and I'm scratching around for a post. So...

When I ran my interview with Mia Freedman on Monday, Gill from Alice Becomes (great blog incidentally by Gill and Nic from Our Park Life) asked the following question in the comments:

"I would love to know your thoughts and how you balance and differentiate between separate styles of writing? Similar to Mia's point of view?"

Mia's point of view, just to refresh your memory, was this:

"Every type of writing I do - from Twitter to books - is different. It requires a slightly different approach and, often, a different tone. Since I'm constantly flitting between social media, Mamamia, my column and books, I barely even have to think about it now. Although, books can be a bit of a gear shift. You need to lengthen your concentration span, which is reduced constantly by tweeting and blogging."

I do agree. Magazine writing requires voice + objectivity. You are writing for a large, faceless audience who have certain expectations about what they will see in that particular publication. There will be a certain vocabulary that will resonate with that demographic (and you must never forget that each magazine has a specific demographic) and you may find yourself using such terms as 'BFF' and 'vajazzle', which you would not generally use. You must also in feature writing make room for expert voices, weaving them in and out, providing a balanced view of whatever your subject may be. Having said that, the essential tenor of the article must remain true to your own style and voice. Easy, huh?

Writing for a personal blog, on the other hand, requires intimacy. Here, it is all about your voice. This is what I love about it. You can truly give voice to your own voice in a way that you can't when you have an editor, a specified readership and others to please.

Twitter and other social media has been very good for my writing in a strange way. While it is not good for the attention span (I agree 100 per cent with Mia on that), it is superb for clarity. Getting a cohesive message into 140 characters can be a challenge and is a simple way to spot waffle at 20 paces. As for Facebook, there is an art to an excellent status update... one which I'm still learning.

Now for books. Ah yes. So many words. With non-fiction books, I usually break it down into chapters, write each as I would approach a long magazine feature and then work out where I've repeated myself so that I can cross-reference and double check. Fun.

Fiction, on the other hand, is a whole different kettle of fish. It comes back to voice - presenting your story in your own words - but also creating characters with their own voices. Not easy. There's also a lot of persistence involved. As discussed, I am not a plotter (though I am rapidly appreciating the value of having a map through a story), so I tend to just start and see what will happen. I find that fiction requires long periods of thinking followed by short bursts of activity. I put down 1000 words here and 500 words there, and then ruminate for a while before banging out another couple of thousand words. I know that many experts say that the best advice is to write every day, but my thinking on that is that I do - just not always on the same project. Perhaps this is why my fiction remains unpublished...

I also write for other websites, do corporate work (including newsletters and media releases), and write advertising copy. All of which require different approaches again (which we might go into a different day as I'm getting sick of the sound of my own voice here...).

So, yes, I am constantly switching between forms, but each has a quite specific approach. Sometimes I do find myself wishing that my next magazine feature was 140 characters long - but I have to say that writing short can be a lot more difficult than writing long. Less room to cover up if you get it wrong.

The one thing that carries over in every form of writing is discipline. Mostly, the discipline to do it.

{image: Natashanb/Tumblr}


  1. It is reassuring to read this Al - I am dicovering a similar range of variances via my course...

  2. Really enjoyed this post, hon.

    In school, we had to write a 'novella'. I just wanted to jump in and write it, but we had to make a flow chart of possible scenarios for our storyline, and indicate where we would need describe a setting, person etc. We had to create character profiles and a map out a journey that would occur during our story. We had to write it in draft form first, then write or type it neatly afterwards.

    I LOVED the process.

    I think you make a really great point about blogging - we get to use our voice and so, in a way, that's kind of 'easy' (sorta). The couple of pieces I've written for another site, I've taken more time on. I'm conscious it's not just 'my' readers reading it, and so I've had to sit down and think about how I want to write it for a broader audience.

    As for fiction - if I was to write a book today, I'd probably do like you do - just go for it and see where it takes me!

  3. I am constantly amazed by what you (and others) are able to do with your writing skills!! Reading this post simply serves to confirm what I've already kind of known...switching "writing" voices is tough work. And discipline is absolutely invaluable for the lot!

  4. This writing gig is a lot harder than it seems.... sigh...

  5. I think I would find any form you write in fascinating Allison. I simply love seeing your posts pop up each day. Thank you for breaking it down the forms in this way though. Pearls of wisdom.

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  7. I love this post Allison .... and I really, REALLY love the pic of the beautifully coloured typewriters. {Insert Homer drool here}

  8. Great post. With so many different voices in writing, I often wonder how writers manage their time between pitching/writing/tweeting/FB/mumming/time for partner/housework/time out. Such a juggling act.

  9. This is a graet post. I am about to starting a writing course, via Sydney Writing Centre. Some great insight here.

    Thank you

  10. I always love to read what others think and feel about the writing process and how they approach it.
    Thanks Allison.


  11. Interesting post, thanks for writing it. Certainly a lot to get one's head around!

  12. Very interesting. A friend of mine who used to work for The Sun said it was harder to write in the 'voice' that required than it was for say The Telegraph even though his leanings are much closer to the latter.

    I guess the 'voice' on my blog is similar to the one I use in my fiction. And like you say the voice I use for features is totally different. I am wondering if someone read a dozen features by me, whether they could tell they were by me without looking at the by-line. Probably not which is a failing on my part I think.

  13. It's really great to read this.
    Thanks for posting it..

  14. I write for corporate clients, websites, magazines etc and I can usually swap easily between each but fiction was something else. Instead of having to make fewer words say more, I got to just write. That was a big change and it took some time to get used to.

  15. I can't do all writing 'voices'. Well, actually, I probably can. Rather, I haven't the energy to attempt it at this time in my life because I know I'd beat myself up trying to perfect each one. I just find it difficult to switch. Doesn't mean I have to try or that I should, but this also means I do limit myself and any writing prospects. I'm ok with that... for the time being!

    Great post.

  16. Great post Al. And I'm still wondering about how you fit the writing in with all the other stuff. Over 18 months later and I'm still none the wiser.

  17. I find it hard to not keep sneaking 'me' into feature articles but I find it easier when my case studies offer rich stuff...makes me less inclined to jump in. Wearing all the different writing hats can be dizzy?

  18. I'm still learning about switching gears but I can absolutely relate to twitter not being great for the attention span.

  19. This is one for the pool room Al. I love shifting gears and getting into the right head space. It is challenging and mentally stimulating. Love it.

  20. I can do a great facebook status!
    Switching gears can be hard, but I am beginning to like the discipline it brings.

  21. I'm looking forward to trying my hand at more gear shifting in the coming year. I'm not sure I could do it to quite the extent that you do though, Allison!


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