Les Edgerton: Finding Your Voice
Have you judged a contest entry and struggled to understand why its technically well-written paragraphs lie there on the page as lifeless as so many matching bricks? Chances are the author is following all the rules, using the safe writerly voice she’s been taught since elementary school. Or perhaps her chapters have been critiqued to death and revised by her critique partners until all traces of her individual personality have been smoothed away.
Les Edgerton is a writer and teacher whose varied background includes a youthful stint in prison. Many years later, when he began teaching writing to inmates, he was struck by the contrast between the lively, highly original personal letters he received from his students and the bland, imitative fiction they turned in.
As Edgerton points out, it’s seldom if ever the technical expertise of our favorite authors that we admire, it’s their unique way of telling a story. But imitating those favorite authors is another voice sapper, as is excessive admiration of the classics. Writing styles change, readers’ tastes even more so.
The core of Finding Your Voice is the simple advice to “be yourself.” Edgerton applies this to many aspects of writing with wit and enthusiasm, examples and exercises.
Edgerton doesn’t advocate tossing away all the rules we learned in school, of course, but knowing which ones we choose to break, when, and why. Trust your instincts, and trust your reader (who is, for all practical purposes, you).
Edgerton concludes with a chapter of thoughts on voice from a range of writers, editors and agents, as well as a list of his own favorite craft books.
Finding Your Voice is an entertaining and worthwhile book. It will help you break out of that standard voice that sounds just like everyone else. It might even help you be a better contest judge.
I stumbled over Finding Your Voice (Writer’s Digest Books, 2003) at Half-Price Books. It appears to be out of print, but it’s still available at Alibris.com.
Kay Hudson is grateful to all the judges who are willing to read contest entries and fill out those long score sheets, and tries to return the favor at least two or three times a year.