I came into serious writing accidentally. I’ve told this story before, so I’ll just summarize it now. I was working at home as a software developer. My brain got bored after hours upon hours of coding. It wandered. Right into a story that had been hiding in the shadows of my mind for many years. It pestered me and stole my attention at every chance. Once the story was given some time on the stage, it jumped right into the limelight.
I thought I could write down what I knew about it—some of the characters, the story arcs—capture the words and keep them safe, and, perhaps, it would exit stage left and be quiet again. That didn’t happen. It demanded a leading role in my life.
Once I got started writing, the story just flowed from my fingertips. Every time I took a break from coding, I was exciting to see where the story would go. I had a vague sense of who the main characters were—I had three children to send through the Hero’s Journey—and a final climax, and even a few story arcs to get there.
I had all my characters coming together—a lot of characters crept into the story—but not a good sense of their collective purpose. One day, I decided to introduce a vampire to the mix to add some conflict, and a challenge—how do you travel with a vampire?
Coltan was born.
It was fascinating to watch my new character grow. I fell in love with him like none of my other characters. I wrote his backstories and forward stories. I was happy when good things happened to him, and I cried when the things were bad—and there was a lot of bad. A need to hear his voice developed in me.
I started reading my stories out loud. This helped me to hear my character’s voices, and to hear the cadence of the writing. But, really, I needed it read to me. Aha! I have a computer with a microphone and recording software.
My next big leap forward was when I started recording myself reading my own writing. I could hear everything—repeated words; the flow of the narrative; when it became confusing in the dialog as to who was speaking; where I tripped over words; where the sentences and paragraphs and scenes were too long. And I could actually hear Coltan and the others with distinct voices. It was enlightening.
After my experience, I began to share this technique with other writers at my writing and reading groups. No one else I talked to records themselves.
One author, Joe Follansbee, tried it out and was pleased with the result, although, I’m not sure if he uses it to listen to himself reading out loud. The other advantage to recording what you write is you can then share it online in audio form, which I did, chapter by chapter, on SoundCloud.
At the same time, I was experimenting with releasing the book, in its beta form, on this blog, which Joe and I also discussed at length. The other major use of the internet is building a following, which we also talked about—Twitter, Facebook, SoundCloud and blogging on sites like WordPress.
I use a lot of modern tools when I write, including the keyboard on my computer and the tool I type the words into, Scrivener (which I seriously could not live without).
At one of my writing groups, they encourage the use of pen on paper, explaining it puts the writer more in touch with the act of writing. I get this. And I tried it.
I was unsatisfied with the results, beyond the pain in my untrained hand from the physical act of writing. It slowed me down, but I was told, that was a good thing; I had to copy my work into Scrivener anyway—it acts as my journal—and was again told this was good thing, that I could do the first edit while transposing the written words into bits and bytes; and, worst of all, I couldn’t read my handwriting and reading it back to my group was so difficult, it lost all the emotion I had written into it—I noticed this also happens to the other writers when they read their new words out loud.
I would encourage all writers to try, if not embrace, the wonderful tools we have available to us. My computer goes with me as readily as a journal goes with a traditionalist. I write, I edit and I publish, all on the go. It helps me with grammar and spelling, and mistakes to avoid. And, my favorite of all, it gives a voice to my characters.