Creative Series 1: Finding the Right Voice

When we write, as in a play, we may use many voices.

Many of us do not realize when we are using a specific voice. I refer of course, to the person who is impersonating a journalist in their prose. Examples of this voice are present every day. There are appropriate times to use a voice that uses common language, many times however, we don’t pay attention to the methodology we use when we write, one issue is that of repetition.

Journalism is an art form that must be appraised, just as one would judge a work of art.

Here is a sample paragraph as it stands: ” This girl’s 16th birthday gift from her grandpa will melt your heart. For the very luckiest teenagers, the milestone 16th birthday brings with it the ultimate gift: a car. As cool as it to have four wheels to call your very own, that present has just been downgraded thanks to one very special grandfather in Texas and his exemplary gift-giving skills.”

The paragraph possibly written by a journalist: ” For the luckiest teenagers, the milestone 16th birthday brings with it the ultimate gift: a car. Many 16 year-olds may feel it is “cool” to have a car to call their very own. A Texas girl’s 16th birthday has become memorable, thanks to one very special grandfather in Texas and his exemplary gift-giving skills.”

Look very carefully at the use of language between the two examples.

The article is supposed to be uplifting. It needs to be written in such a way that when one reads it, a tear comes to an eye. I’m unsure of your response, but I do not feel as though my heartstrings are being pulled. Instead, I feeling a twisting knot in my stomach as I continue to follow the prose. By the time I finish the article, I don’t know what to think. I feel that the voice of the teenager was much more alive than the voice of the person who wrote the article. “It wasn’t me being famous, it was about my grandpa’s love for me becoming famous,” she says. “It’s touching so many people’s hearts. When they look at my tweet, they think, I need to spend more time with my grandparents.” (That is a voice!)

Aspiring journalists are often encouraged to find their voice from articles written in the past.

 

I am referring to the Pulitzer. The prestigious award sought after by so many journalists today. Countless writers aspire to become inducted into that hall of fame, but often fall short of the standards for the award. What countless writers of the past learned to work with instead, was perseverance and hard work. Learning to perfect the art of writing really is very hard work.

As a published short story writer, I learned to survive on rejection.

Home of “The Hoist” – The buildings to the right

At one point of my naval career, I had managed to finagle a temporary position with a long-running newspaper as a junior copy editor by using my connections in the service. I was only supposed to be at the newspaper for 3 weeks, I was there for 8 weeks. During my very short tenure as a reporter and journalist for “The Hoist“; a once continuous weekly newspaper for the U.S. Navy, I found an editor who was kind, supportive and left me hungry to learn more about what it meant to be a journalist. I started as a fish-out-of-water (my chosen field of work in the Navy had been that of an operations expert).

I’m in the middle, the young guy with the glasses and the goatee

At first, I was not needed. What I lacked in education and preparation, I made up for with raw determination. I arrived at the office, 6 a.m. sharp and did not leave for home until 8 p.m. 90 percent of my time was spent editing what I had written, ensuring that my copy was perfect for the next issue. By the end of my stay, my editor continually reminded me that I had “missed my calling”. He told me that as a writer, I had more raw talent than many navy journalists he had met who graduated from the Defense Information School. When I entered the service, I was young, desperate and unwilling to wait to attend the school.

I learned to become a journalist the traditional way. As an apprentice writer, I worked in the company of more seasoned journalists and reporters who were employed with The Hoist. Due to their influence, I was rewarded with my byline on the front page for almost eight weeks. The time that I spent with that family of professionals reshaped my life as a writer. For journalists who possess a talent for writing today, a career as a newspaper journalist poses a struggle to remain employed.

Many journalists today not only struggle, but often feel powerless in their job.

The job is and has been often laced with its own brand of politics. Many journalists learn early in their careers that they must have skin of steel. Adaptability is the key to success. Those journalists who are unable to adapt, who desperately wane in the face of change, keeping their typewriters in opposition to our new technological way of life. Those journalists who insist on the written word, rather than accompanying video are often “left in the dust” of the past. The age of modern journalism comprises an industry. This industry however, often seems to be one that is perceived to be precariously suspended on a silken strand, its lofty towers crumbled with age, in danger of catching the first strong wind to send it crashing to its doom.

There are others who feel that the business of journalism has become lost as an industry.

Perhaps the art (journalism) is gone, taken over by slick corporations, muddled by the World Wide Web and the ever-present need for sensationalism. There are many pundits who argue that the worse something is, the better for the journalist, in our competitive world. Perhaps the industry needs journalists to pay more attention to how they write any published article, whether it is digital or in print. There are some who even feel that we have become a more careless and thoughtless society, due to our spread of technology.

Imagine what the web be like if every person publishing to the web suddenly found their voice.

I personally believe that you would find a web filled with written work of the highest quality. The web would possess a close focus on professionalism with a hint of caution. Sales of books and magazines would probably increase as professionally trained writers returned to replace what many have termed as the “obsolescence of grammar“. Many older readers have stated in the past that complacency that has taken root in our present day culture. For any writer, finding the correct voice to use to match their particular style of writing should come first.

Next, we will talk about the second important lesson for any writer: style.

Creative Series 1: Writing Well or Building Credibility

I have been writing since the 1970’s.

This admission does not support any point that I am a writing expert or what I write is better than anyone else in the world. Making this opening statement, I am reminded of what the comedian “Lewis Black” talked about in one of his monologues about Americans. He talked about how Americans often act when they are visiting other countries, and how “cocky” we can be about people in other countries. A typical response I have personally witnessed countless numbers of times of many Americans abroad is how “we” the traveler, rather than learning how to speak the language of the country we visit, insist on the natives of those countries, knowing how to speak English. (If you are offended by use of language, sorry…I do not have any control over that, nor do I have a “bleeper”. Just listen to what he has to say, and understand what really happens in other countries).

I tend to react horribly when I see random slang, spelling or typographical errors when I am reading a professionally written article.

As a corporate trainer and teacher, I learned to start every class with a “statement of credibility”.  I had to convince my students in the beginning moments of the class, that there was a reason why they hired me at 600 dollars per day to listen to what I had to say. I also learned very quickly, that in order to get my students to ask for me to return, every part of my day with them had to be filled with pearls of wisdom that they would not get from any other trainer or teacher. It took a few lessons of “grinding my teeth in the dirt”; a class going south on me because I was unprepared or not understanding what I was teaching. After years of training however, I gained a large “following” of students. One of the main reasons for my success was that I began to write my own material, based on manuals that I was given. To date, I have written hundreds of syllabuses, lesson plans and manuals. I did not put my own spin on what I was supposed to teach. My subject was teaching software. I simply went beyond what was required in order to be successful. I added shortcuts, simpler ways of manipulation or teaching something complex, using more basic terms. Sometimes, writing must be simple, rather than complex to reach an audience.

Maintaining your standard of writing is very crucial to your success.

Many professionals have been noticing that our American standard of writing is plummeting. Whether the article is a business article, a book, or even a blog, you’ll want to do your level best to avoid making typographical or spelling errors. Reading what you have written is always the best thing to do before you use your mouse and click on the “Send” or “Submit” button. I cannot count the number of times that I have published one of my articles in this blog, only to discover a horrifying typographical error, wondering how many people have seen my mistake. The most important rule of writing that I have learned from countless writing professionals is, “Don’t stop writing”. If someone “smashes” your prose, let it roll off your back and keep writing. You made a mistake, you learn from the process and you keep writing. Just don’t keep repeating your mistake.

Don’t confuse making mistakes with being lazy.

Just because you make mistakes when you type, don’t confuse your mistakes with laziness. A sign of laziness is seeing the same error, over and over again. Ask yourself this question: Would you purchase a book from an author that contains over 350 pages of spelling, grammatical and typographical errors for 40 dollars or more? If you don’t care about errors, then why not continue to purchase books by this author? If what this author writes about is so valuable to you, are you that forgiving? Could you not find information that this author provides by another author that is similar…a book that is not filled with errors, for half the price? I see books being sold by authors for 15 dollars or more that are self-published, only because by some fluke, the author was able to come up with a title that drew people to buy the book. Once people purchased the book and discover all of the errors, they want their money back. Many publishers today are releasing books with errors, evidence that the copyeditor is either not doing their job, or that the book was simply purchased from the author “as is”, with no editing done to the manuscript. Readers delegate your credibility or level of credibility when it comes to sales or promotion of what you have written.

Use your spell checking and/or grammar checking software.

Word processing or editing software today comes standard with spell checking software. The software often works automatically, to help you ensure that your work is relatively free of errors. Because of this fact, I do not understand how many writers still seem to deliver content that is not free of errors. Perhaps the writer scanned what they submitted from an OCR document. Think about the cost of spelling and grammatical errors for any kind of business. All it would have taken was whoever created the copy running the spell check software, or for that matter, just taking a look at what they had created. Ask yourself, how much effort does looking over copy involve? Perhaps what this article sums up is one question: If we are willing to make glaring mistakes with our writing, how does that reflect on the level of professionalism we display and the respect we may rely on from others?

Coming up next: Finding your voice as a writer.

Creative Series 1: Writing and Perspective – How Controversy Can Become Unforgettable Stories or Articles

So, what kinds of problems can we find that could make “killer” stories or ideas?

Well, controversy sells. One issue that is hotly debated by politicians, communities, friends and family alike is the issue of guns. The NRA (National Rifle Association) is a non-profit organization that is predicated to the United States 2nd Amendment Right to Bear Arms (if you don’t know). There are countless organizations and groups which ally themselves to this organization.

There is a non-profit organization that is diametrically opposed to the NRA.

The organization opposed to the fundamentals of the NRA is Everytown for Gun Safety, a non-profit grass roots organization of “Americans fighting for common-sense reforms to reduce gun violence”. Founded in 2014, two existing groups came together: Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Our world continues to become smaller and smaller.

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We are bombarded by tragedy every day. Perhaps overcrowding is beginning to seep into the metaphysical soul of our world. Perhaps, like caged rats, we are beginning to eat each other, scratching and killing each other to make room. As our world continues to shrink, we feel pummeled by death and destruction that prompts some people to shut off the local news. Our news media has proliferated to become social media, the worst of the world outscreaming the best. The worst tragedies relate to muggings, shootings, break-ins, robberies and other violence occurring all over the United States, even the world.

As far as we can tell, it is (for many of us) as if our world has gone crazy.

Perhaps that is not what is happening at all. Due to the proliferation of cell phones in the hands of billions of people, news that once was delivered by professional journalists and photographers is now in the hands of anyone who snaps a shot on their cell phone, and posts to a news site, or a social media site such as Facebook, Instagram or SnapChat. Therefore, tragedy that was once the purview of the News Editor is now in the hands of any person who owns a connection to the World Wide Web.

The most prevalent discussions, by presidential candidates or news media, have been about terrorism or religious extremism. Yet, all other violence that is depicted, pales compared to the annual rate of gun homicides in the United States.

This chart was released in June of 2015, 6 months before what many of us now know as a very controversial speech from a candidate running for president in December.

Infographic: America's insane rate of gun homicide in perspective | Statista
You can find more statistics at Statista

Guns, unfortunately, have been a part of the American culture since its inception in 1776. If you are one of those people who denies this fact, just ask any person outside of this country is depicted as, and they will tell you. Americans stand out as “gun-toting”, gun-crazy zealots in a country that shows as much pride in its gun laws, as in its contributions to our modern way of life.

Though I grew up on military bases, I was not raised to arm myself with a gun.

I served as a weapons specialist in the military for 20 years, was taught by my friends how to hunt for food as a teenager, using a rifle to bring down my first deer. I am an avid lover of violent action movies and have been one since I was a child. The difference between billions of mature males and myself who enjoy action and adventure as entertainment, is that we know the difference between right and wrong, believing in the predication of an agreeable common code of ethics and respect over violent extremism.

Entertainment centers around guns.

Take one of the most popular movies in the world, Star Wars. Its characters employ guns. They may be the stuff of science fiction, but they are weapons nonetheless. Look at some of the most popular movies throughout the passage of time, and you will find a great many of them (probably the higher percentage of shows) featuring guns as a part of the “story”.

Is this post against guns?

I am NOT writing this post for or against against guns or as a political platform for gun control. I am writing this post to mention that guns have been a part of our American and world culture for at least since the year 1364.

Yuan_chinese_gun
Hand cannon from the Chinese Yuan dynasty (1271 – 1368)

Guns have become as common in the United States as the cold virus.

The United States has become a country of hypocrisy. Laws have been enacted to control the sale and use of firearms. Laws have been drafted, lobbied and supported by hundreds of thousands of mothers. Yet, more firearms are carried by women than men in The United States. There are people however, who have in one way or another, stockpiled weapons, ammunition and illegal firearms in conflict with laws that were created to protect us as citizens, believing that they are within their rights as citizens. There are many countries with laws more stringent than those the United States has created to control the onslaught of more and more private citizens licensed to carry weapons for protection. Unlike many countries in the world today, the United States has been in a state of war, or involved in at least one world conflict since its inception in 1776.

The world continues to develop technological marvels.

Thanks to the advent of the 3D printer, a person can search for, download and manufacture their own weapon in the privacy of their home. Perhaps we should take it upon ourselves to not only become more proactive about those around us, but develop preventive actions to neutralize the possibility of an individual developing into a killer by setting specific monitors in place or gangs purchasing 3D equipment to manufacture unregistered firearms which can be deployed anywhere. I have linked two different articles. If you are reading this paragraph, please note that the person’s optimistic speculation about the future of 3D printed weapons, did not take into account the reality of our world. Not a good thought.

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3D-printed AR-15-based .22 pistol

Courtesy ExtremeTech.com
By on July 26, 2012 at 10:56 am

Focusing on targeting problems before they become problems.

Instead of pointing fingers or conducting witch hunts of specific religions, cultures or countries, perhaps a better solution would be to come up with solutions to the serious problem of gun-related killings. Our present-day culture takes pride in our ability to develop, create and manufacture superior technology. If someone does not understand the difference between right and wrong, or has arrived at the point that the murder of innocent people are part of their plan for global domination, perhaps we need to devise a technology or methodology that is able to pinpoint such a personality before it reaches the point where it wants to do harm.

Are we all driven by some kind of causality to act on our emotions?

Such a motivation can drive us to fulfill certain behaviors. Perhaps what must be developed is a drug or technique that modifies the behavior of a potential murderer. Suppressing the receptors in the brain that motivate a person to act on specific emotions that would cause others harm could be such a solution. Knee-jerk reactions after people have died from wanton mass murder is hardly a solution. Lives have already been lost, therefore, no solution has been made.

Guns are an effective deterrent to violence.

Yes, there are people who will argue with you until they are blue in the face that guns deter violence. Really. They do. I know many of these people. Yes, they are my friends and I place much value in them as my friends. They are entitled to their opinions as I am entitled to mine.

Summing up how a controversial subject can make for really good writing.

If this article is driving you to say something, post a response or even click on a raised or lowered thumb, I have done my job. I have effectively shown you how to take a subject that can be highly controversial and turned into a story, article or book idea that any writer can use to evoke responses emotional enough to garner attention to what they are writing.

What will we discuss next? The highly controversial subject of writing well.

Creative Series 1:Getting Ideas

When I am developing a book, song or image, I sometimes think about its salability.

More often than not, I write because I enjoy what I writing. I watched a movie recently distributed on DVD and video streaming outlets (though none of the lists I found even mentions “vudu.com”; which I personally feel is a terrific site, not really certain why) last night, called “Passengers”.

The character Aurora Lane,  brilliantly played by Jennifer Lawrence, is the daughter of a former Pulitzer prize-winning writer. She is engaged in a conversation with her fellow passenger regarding just why she decided to leave behind all of her friends and family to undertake a 120-year trip to a distant planet. This insightful conversation includes some pearls of wisdom, given to her by her father, regarding what can separate good writing from exceptional writing.

Her character quotes her father once saying, “If you live an ordinary life, all you will have are ordinary stories”.

As a writer, I agree wholeheartedly with that statement.

As a former sailor, I quite literally sailed all over the world. I have been to some of the finest areas in countries and islands that many people dream of. I have also been in slums and back alley dives that many would avoid. I have come to know or meet thousands of people. I have been afforded the opportunity to marry a fellow human being who has not only enriched my life, but has shown me what a happy life really means, with all of its arguments, kisses, challenges and smiles.

I have come to know loss. I have come to know reward. I have had lovers in my time and have hurt just as many along the way. As I have matured, so have my stories. My characters all reflect the love, hurt, anger, frustration, desperation, sadness and all those feelings that make us who we are.

Having knowledge of the outside world helps me as a writer…a lot.

There is something to be said about living in this world, as well as writing about it. If I want someplace dingy or forgotten, perhaps I might remember a back alley of unmarked shops and warehouse doors in Wanchai, Hong Kong.

Related image
Back Street, Hong Kong by David Izatt

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 Perhaps I might bring myself back to walking the streets of Costa Rica and finding the New York Bar in the 1980’s, an expat “watering hole” for those who did not want to be found.
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New York Bar, San Jose, Costa Rica
Maybe I’ll think back to the pretty vendors on the topless beaches of Martinique, selling bikini tops to women who would crowd around them.
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French Caribbean

My style as a writer has changed as I have aged.

I can always find plenty of critics to harangue my style, everyone thinking that their particular writing style is superior to mine. My style, however, seems to have accrued a more positive acclaim from others. There is always room for improvement, but what I value more is the ability to develop a style that is unique to my characters as a writer. It is important that once I have established a particular dialogue that is peculiar to the character I am describing that I allow my characters to tell the story.

 

If you truly feel you are a writer, or you have struggled to find something to write about, how about experimenting with an exercise that many “old-timers” were exposed to? Find a drawing, image, picture or photograph that catches your eye and create your story, imagining that your character move through a life that from what you allow them to see. Let them discover their world one piece at a time, as you slowly begin to paint your own picture. Add some romance to their life. Perhaps some twist of fate, or even trouble that ensues from a place they visit every day. Get that character into trouble…something small, perhaps. Then allow the trouble to bloom, to blossom into an all-out nuclear explosion of a problem. Stick to the weaknesses and the strengths of the character in your world. Don’t “overblow” the rules of the world you create, don’t invent anything new. The challenge of your story will be to overcome the issues you create with the talents of your character.

Now, my friend, you are on your way to creating a truly great story.