Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Painting a Day

Tonight I found a cool website by Painting a Day Artists at: Everyday members post a painting that they did that day. Viewers can view the thumbnails or snap to large versions of specific paintings, or directly to each artist's website. The paintings are for sale, too. I've attached a wee clip to wet your appetite.

A painting a day. . . I am green with envy.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Black Dogs of August

In folklore, there are phantom black dogs that roam through graveyards and patrol boundaries like roads and footpaths. Large and shaggy, with glowing red eyes, these ghost dogs may appear just prior to a death. Some say that if they look directly at you, you will die. In other myths, they appear to play the role of protector, for example, of the souls of the dead buried in a graveyard.

A myth dating from August 4, 1577, tells of a black dog appearing during a thunderstorm in a church in Bungay, Suffolk, killing two people and injuring a third. The same day, a similar black dog appeared in a church in nearby Blythburgh and people died there as well. Bob Trubshaw summarizes a number of folkloric accounts of black dogs, and another interesting website specifically on the August 4 events is at everything2.

Our black dog is medium sized, has brown eyes rather than red ones, and is merely high strung -- not ghostly and ominous. She's not a hell hound, just a brat.

Monday, August 3, 2009

More on Writer's Voice

If you haven't read Jack Ross's rant in the previous post, do so now. He has an interesting take on the topic of writer's voice. He first acknowledges common descriptions of writer's voice as a writer's literary fingerprint or personal writing style. He remarks that many creative writing courses emphasize the importance of finding one's voice. This is what concerns him, and is the main focus of his rant.

Essentially, he points out that going on a quest to "find one's voice" is counterproductive; it will have precisely the opposite of the desired effect and will yield writing that is bland and twice chewed over. Instead of navel gazing and fretting about how one appears to others (I am taking liberties with my paraphrasing here), he instructs writers to focus on what they want to write about, and to be aware of who their readers are. He cites portions of an essay written by Kathy Acker, who describes the quest for writer's voice as akin to wanting to be godlike and control the meanings that can be taken from one's writing -- something that narrows possibilities and puts writing in a cage. In contrast, Acker sees writing as play, and eschews all rules.

I think that Ross and Acker are onto something. In most forms of human endeavor, being overly concerned about how one appears to others and others' opinions about oneself is truly a motivation killer. Just think of the NaNoWriMo mantra -- Get it down on paper. Don't edit. Don't worry about how bad it is. It's just a first draft, so get those words down!

So getting caught up in trying find one's voice in the first place, then trying to replicate it, and worrying what others will think of it does seem like a pointless kind of digression. I mean, how many of us actually are any good at self awareness in the first place? It seems to me that a characteristic writer's voice is something that is easier to notice in others than to observe in oneself.

That said, I *do* pay attention to the tone I am taking in a piece of writing. Moreover, I think that my "writer's voice" varies depending on the kind of writing that I am doing and the way that I position myself in a piece. I write in a variety of different forms and genres -- nonfiction, including scholarly chapters and articles; long fiction; poetry; and life writing/memoir. I think my voice might be quite different across these genres. I don't think that I have one consistent "fingerprint" voice.

Finally, I consciously attend to characters' voices and strive to let them speak for themselves. Character voices differ from my narrator voice (whether omniscient or not). Yet, because they come from me, they are part of my repertoire of voices and registers.

I wonder if the quest for one's unique writer's voice is simply an artifact of creative writing instruction. So many beginning writers start by emulating the style of writers that they admire (and generally they do so badly). So, instructors have to point out not to copy -- "Try to find your own voice," they say. It sounds more palatable than, "Quit copying other writers all the time."

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Writer's Voice

I have been mulling over the notion of "writer's voice." Personal writing style? An individual writer's fingerprint? Something fundamental to strive for, or something that the writer can and does alter depending on the genre, the story, the characters? More on this later, but for the moment, I just want to put a link here to Jack Ross's rant on the topic of writer's voice.