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olivia, too critical? – month ten

January 10, 2011

Write Like You

The best advice I ever got from an editor was “write like you.”

At the time, I was taking a stab at a hotel review for a magazine. It was my first, and not surprisingly, it turned out a little “too PR.” The editor still managed to find some strengths in the text, but I wasn’t really telling her what *I* thought.

I’d never done that before. Up until that point, journalism asked me to distance myself from my own experience and stick to the facts, supported by experts. When I made the illogical leap from news reporting to lifestyle writing, there was an inevitable learning curve.

I pumped the text full clever sentence structures. My adjectives were responsible for describing whole ideas. There were lots of wordy words – some of them nice, some of them right – but I wasn’t really in there.

As a university student, I might have sneered at the critique. But this wasn’t school; this was real life. And the person shelling out free advice was the award-winning editor of a reputed magazine. She’d built the style, the language and the culture that surrounded her work. Arrogance wouldn’t serve me well here.

When I went home and gave it some thought, it dawned on me that I didn’t actually know what *I* sounded like. I hadn’t really found my own voice. I knew I was able to write well – that’s why the magazine hired me. Hell, I was even a capable editor! But I never really inserted myself into the texts; I just wrote them.

It wasn’t until she pointed this out that I gave any thought to what makes my work “mine.” And it wasn’t until this year in exile that my voice cracked.

I think part of it had to do with spending so much time alone and not talking to people regularly. My world and social circle and pool of options are all much smaller in Spain. I’ve found a couple of people who love a good chat as much as I do, but it’s certainly not the bevy of friends I’m used to in Montreal.

When you don’t speak very much in real life, you find other ways to express yourself. I’d already been writing, so that’s what I resorted to. It wasn’t consistent, but it was a constant. And I noticed that I wasn’t as self-conscious or inhibited. Something finally clicked.

I recently told someone that writing isn’t the kind of thing where you’ve ever arrived. You don’t look at what you’ve done as perfect or completely finished. Maybe I’m just too critical of my own work. I don’t feel I have a distinct voice yet, but I’m certainly starting to leave a trail.

This year away from the home has been difficult and lonely. But it’s been good for the writing. Man alive! It’s been good for the writing.

-Olivia

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