How Moodboards Can Enhance Your Writing Voice

Voice Moodboard

One of the most difficult aspects of writing is developing your writing voice. Your writing voice is the style in which you communicate - genuine, yet interesting and in a manner that is unique to you. While continual practice and self-assessment can help you create a personal style over time, a more efficient and straightforward way is to create a voice moodboard.

Sometimes called “inspiration boards”, moodboards are visual collages that help creatives focus on certain visual cues or styles for a given project. Graphic designers, photographers, and interior designers are examples of artists who regularly use moodboards. See below for an example:

a visual moodboard

a visual moodboard

A voice moodboard acts just like a visual moodboard in that it is a collection of quotes and clips of text that you would like to emulate in some way, gathered together to create a unifying general tone for your project.

For example, if you’re interested in writing a travel blog post with a touch of humor, you may want to look up your favorite travel blog posts or other pieces of writing in the travel genre and copy and paste the best lines into a new document. This document will become your personal voice moodboard for this piece, so organize it in a way that makes sense to you visually and take your time to add notes and analysis for future reference. For additional usefulness, underline or highlight the most noteworthy sections of each piece. Tools like OneNote (free) or Scapple (free trial) can be very useful here.

Once you've completed the first draft of your moodboard, push yourself to add to it from a variety of sources. Having a diverse set of content will prevent you from copying a single author's writing style too closely. This will also introduce you to nuances and stylings you may otherwise have missed. Here's an example:

a Voice moodboard.

a Voice moodboard.

When you’re happy with your voice moodboard collection, feel free to print it out. You're ready to begin your developmental exercise.

To begin, create a short draft of text (perhaps something from your work-in-progress folder) and analyze how you could fit certain phrases or nuances from your voice moodboard into your writing, identifying what works and what doesn't as you go along. Be sure to add these notes onto your collection to keep track of your findings.

Another approach is to find a passage from a favourite writer. Read a few sentences and then attempt to rewrite them from memory. Compare the two versions and see if you can spot where the writer you are drawing from made different choices. How do those choices affect the overall voice and style of the writing?

Now try modifying a selection of quotes from your moodboard to work with your own writing. For example, if you're writing a humorous piece, try copying a punchline and editing it to fit with your text. Can you pick up how the original writer was able to smoothly introduce that particular line into their text, or why they chose a certain word over another? Take some time to determine why a certain phrase works so well, and what could be taken from it to remove its charm - or, indeed, to add to it.

Continue performing your exercises for a few minutes every time you write to get into the flow of writing in a particular style. With time and effort you’ll absorb some of the style you appreciate so that it comes more naturally. Keep in mind, this is not copying or mimicry, but rather an exercise meant to expand and improve the range of your own voice.


Team Member Spotlight: Jessica Bonney

Photography credit: Jessica Zais photography (www.jessicazais.com)

Photography credit: Jessica Zais photography (www.jessicazais.com)

Jessica Bonney is a Publishing Specialist at FriesenPress. After completing her undergraduate degree in Creative Writing from UBCO, she worked as a freelance writer, camera crew assistant and stage technician and joined the FriesenPress team at the beginning of 2017. Jessica is an artist in her spare time, dabbling in printmaking, photography, and poetry. She continues to work on writing and academic projects.

Hi Jess! Where do you hail from?

While I was born in Vancouver, I have spent most of my life in the Okanagan Valley. I would probably say that I hail from Kelowna.

What's the best part of your day here at FriesenPress?

I love talking to authors about their projects and helping them get through the tough stuff, so that we can celebrate the success of having completed their book. For many of the authors I work with this is their first book and my favourite part is watching how authors grow through the publishing experience. It takes incredible guts to put yourself out into the world creatively. I have a ton of admiration for the authors that I work with.

You’re one of the brave souls participating in NaNoWriMo this month - we applaud your ambition! What inspired you to take on the NaNo challenge?

Honestly, I have wanted to try it for years. I have always been a poet in my soul; poetry is a natural medium for me. Novels are a different kind of challenge. While a good poem might have plot or employ dialog it doesn't hinge on it the same way. Poems are more akin to painting.

There is something raw about novels, like long distance running. You do the distance, get the word count and then you do it again, better, and then you let someone look at it and give you pointers help you polish your style and you do it again, until it is done. I often say to authors a book is never done, you simply stop working on it, but the discipline of getting down on paper and not wanting to delete the whole thing and start again is the hard part for me.

While NaNo’s only just started, how’s it going so far? Have you learned anything surprising?

Yipes! I set my goal low because it is my first year doing the challenge, so rather than shooting for 50,000 words, my goal is to hit 20,000 and that makes my daily goal 770 words. My first shock was how doable this word count is. I think we build up in our minds the idea of writing a novel and imagine it like James Joyce's Ulysses. My next surprise was how much I struggle with just letting it be bad. I mean letting it be bad without running back to the first sentence with my hair on fire and deleting everything and writing it again.

Then there is the mechanical aspect of it. Dialog: What do people talk about? Does this sound like a thing a person would say? Does this sound like something my character would say? Plot: How do I get this character from point a to point b? What is their goal and how do I change it? And of course, finally and most importantly how do I make my character likeable and then make them suffer? How do I make my character hateable, but charming?

Having done writing in school, we talked about all of these things. I can talk with the best of them, but execution is different. I always played it safe doing poetry because it came naturally to me. I think that most people like to play it safe, but there is something incredible about taking risks and the things you learn from it.

Are there any writing tools you would suggest for authors?

Dabble is a brand new novel writing app that is incredible. I am currently using the free trial for NaNoWriMo and it is awesome. Also, Trello is a great project management tool to keep any creative project on track.

What is your favourite book that you read this year?

Probably, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, or Dark Matter by Blake Crouch.

What are some memorable books you’ve helped our authors publish?

This isn't a fair question. It is impossible to pick. Rhea Madan's Blissful Blues is a beautiful book of poetry about coming of age, love and loss. Graham Duncan's Storm Rolling into Darkness, is another favourite of mine; a contemporary women's fiction about that touches on addiction, and explores the academics inner struggle. Both of these authors have been such a pleasure to work with!

If you could give authors any advice - writing, publishing, NaNo, or otherwise - what would it be?

Be brave and be gentle with yourself.

That's a perfect note to end on. Thanks, Jess!


7 Tips for Surviving NaNoWriMo

Surviving NaNoWriMo

You've decided that you're finally ready to write The Novel - the one you've been thinking about for years. Hooray! And what better time to start than during the Internet’s biggest writing fest, NaNoWriMo.

What’s NaNoWriMo, you say? Though it sounds like a new social media app, it’s National Novel Writing Month! Each November, thousands of soon-to-be novelists band together with one common goal - write 50,000 words in 30 days. The challenge is intense, but the rewards are worth it - not only will you reach the finish line with a rough draft of your very own novel, but you'll also win all sorts of cool prizes for completing the challenge.

Here are some tips to help you survive the highs and lows of NaNoWriMo:

Prepare

While you're not supposed to start writing the actual novel until November 1, there's plenty you can do to prepare. You might want to start by carving out a workspace, as well as a few hours of each day, and drawing up a schedule. Start following the schedule at least a few days before NaNo and make sure that your family and friends know that your free time will be occupied during November. Then, start doing the preparation for the actual writing - sketch out a plot, characters, and live in their world for a little bit. If you need to do research, this is the time to do so.

Break it Up

50,000 words in a month is a lot! But 1,667 in a day isn't so bad. You can also think in terms of page count if it makes it easier. The average double-spaced page is about 300 words, so you need to write between 5 and 6 pages a day. Not so bad, right?

Skip to the End

If you don't know what happens in chapter 10, but you know what happens after, then just write a rough outline of chapter ten and skip to the next chapter. You can always fill in the details later.

Turn OFF Your Inner Editor

This is your new mantra: If It's on the page, it's good enough. Don't correct typos, don't rewrite passages, don't even fix commas. In short, don't look back at all. There will be plenty of time for editing later.

But Don't Get Too Attached To Anything Either

You should expect basically everything to change in editing and revision. And that's fine! Writing a novel is just as much about the journey as it is the destination. As children’s author Shannon Hale says, “I'm writing a first draft and reminding myself that I'm simply shovelling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”

Ask For Help When You Need It

Writing a novel is hard. Writing one in a month can feel impossible. No one expects this to be easy. If you're stuck, call a friend, go to a related event, or spend some time on the forums. You're not alone; don't let yourself feel like you are.

Write Without Writing

Sometimes you need to get up and walk around to get the words flowing again. If you can, go for a stroll and talk into a voice recorder. If you don’t have a voice recorder, just talk out loud, as if you had a secretary to write it all down for you. Don’t be surprised if your walk is cut short so you can hurry back to your writing desk.

Don't Give Up!

This may be the most important part of advice in this article: Don't give up. There will be times when it feels like the NaNoWriMo challenge is impossible. It might help you to look up some of the very successful novels that were written during this challenge, or even to take a deep breath, and remind yourself again and again: You can do this!

Happy writing!


Writing Prompt: Exploring the Unknown

Explore the Unknown

One of the best ways to get writing is to explore questions you don’t know the answer to. These don’t have to be deep philosophical questions. In fact, it’s better if they’re questions that could have many answers. Imagine a scene and then ask yourself who, what, where, why, and/or when. For example:

  1. Who is that standing at the bus stop?
  2. What is he hiding under his coat?
  3. Why does he look so nervous?

Or something like:

  1. Why is Alan driving his truck so fast?
  2. Where is he going with all those sandbags?
  3. Who is he thinking about?
  4. Why is his hand bleeding?

Don’t be afraid to get a little crazy. Challenge yourself. Throw in a can opener, a secret tunnel, a surprise something pressed between the pages of an old book.

Happy writing!


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