Monday Motivation: How to inject your voice into your writing

 In Monday Motivation, Richard Beynon's blog, Tips for Writers

I continue to mine George Saunders’s A Swim in the Pond in the Rain for practical writing wisdom, and found myself rereading a section on revision, which I think is well worth retailing. I think this particular section resonated with me because it has a particular bearing on the development of a writer’s voice, a subject that has preoccupied me of late.

Saunders works on his stories, in some cases for years. He will write a draft, and, not satisfied, put it away. Then take it out periodically and tinker with it. And only when he judges that no further tinkering could improve it, does he judge it ready for publication.

This is not prevarication. For Saunders, this is writing.

He explains his own writing method by asking us to imagine that there’s a meter mounted on his forehead with a needle that can point to N (negative) or P (positive). Having scrawled a first draft, he then reads what he’s written, sentence by sentence. As he considers this sentence, the needle might register N. That prompts him to change it. An idea occurs to him. Yes, that would be better. He runs through the entire document in this way, changing words and phrases and entire sentences so that the needle on his forehead moves from N to P.

He prints out the result. And goes through it again. In the course of a writing day, he says – “for as long as I still feel sharp” – he might repeat this process three or four times.

“So,” he writes, “a repetitive, obsessive, iterative application of preference: watch the needle, adjust the prose, watch the needle, adjust the prose (lather, rinse, repeat), through (sometimes) hundreds of drafts, over months or even years. Over time, like a cruise ship slowly turning, the story will start to alter course via those thousands of incremental adjustments.”

Each choice he makes is intuitive. Each choice he makes adds to that indefinable quality in his writing that is his unique voice.

Saunders argues persuasively that “(t)his method overturns the tyranny of the first draft. Who cares if the first draft is good? It doesn’t need to be good, it just needs to be, so you can revise it.”

There are some books on writing that seem to penetrate to the heart of the creative process. A Swim in the Pond in the Rain is one of them.

Happy writing,



For more writing tips read our Hidden Secrets of Writing blogs:

The Hidden Secrets of Writing – featuring Lisa Anne Julien

The Hidden Secrets of Writing – featuring Adam Kethro

The Hidden Secrets of Writing – featuring Tracy Todd

The Hidden Secrets of Writing – featuring Vincent Pienaar

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