Finding Your Own Voice
I wrote a previous blog post (a bit tongue in cheek) a while back about my writing gurus. Since then, I read one of Derek Murphy’s books, the YA paranormal romance Shearwater. I left a pretty harsh review that may have inspired the author to record this video.
I have since taken down the review after watching this because I felt rather bad about it. I don’t like to throw negativity out in the world. If readers enjoy Mr. Murphy’s work that’s fine.
In my review I criticized the book for being (although competently written) far, far too derivative of Twilight, as if the author broke down scene for scene the identical structure of Stephanie Myer’s novel, and just swapped mermaids for vampires and changed the setting to Ireland. I paid 99 cents on Kindle for it, but like some kind of hostage negotiation you need to buy the next “part” or sign up for his mailing list to read the rest, a marketing hook which he is very upfront about on his blogs and videos.
If all this is working for Mr. Murphy, I am happy for him, but after working on this writing thing for several years and being a creative person my entire life, I just believe he is giving the absolute worst advice to aspiring writers as far as content goes.
His marketing strategies (except for the incomplete book one) do have value. This used to be the domain of highly skilled marketing departments in traditional publishing companies. A self-publishing indie author has to do that work himself now, and it can be daunting. I agree with him about writing to market to a point. Writing within an established genre makes sense. Choosing an attractive book cover and blurb that identifies that genre and clues readers in on what to expect is obvious.
I’m a big fan of 70’s/80’s paperback horror fiction. I have stacks of these all over my house. What I love about these horror books is that although the covers may look great next to each other on a book shelf (and they do), there is always a secret toy surprise inside. Always. Each writer has his or her own unique voice within the genre: taking a new bite out of a vampire, a werewolf howling a different tune. Even if many of them border on the ridiculous I often find gems of insight and sensitive observations, as if the writer is smuggling the artistry within his soul during the killer crab attack or creepy kid mass slaughter.
I didn’t sense that unique voice at all from Mr. Murphy’s work. Perhaps he has a “personal story” manuscript hidden in a drawer somewhere—tear and wine-stained, littered with crabbed self-flagellating notes, pages marked with one big X in red marker, a story unfinished, unread, a testament to his broken heart. For his sake I hope so. I know I would much rather read that book.
Being aware of the readers’ market is of course important, and many creative people resist it to their financial peril. I recently joined Wattpad, and I have noticed that what I would consider my better writing tends to get ignored while my first foray into YA fiction is getting plenty of love. The site has a lot of teenagers on it, so go figure.
The creative path is not an easy one, but it requires a commitment just like anything else you hope to accomplish. Mr. Murphy tends to exaggerate the starving artist living in the garret cliche in his evisceration of the War of Art, a book that has inspired many creatives. He seems to have missed the point entirely.
If you google Derek Murphy you’ll see that he is all over the place, whether it’s writing YA novels to formula, making videos, designing book covers, offering editing and marketing services, or trying to get writers to join him for his nanowrimo retreat (there is ONE space left if you act now!) at a European castle—sounds amazing, but I think I’d be too distracted by the castle to get any writing done. In other words, he’s throwing a lot of stuff against the wall to see what sticks.
As a creative, what you really need to stick is a good story. That comes from your own unique voice, and don’t let anyone tell you that it doesn’t. Write within a genre, sure. Most of us do that, but if you’re just regurgitating other writers’ work, copying plot points beat for beat, I doubt if you will produce anything worth reading. Isn’t there enough dross out there?
For advice to the aspiring writer, I prefer Anne Rice’s.
FYI, you can buy my genre adhering novels on Amazon kindle for 99 cents. I assure you the endings are included with the purchase price.