In one word: voice.
A lot of people don’t know what voice is, just that editors are looking for it, so let me and Gaga tell you all about it.
Step one: what kind of story do YOU want to tell?
I’m a Lady Gaga Fan because she is so darn odd. Not just smearing herself in blood and pretending to hang herself at the VMA concert, but just basic things like dressing up like Queen Elizabeth I when meeting Queen Elizabeth II or saying, “I know. When I go on Oprah, I want my hair to look like sea urchins while I urge people to donate money to Haiti!”
She’s just not like anyone else.
I like that.
That’s what voice is. That unique you-ness.
I’m not saying you should try too hard, but if a certain phrase or idea catches your fancy, run with it. Or, as Anna Quindlen put it:
“…each writer brings to the table, if she will let herself, something that no one else in the history of time has ever had. And that is herself, her own personality, her own voice. If she is doing Faulkner imitations, she can stay home. If she is giving readers what she thinks they want instead of what she is, she should stop typing.
But if her books reflect her character, who she really is, then she is giving them a new and wonderful gift. Giving it to herself, too.
And that is true of music and art and teaching and medicine.”
Voice is tricky because it’s so natural to you, you can’t see it. Plot, character, setting are all concrete, but voice is just you stringing words together in your own unique way. At its most basic level, you can differentiate a character who says “What’s up?” from “Good evening, gentlemen,” but it’s something that pervades your whole work: the characters who appeal to you, the way you decide to begin, unfold, and wrap up the story.
Step 2: Slog it out.
Okay, great. You’re unique. Now what?
The good news is, some editors will like it. And some will think you should be locked up. So you have to keep submitting until someone gets you.
Akon says, “At this point, she deserves every bit [of fame]…. “If anybody went through grassroots, it was Gaga.”
He says, “We were holding on to Just Dance for a year before it became a hit. It was a huge club record but radio would not pick it up and I couldn’t understand. I was like, ‘This is the biggest club record on the street.’ I knew we just had to keep pushing it and in the end it was the fans picking up on it that put it where it went, not the radio execs.”
Hear that? Persistence. And while you’re submitting, you’re writing and improving your craft, so when you really hit, you hit.
Step 3: Even if you make it big, someone will hate you. Get over it.
Lady Gaga haters even have a Facebook group.
I love this parody, too.
Writers get flack too. As Geoffrey Cotterell wrote in the New York Journal,
‘In America only the successful writer is important, in France all writers are important, in England no writer is important, and in Australia you have to explain what a writer is.’
So, to sum up: find your voice. Use it with pride. Shake off the haters. Peace.