Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Pioneer Woman and Writing from Your Worldview

by Stephanie Morrill

I don't want to make anybody die of jealousy or anything, but some things are just way too good to keep to yourself. Like this:



Oh yeah. That's my daughter and I on the left, my friend Kelli on the right ... and Ree Drummond in the middle. Also known as The Pioneer Woman.

While Kelli and I are both rather fond of our husbands and children, you're looking at one of the most exciting moments of our lives. We're obsessed with the Pioneer Woman blog, we cook her food, we quote her to each other, and if either of us had cable, we would watch her every Saturday morning on the Food Network. (Even without cable we know when her show is on - that's something!)

Ree began with a talk about who she is and why she started her blog and how it's grown in the last few years. As she talked, and as Kelli and I chatted with her while she signed our books, I was comforted and encouraged to find that she was exactly who I hoped she would be. She was warm and sincere and gave away a KitchenAid mixer.

What is it about her that keeps me coming back to her website more than others? Why do I not only subscribe to multiple blogs of hers, but I actually open and read everything she sends me. And how come when I sat in the audience, I felt like I knew this woman who I had never actually met?

It's not all the giveaways, since I never win a thing anywhere. I think it's good writing. Through her blog, Ree entertains and teaches me on a weekly basis. And when I met her on Saturday it felt like I already knew her because she writes like she talks.

I think too many people put pressure on themselves to write fancy or serious or poetic. I know I did when I first started writing. I wanted to write serious, deep books like Barbara Kingsolver or Toni Morrison. But that's just not who I am. My writing improved a ton when I stopped trying to force out stories of deep prose and started writing like I talk and feel and think.

At the conference I went to in the fall, one of our instructors had us break into groups, read a portion of our book, and have the group provide feedback on what we'd written to help us identify our author voice. Afterward I was chatting with Roseanna and she asked what my group had said. My response was, "I'm sarcastic, apparently. Who knew?" Roseanna laughed and said, "So you say sarcastically..." I'm sarcastic in real life and it comes through in my writing.

Something else that struck me about Ree as she was sharing her story is that she didn't wait for perfection, she just dove in. Ree has a lot of photography on her blog. When she first started Pioneer Woman, she only had a point and shoot camera. Her interest in photography developed as the blog grew, as did her skills. But she didn't let that slow her down.

Because we will always be growing as writers, it can be tempting - especially for those who suffer from perfectionism - to revise and revise ideas, to write lots of first chapters, and to tweak each sentence like crazy. Being able to criticize our creations is an important skill to hone, but eventually we have to learn to do our best and let a story go.

At the same conference I just mentioned, Jill (Williamson) and I sat in a class taught by Davis Bunn. He would share storywriting wisdom with us, then say, "On your next project, try doing such-and-such." When the class was over, Jill said something to me about appreciating that reminder to let old projects go because her mind was naturally going to, "I did that wrong and I should have done this on that already-published book...."

Don't feel like you have to have everything figured out before you push yourself to finish a manuscript or join a critique group or enter a contest. At some point you have to decide you did your best and that it's time to let it go.

What about you? In what ways are your stories a reflection of you and your view of the world?

22 comments:

  1. Stephanie as sarcastic--nope, never would have seen it, LOL.

    My classical nerdiness always comes through loud and clear in both writing and speaking voice. I like to say I live by one of Pascal's quotes: "Think with deep motives, but talk like an ordinary person." Yet the fact that I go around quoting Pascal probably negates some of that, eh? LOL.

    Yes, I'm a bit archaic in all I do, and my 4-year-old asks questions like "What shall we do today, Mommy?" and replies with "That would be delightful!"

    But you can bet a bit of sarcastic wit is always going to make its way into everything as well. Or at least *I* call it wit. Critics may differ, LOL.

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    1. I love that Pascal quote. And in the books of yours I've read so far, I remember your heroines being witty and your heroes sarcastic...

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  2. Let things go??? Gah! So hard. I HATE reading my published books because I find so many mistakes and things I want to change. And I think, "How on earth did anyone choose to publish this thing?" But I suppose that goes back to Dandi's post about insecurity. It's tough to put your baby down and decide that he's all grown up. *sigh*
    :-)

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    1. I'm the same way. I've never read my books in book form because I'm sure I'll find typos or something and torture myself over it. But I hear lots of writers say they love reading their published books. *Shrugs*

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    2. Now why have I never thought about authors reading or not reading their published books? Such an interesting subject... :)

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  3. ...Yeah, I have problems with making myself STOP changing! Whenever I go and read the "book" I finished last year, I have to pinch myself to make sure I don't go get on the computer and change it! I wonder, "How did I ever miss THAT?" and "Why did I even put this in here?!"

    Now, I've just stopped reading old works that I've deemed "done". That helps! :D

    Well, everyone tells me they can tell I wrote such-and-such, because it sounds like a story I'd tell. So I guess that means I write like I talk ;)

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    1. Amanda, the silver lining of that is it means you're growing as a writer. But I do the same thing when I look at old projects - why did I think THAT would work?

      And I agree, that's a very good sign that you write like you talk!

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  4. GREAT post!
    I have always had serious problems with tweaking up my stories after every two sentences. It use to be so bad because I would never get anything written. Now, I just go back and tweak it up after writing my needed daily words. I hope to break the habit completely soon but am satisfied where I am right now just because it has been such a huge leap.
    As for my writing voice, I have let few people read my work and don't trust what they have to say because those are family and friends who know how upset I'll be if they don't like my work. So yeah, I can't really say what "my readers" find consistent in my voice. Dare I imagine?
    =)

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    1. Oh, I like that idea of training yourself, Leorah. Wonderful!

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  5. From Amo Libros:
    Oh thank you! This has been such a help! I'm working on a story right now, and I keep wanting to get everything figured out - perfect story arc, all elements, 3d characters, everything! - before I actually try to write any more of it! Thanks for reminding me just to let it go and keep writing!
    I have no idea what my writing voice sounds like, but I suspect it sounds like me. I know one of my friends writing voice sounds like her, and a story I critiqued in a writing group sounded awful until I met the author. What changed? I had been trying to read it with MY voice. When I read it thinking of her, the story sounded fine, great even. You never know how voice will affect something.
    And can I just say your daughter is SO CUTE, Mrs. Morrill?

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    1. Thank you! Isn't she?

      And what you said about voice is so interesting. I think that's the hardest thing to figure out about critiquing someone else's stuff - how to keep it theirs and not turn it into yours. I usually try to make it mine for the first few pages before I remember it's not :)

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  6. I just saw her on the Today Show :). Ok, I love you shirt and Kelli"s hair, she has a lot of hair and really curly how doe she take it to look so good? I know that has nothing to do with writing,

    I deal with things like this, I want to doe very thing correctly right now and it does slow me down, the thought of "learn more next MS" is hard its like " NO!i want the perfectly publishable book RIGHT NOW" and that can slow me down, I also want to be snarkier, funnier, and wittier than I am actually am and it comes out so lame that I feel bad about my writing, its hard to balance, in RL no one says I am those things I get "sweet and gentle" and that probably why I love the warmth of Sanda Byrd and Robin Jones Gunn yet try to emulate Kristin Billerbeck, why?

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    1. I agree, Kelli has excellent hair. Whenever I'm out with her, someone always comments on it. On that day, it was the Pioneer Woman who told Kelli her hair is "fabulous." :)

      And that's an interesting insight, Tonya. Have you tried writing in your sweet and gentle voice yet?

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    2. I've been thinking about it sine I read this, I'm not sure i totally know how to write a sweet tone. Sounds funny, huh.? Actually, every critique I've got on my first MS has said they like the voice and she's not particularly sweet. I also get critiqued as "cute".
      I may write sweet in my own way probably like my own life. I a, sweet but everyonce in a while ill say something snarky only no one cares Bc they know it doesn't have mean motives! My brother complains about that, he says I get away with saying things he never will be able too, lol!

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  7. Oh wow, my mom loves Ree. Alot.
    Onto topic.
    If my story is modern or historical my christian beliefs and worldview are pretty obvious, since the MC usually shares them.
    But in my fantasy stories I dont come right out and call it christian, but alot of the values are still the same, just usually not as blatent.

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    1. Ree is amazing :) I want to be her when I grow up. Minus the cattle ranch.

      And yes, our values definitely bleed into our books - good one!

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    2. Oh wow, when do you plan on growing up? ;) But cattle ranches are awesome!!! That's where most of my inspiration comes from :)

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  8. I just keep editing, editing, editing...I KNOW I need to enter a contest (or start querying) but it's such a scary step. And every time I rewrite, my story does get better. But when is enough enough? I'm definitely going to be the person who looks through already-published books and says, "Ack! I shouldn't have done that!" ;)

    I really love reading GTW!! You guys feel like REAL people, who write awesome books but still have some of the same insecurities as we newbies. That is super encouraging.

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  9. I just remembered another way I come through in my stories. I'm incredibly sarcastic, and have a very dry sense of humor. Somehow that rubs off on alot of my characters.

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  10. Reading some parts of my stories, I find that my voice does show in places which is good :)
    I also find that my main characters tend to reflect some things I do and think. It's quite interesting, actually!

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  11. I'm very sarcastic, so all of my characters are somehow sarcastic. I think that's about it. I'm rather brain-dead, due to studying and NaNoWriMo. It's been going weirdly well so far, though.

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  12. Mmmm, this was immensely encouraging to me today. :) Must be the Genesis' imminent approach. :)

    I think writing like I talk has been a two-way process for me. I learned to read and write historical fiction by reading and writing historical fiction and doing that has given me a humongous vocabulary, which gets me into trouble sometimes if I've never actually *heard* the word. :) My parents and I still laugh about my pronouncing adjacent ADjacent.

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