What do weddings, crocodile suits, and writing have to do with one another? Uh, maybe nothing, but bear with me as I try and explain.
Last weekend I went to Houston for my sister Alex’s wedding. I admit that going in I was quite nervous about being Maid of Honor. Would I look good? Would I walk right? More importantly, would I still be able to function after 10 hours of cropping and sorting photos for the slideshow? I had my doubts.
But the big day came and went without a hitch. In fact, it wasn’t just okay — it was perfect. My parents were on-time, I didn’t fall while walking down the aisle (although I did stumble), and oh yeah, MY SISTER GOT MARRIED.
(On a boat. Hee!)
For me the biggest hurdle (besides the thing I tripped over) was my Maid of Honor toast. I’d been stressing about it for weeks, and every time I tried to write it, I started to cry. Part of it was that I didn’t know how to describe everything I felt about Alex and her getting married, and part of it was the pressure. For some reason, when you tell people you’re a writer, they expect you to be able to write things well. Things like speeches. Weird.
I finally got my emotions under control and wrote a crappy first draft about 5 days before the wedding. My boyfriend told me to sleep on it, and I did. But when I woke up the next day, it was still crappy, plus now it was wrinkled.
My mom’s advice was to make it funny. Unfortunately, I’m not a very funny person naturally. (See previous paragraph.) Still, I tried adding some jokes, including one about the groom speaking Klingon. After listening to me read my revised speech aloud, Andy politely vetoed the jokes. Thank God.
With about 12 hours left before the wedding, I sat down and said, This is it. I have to do it. I have to write it down, and I have to write it in the simplest, truest way possible.
And you know what? It worked. My toast was heartfelt, captured everything I wanted to say to/about Alex and her husband Paul, and even made people laugh. (And not just because I accidentally congratulated Paul as my new sister instead of brother — whoops! I hadn’t even had the champagne yet!)
So what’s the point of all this? (Besides the fact that HOLY COW MY SISTER GOT MARRIED.) It’s that sometimes when a speech, or a scene, or a story isn’t working, it’s a sign that we’re not writing in our own voice. Yes, the elusive “voice” that everyone in the publishing industry talks about. That voice. That’s what I was lacking, and that’s what I feel like I finally understand, thanks to this speech.
The Maid of Honor toast is nothing new, but my MOH toast was completely original, because I finally wrote it in the way that came most naturally to me. If you and 3 friends go out to dinner, and some guy in a crocodile costume comes by and steals your food, you’re each going to tell the cops a different version of the same story. (The cops will probably laugh at all 4 of you, because come on? Guy in a crocodile suit? Seriously?) But what I’m saying is, everyone has a unique perspective and way of expressing it. So your historical family saga or dystopian sci-fi thriller might not be the first of its kind, but if you write it in your voice, it will be fresh. If it means something to you, it will mean something to readers too.
And that’s the key to good writing: making people care.
So next time you sit down to write, think about that guy in the crocodile suit, and just tell the cops what happened, in your own unique way.
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