Liars Club


by Simmons on May 17, 2010

in Advice for Writers,The Writing Life

This week’s Liars’ topic is “the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given.”

This is a tough one for me, as I believe I am the least formally educated of the Liars (“Kids, stay in school!  Do as I say not as I do!”) and have therefore been given the least amount of advice from actual people who purport to know what they are doing.

However, two smart people (one of them, fellow Liar and brilliant Swarthmore writing professor Gregory Frost) recommended a book to me that resonated more than any other. Writing Down The Bones, by Natalie Goldberg.

There is a passage in her book that inspires me over and over:

“Come to it not with your mind and ideas, but your whole body – your heart, your gut and arms.  Begin to write in the dumb awkward way an animal cries out in pain, and there you will find your intelligence, your words, your voice.”

We talk often in the world of fiction of the importance of voice.   For first-time authors especially, looking to stand out, they need to discover what I’ve come to think of as their animal voice.

Go ahead — make jokes about finding your totem and howling at the moon. Go ahead and tell me my animal voice is probably a cougar.  Ask me what kind of tree I would be while you’re at it.

Raw.  Pure. Original.  Unaffected by everything you think or know, your animal voice is simply what you, and only you are capable of communicating.

Maybe this is what “Go get ‘em,Tiger,” means after all.

Kelly Simmons is the author of Standing Still (Simon & Schuster) and coming in February, The Bird House (Oh, all right, make another animal joke now.) Learn more at

Kelly’s post is part of an ongoing series in which Liars each chime in on a burning question about publishing.


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