Living in the Active Voice

cropped-ramonagravitar.jpgLast night, after several months of absences, I attended the Open Mic offered by my town’s arts alliance. I did not read. I don’t always have short pieces to share, but that’s okay, because listeners are as welcomed as participants. Readers shared poetry and spoken word, short prose pieces, some novel excerpts, a music duo, and a haiku plus bongos performance. You never know what will happen at an Open Mic, and that’s the fun of it.

In my day job as an editor/instructor, I advise writers all the time to use the active voice. This is not a rule. The passive voice is often appropriate, but for the crime writers I work with, active works better than passive. This applies to character as well as writing style. An active protagonist drives a plot. A character who is pro-active is more engaging that one who is reactive.

Active characters make things happen. The active voice is more direct and lively. These are standards about writing and not really news.

So why am I writing about what’s not news?

Because of the Open Mic. And the vow I made last week to submit one piece of work every day, for 40 days. (This is Day 8. I’m 7 for 7, and have until midnight to be 8 for 8.)

Since my announcement last week about my submissions vow, three other writers have contacted me to say they have been submitting regularly, too. One received an immediate acceptance! This reinforces my vow to keep up the daily work of putting my writing out there for review.

And it is work. My goal was to get myself in gear again, but I also wanted to resurrect some pretty good pieces of writing that have been languishing in the virtual drawer. Some were never quite finished to my liking. Some were rejected a couple of times and needed review. Making a public vow to submit meant making the private promise to polish. After the polish, there’s the hunt for the proper market, and once that is defined, the cover letter and bio. I seem to write a new bio every day. It is, to be honest, a drag. But, it’s part of the gig. No one ever said the gig was 100% fun, or easy.

There’s also the rejection factor. 40 days of submissions means the possibility of 40 rejections. Just because I’ve been published and received fellowships and awards, does this mean I am no longer bummed by a rejection? No. Every rejection is a blow, but the counteraction to the blow is to hit back with another submission. The other option, to put the work back into the drawer, to be passive, means there is NO chance at all to be accepted.

Action.  Reaction. Counteraction. Submitting is a lot like living in a thriller novel. If you stop moving, the bad guys will surely get you. If you keep moving, your chances of survival grow stronger.

Even if every single submission of my 40 days is rejected, well, there are 325 other days this year, too.

It’s easy to become lazy or complacent. It’s easy to put aside a story when it becomes frustrating. Passive is easier than active. But passive also means missing out. It was raining last night, and I was tempted to skip the Open Mic, but I didn’t. I was tired yesterday and I was tempted not to submit, but I did. Today, I could have blown off writing this blog post, but I was charged up by the Open Mic and the news that a friend had taken my challenge and had a piece of writing accepted for publication.

That is life in the active voice. Getting your work out there. Making things happen.

But, as I noted above, there are times when the passive voice is appropriate, both in writing and in life. From time to time, it’s good to kick back and listen to the words and music from other artists who are brave enough to stand up before a crowd and share what’s in their hearts. It’s helpful to absorb the energy, to participate without being the one on stage. Every artist needs an audience, after all.


12 thoughts on “Living in the Active Voice

  1. “It’s easy to put aside a story when it becomes frustrating. Passive is easier than active.” I’m reading a book right now about how to overcome resistance on the way to happiness. Resistance seems a lot like passivity. Thanks for this encouragement.


  2. I admire you for doing this, and certainly support the active voice. Also for having forty pieces and forty places to submit to – wow! I’m just working on getting active enough, both physically and authorially, to have a book to submit by its due date. And a few hundred words at a time, a few fewer limps at a time, I’m getting there. But you also inspire. I’ve missed a couple of anthology deadlines recently because I didn’t buckle down and discover a new short story to write. (And then write it, obviously…) Maybe I won’t miss the next one.


    1. Edith, it’s not 40 pieces. It’s one piece submitted a day. I have submitted one piece twice already, and there will be more multiple submissions. I have about 8 pieces to play with now, plus a few more I can get into shape. Plus, a novel that needs an agent.


  3. I keep a list of anthology deadlines I refer to every week to see if there’s anything out there I have or could write something for, It’s starting to pay off – I’m in three anthologies coming out in April. The downside is I’m getting nothing done on my latest book.


  4. Thanks for this idea, Ramona. 40 days and its spiritual connection seems so right for sending your creations out into the world. When the time comes I will remember.


  5. Excellent idea – this really spoke to me. I’ve found that having an ‘accountability partner’ with whom to share the stories of these submissions (and rejections) really helps me too.


  6. Hi Ramona, Your struggles – setting high goals and meeting them so far – have encouraged me. I just got a rejection for a short story I knew had gone a bit wayward. The anthology committee recently updated the deadline pushing it into April (not enough acceptable submissions is my guess) giving me a chance to redeem myself. I am going to rewrite, mainly re-see the plot and try again. Stay tuned. MaryAlice


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s