Jason Gurley

By day, I'm a user experience designer; by evenings/weekends, I write novels from my home in Scappoose, Ore. My newest is Awake in the World, published February 2019 by Roaring Brook Press; my previous novel, Eleanor, was published by Crown in 2016 and has since been translated into German, Portuguese, and Turkish. I’m currently working on a new project.

Hearing voices

I've spent a lot of time reading Austin Kleon's books and blog posts these last few weeks, and I really appreciate that this guy is out in the world, demystifying so much of what we've traditionally revered as "the creative process." So much of his writings boil down to: Borrow from the things that inspire you. Share what you do so it inspires someone else. Do the work, and then keep doing it. 

Now and then, an idea keeps presenting itself in different formats. During a conversation with a fellow writer recently, we talked about ghostwriting. The idea of ghostwriting is oddly romantic to me: Being compensated for doing the hard work of putting a story into the world, while not having to endure the book tours or promotion, not having to take reviews personally, et cetera. So many ghostwriters also write their own things, which is true of my friend, too. And I wondered: How do you stay true to your own voice when you spend most of your time emulating someone else's? I always think about Gary Oldman's confession, a few years back, that years of living in America, paired with his frequent accent work in movies, caused him to forget his own voice.

In Kleon's (terrific) book Steal Like an Artist, he writes:

Don’t worry about a grand scheme or unified vision for your work. Don’t worry about unity—what unifies your work is the fact that you made it. One day you’ll look back and it will all make sense.

Similarly, he quotes Steve Jobs:

You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.

I've never ghostwritten anything, but I wonder about voice in my own work. After all, Eleanor is wildly different from my upcoming young adult book, Awake in the World, and both are quite different from my earlier self-published novels. How could any reader be expected to follow me down all of these wildly divergent roads, much less find a similar voice in such different works? But I receive emails here and there from readers who clearly have been able to do just that, which has me convinced that "voice" isn't a thing I should worry myself over at all. Readers are far more attuned to what my books have in common than I am; while I fear I'm bouncing all over the place, perhaps a reader who appreciates my view of the world simply enjoys tracking that view through all of these different subjects. 

Put your whole self into it, and you will find your true voice. Hold back and you wonʼt. Itʼs that simple.
— Hugh MacLeod, "How to Be Creative"

"Voice" is something a writer tries so hard from their earliest days to locate, then sustain. It's become similar to the idea of staying "on message" or "on brand." But perhaps we'd all be better off if we let "voice" take care of itself, and simply write the things we care about, while trusting that, whatever "voice" really is, it will come through on its own, through no carefully planning of our own. 

I don’t know what my personal style is until someone tells me what it is.
— Bill Hader

The tools don't matter

Balance and permission