Loscon panel about finding the writer's voice.

Lessons from moderating panels

Loscon 48 writing panel with (L-R) Elizabeth Crowens, Steven Barnes, myself, Robert Mitchell Evans, Wendy Van Camp, and Charles Lee Jackson II

Moderating a panel discussion requires preparation, good listening skills, and engagement with the panelists and the audience. You must give all the panelists a chance to participate, let them speak freely, but also make sure discussions don’t drag on so long they lose audience interest. When the allotted time is over (which comes way too soon), everyone learns something new. That includes me as the moderator.

I recently moderated two writing panels at Loscon, a science fiction/fantasy convention in Los Angeles. I got the opportunity thanks to Wendy Van Camp, who I worked with at Indie Author Day in Anaheim. (This is the danger of doing a good job. You get asked to do more stuff.) Both panels featured accomplished writers with great insights they gained from their experience. My first, “Goal Setting for Writers,” was with Denise Dumars, David Avallone, Anne Toole, and Wendy Van Camp. Wendy was also on my second panel, “Finding Your Own Voice,” along with Charles Lee Jackson II, Steven Barnes, Robert Mitchell Evans, and Elizabeth Crowens.

We covered so many useful topics on these panels, it’s hard to describe them all. I picked a few key ones from each panel I feel are especially helpful.

Achieving goals through accountability

As I was preparing for the “Goal Setting for Writers” panel, I came across this TikTok video by Margarita Artista about her writing goals.

@margarita.artista

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? original sound – Margarita Artista ???

This video beautifully shows the goal-setting process and how it inspires. Listen to her enthusiasm grow as she spells out her goals! What will help her achieve those goals is her plan to use social media to keep herself accountable.

Our panel also emphasized the importance of accountability. This is especially important when working in a team. A writer of graphic novels said, “If I don’t write, people don’t get paid.” If we know someone depends on us to meet our goals, we are more likely to fulfill them.

We need to be careful about who we include on our team. One panelist had a partner flake out on them. That’s when we can develop contingency plans if we hit any roadblocks.

Goal setting is important for everyone. If we can find partners to hold us accountable, we are more likely to achieve those goals.

Write what you want, but know what is marketable

I started the “Finding Your Own Voice” with some definitions of the writer’s voice. Literary agent Rachelle Gardner describes it as “the expression of YOU on the page.” Author Patricia Lee Gauch said, “A writer’s voice is not character alone, it is not style alone; it is far more. A writer’s voice, like the stroke of an artist’s brush—is the thumbprint of her whole person—her idea, wit, humor, passions, rhythms.” So, the writer’s voice is about themes, settings, tropes, turns of phrase, personal touches—everything that makes writing your own.

The panelists agreed with this definition. Each of them described how they developed their own voice and the writers who helped inspired them. (We also distinguished between inspiring and imitating.) We also talked about personal touches that writers bring to their work. For example, Wendy is a gemologist, which plays a role in her stories. Our consensus is you need to write what you want and what reflects your view of the world.

But a challenge in finding your voice is the need to be marketable. How do we balance the need to write what we want with what will sell? Steven Barnes described it with this Venn diagram.

The intersection of what you want to write and what sells is where you can find marketable stories, according to Steven Barnes.

For example, if we write for a genre, we have to meet the expectations of the readers of those books. But we can infuse those expectations with our style, themes, and personal touches. We can also bend and subvert those expectations to fit our style and worldview. That’s how we find the intersection between the stories we want to tell and the ones people will want to read.

No one can tell a story the way we can. By finding our writer’s voice, we can build a readership through our personality and unique storytelling style.

More than science fiction/fantasy

With the cosplayers, roving R2-D2, and science fiction luminaries, Loscon lived up to its reputation as Los Angeles’ premiere science fiction/fantasy convention. What I experienced were passionate storytellers of different media seeking to connect with their audience. Science fiction/fantasy offers new ways of looking at the world by extending what is possible. From these fantastic worlds, we can better understand ourselves and see how we can build a better society. I am grateful and honored to play a small part in Loscon, and I hope they will invite me back next year.

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