VOICE works with writers from all over the world. This means we work in a highly international and culturally diverse setting, bridging geographical, cultural and linguistic differences. How we work depends a lot on the cultural background of individual writers, and varies for each VOICE writer. We support each of our writers individually along the way, and are always there to help them with any questions and problems on an individual basis.
Traditionally, VOICE writers draft their stories in writing, supported by our team. However, while working with our writers, we noticed that writers often find especially this first draft of their story incredibly challenging and also very time-consuming. As most of our writers are incredibly busy, the last thing VOICE wants to do is keep them from their work. Equally, we do not want to put off or constrain those writers who feel less comfortable drafting their story in writing. This is why in November 2016, we started a second track of writing. In this track, rather than producing a written first draft, writers talk to their personal contact in the team in a recorded conversation, which will later be typed out by the team and send to the writer as a first draft. The writer can then use this as a basis to work from.
If a writer prefers to work on a written first draft of their story, the VOICE team is there to support our writers along the way. As mentioned above, how we work depends very much on the individual writer. However, in general, VOICE follows seven basic steps.
When a new writer joins the project, they are allocated a personal contact within the VOICE team. Often, writers come to the project through a VOICE team member, and remain in touch with that particular team member after joining. We take great care to match our writers with a suitable contact within VOICE. Our regional contacts are either from the particular region they are responsible for within VOICE, or have personal experience living and working there. This means they are familiar with the culture, customs, and (usually) the language, and can coordinate with writers more easily. The personal contact allocated to a writer is there to help with any problems or questions, and to coordinate the process of writing for VOICE. Additionally, writers can always contact Annina, the project coordinator, who works closely with the regional coordinators.
Writing down your own story is a very difficult task, and can be scary at times. VOICE stories are about the experiences of individuals, and consequently each VOICE story is different. We encourage our writers to tell their stories in their own way. However, from experience, some writers find it hard to find a way to write down their story, and ask for guidance. Many of our writers find it helpful to discuss what they want to write about in an informal setting with one of our team members. This often helps them to organise their thoughts, and get a general idea on how they want to structure their story and what they want to say.
While it is by no means compulsory to discuss ideas before writing a first draft, our team is there to support writers should they want it. This support can take multiple forms, depending on the writers wishes, from an informal skype or email exchange with the writer´s personal contact or the project coordinator to specific advice on the different possibilities of writing a story by our writing advisor. This support is meant to help writers make choices on what they want to say in their story, and give them the tools to do so- it is never aimed at pushing our writers in any direction! What a story looks like is always the writer´s choice.
Following such a possible exchange with our team, writers are asked to write a first draft of their story. This is simply a first attempt of writing their story, and does not need to be exhaustive. There are no formal rules of writing for VOICE, and each writer should write about whatever they see as important. Our team is there to support them along the way. To help writers with basic questions, writing guidelines are also made available. These cover topics such as a good length for stories, or ideas on how to organise thoughts. However, these guidelines are not compulsory, and are meant to serve only as a basic orientation for writers.
Many of our writers have no experience with writing any kind of stories, especially personal ones. In many countries, writing stories is not part of the school curriculum. And even when it is, writing a personal story such as those for VOICE always poses a challenge. So VOICE aims at supporting writers as best as possible with advice during the writing process. The writer´s personal contact, the project coordinator, and our writing advisor are all happy to answer any questions that come up during the writing and drafting process. This does not mean we tell writers what to say- on the contrary, we try and give them the tools to enable them to express what they want to say.
When a writer has finished their first draft, it is read by the Project Coordinator and personal contacts. The VOICE team will never change a story- VOICE stories are the personal stories of each writer, and as such only the writer will make changes to his or her own story. However, we will provide comments to point out to writers where some further explanation or more detail might be useful, particularly to bridge cultural differences. For example, a village in Bolivia looks fundamentally different to a village in Kenya or a village in Germany. Some description and explanation might thus be needed to point out these differences. Our comments are there to help writers in the process of organising their work and making their story understandable to Western audiences. The draft is then send back to the writer to work on, and decide on whether and what to change in the draft. This process of commenting and reworking may continue through various drafts until a final version is reached.
After a final draft has been reached, stories will be translated into English (where necessary), and German. Our translators take great care to conserve cultural meaning and linguistic structure in their translation, as this is a central part to VOICE stories.
VOICE stories will be published under the name of the author. Writers may choose to publish their work anonymously should political circumstances demand it. In this case, a * will be used to show that under the current circumstances, a writer sees him- or herself as incapable of sharing his or her name. As we hope these circumstances change soon, writers can decide to disclose their name at any time they wish. In this case, the * will be substituted for their name in future publications. The current plan is to publish collected stories in an online publishing format, such as kindle, to make them widely available.
If a writer chooses to work with Track II, he or she will not produce a written first draft. Instead, writers will talk to their personal contact within VOICE about their experiences, telling their story as part of a conversation led by them. This conversation is recorded by their personal contact, and later typed out and sent to the writer to serve as a first draft. The writer can then work on this draft together with the VOICE team, following much the same procedure of commenting as those writers working with Track I. Again, the specificities of this process depend very much on the individual writer. However, like Track I, Track II also generally works in 7 steps. Of these 7 steps, only step 2 and 3 differ from those in Track I:
Writing your story can be a difficult and time-consuming process. To help writers produce a first draft as a basis to work from, VOICE offers a second track of writing, Unlike in Track I, writers will not start out by producing a written first draft and sending it to their VOICE contact. Instead, they will have a conversation with their personal contact within VOICE, usually via Skype or on the phone, and talk about their experience and tell their story to our team member, who will record it. Just as with writing a first draft, VOICE writers are free to talk about any of their experiences. Although our team members may help writers to bridge cultural differences by asking open questions, the conversation is very much led by the writer. VOICE currently has three dictaphones to record conversations.
Following the conversation, the VOICE team will type out the recorded conversation and send it to the writer, alongside some comments for them to think about. This typed out first draft will then serve as the basis for further work. The writer can change the draft in any way they wish. The draft is then sent back to the personal contact, who will comment on it before returning it to the writer, just like in Track I. The rest of the process then follows exactly the same lines as Track I, from supporting the writing process to publishing the story.
Supporting our writers...
VOICE not only supports writers in their writing processes. Many of our writers come from or work in areas where access to technology or necessary communication means can be very difficult or even impossible. Working across borders, vast geographical distances, time zones and differences in infrastructure is a daily challenge for the VOICE team and the VOICE writers. Which is why we not only support our writers in the actual writing, but also around that, for example by offering two loan laptops for writers to work on their stories, or by covering the costs of postage where no internet connection is available to send drafts to our team.
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VOICE, Voices Of Individuals Conveying Experiences, is a project aiming at telling the stories of individuals dedicating their time to working or volunteering in social, humanitarian, and development fields in their native country or region. For more information, get in touch via the contact form or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To keep up to date with VOICE, sign up to our newsletter.
Website text written by Annina Lux, translated by Anouck Teiller (French), Florian Wi and Annina Lux (German), Bárbara del Bosque (Spanish). Logo design by Franziska Lux.