Writer’s Workshop: Voice

My first blog post was “Why I Refuse to Judge Any Mother.” In it, I describe my observations of a friend’s mother, juxtapose her mother with how I felt about my own mother, and then explain how I hope my own daughters will see me as a mother—when they eventually begin to reflect.

Out of all the texts I received, I appreciated my journalist friend’s the most.

“Kathy, this is good,” she said. “You have what they call voice. In grad school, they used to always talk about how you should have voice in writing. You have it.”

In literature, “voice” refers to the rhetorical mixture of vocabulary, tone, point of view, and syntax that makes phrases, sentences, and paragraphs flow in a particular manner.

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-find-your-writing-voice

Whenever I write, I want the reader to experience exactly what I was thinking or feeling.

But how do I do this?

Brace yourself.

I may tell you something that goes against what you’ve been told before:

I pretty much write how I talk and think. Even that last sentence is an example. I promise you a grammar program will tell you to remove “pretty much” because it’s unnecessary, but I left it in because that’s how I talk and think. If we were together, and you asked me how do I write? I’d say I pretty much write how I talk and think.

What is also helpful is my brain’s duality. I was raised in a family that valued so-called standard English, so I grew up learning the syntax appropriate for news personalities and job interviews. However, I was also raised on the west side of Chicago, which by all accounts is the hood. I quickly learned how to switch the verb “to be” around or to insert a cuss word so as not to be accused of talking like a White girl. I’m not special. Many Black people know how to codeswitch in this way.

What this means for my writing is I can create a sentence that appeals to White folks and Black people…or should I say Black folks and White people. You see how just interchanging those two words—folks and people—shifts meaning and tone?

I also want my writing to be accessible. I want to have a conversation with you. In order to do that, I have to write how I would talk if we were together having a latte, green tea, or Caipirinha. So, sometimes I stop, and address you directly. Maybe I’ll add a question, like what do ya’ll think to invite you into this conversation we’re having, while also throwing in the Southern dialect I’ve acquired from living in Florida for over two decades.

Most of my in-real-life friends who read my blog say, “Girl, I could hear you saying…” And that’s what I want.

To reiterate, if you’re concerned with developing voice in writing, then you have to determine what “vocabulary, tone, point of view, and syntax” you want to use and why. Only you know what that is.

And remember, voice, kind of like personality, cannot be imitated because it’s something only you possess. (Full disclosure: I sat here for five minutes flip-flopping between the word possess and own).


Do you worry about voice in writing? Does it matter?

Monday Notes: Vegan and Plant-Based: A Criticism*

Have you noticed there’s a push toward vegan and plant-based living, or is it just me?

Let’s start with the obvious: food. My friend, Jermaine has been trying to convince me that vegan is the way to go for a decade. He’s encouraged me to swap ground turkey or beef with Morning Star Farm’s Crumbles. The ingredients include food like soy, water, and carrot juice concentrate. To be fair, I’ve never tried it, because I’m not into the fake meat. But if I did, this seems like the way to go. What I don’t understand is sometimes plant-based patties like these include chemicals I can’t even pronounce, like tertiary butylhydroquinone and ferric orthophosphate. Not to mention, they’re still processed foods. I’m no dietician, but it doesn’t sound healthy to me. And even though many plant-based burgers include pea protein, this protein substitute isn’t considered a vegetable, which is consistent with what I’ve noticed—plants nor vegetables seem to be a main ingredient in plant-based or vegan foods, but rather the juice or extract from plants and other sources. Although research has shown there are health benefits to consuming meat-replacements, it just sounds weird to me to swap out one processed food with another.

Over the past two years or so, I’ve also noticed vegan and plant-based living has filtered to things like cleaning products, such as Mrs. Meyers. The purpose of using plant-based cleaning products is plentiful, ranging from being biodegradable to being cruelty-free. However, sometimes these products include harmful synthetic chemicals for fragrance, leading to seemingly toxic effects. Like a plant-based burger, some of these ingredients include words I cannot pronounce, like phthalates or octoxynols. Huh? I’m not sure about you, but I’m all for saving animals from being experimented on, but I’m not down with sacrificing something like my reproductive health to do so. I’m no martyr and it sounds like a win-lose situation.

I’m all for saving animals from being experimented on, but I’m not down with sacrificing something like my reproductive health to do so.

Finally, let’s talk vegan/plant-based clothing. Clothes like TOMS have existed for over a decade. But I’ve noticed more companies cropping up or jumping on the vegan clothing bandwagon, mainly in the form of vegan leather. According to Harper’s Bazaar, vegan leather is a material that mimics leather, but is created from artificial or plant products instead of animal skins. From what I’ve read, plant-based clothing can be made from chemicals, like polyurethane, or plants, like pineapple leaves. Some companies use fish skin, and they can’t be labeled “vegan,” but rather an animal alternative … which ends up being another animal.

All of this has my head swimming, and here’s why:

I tend to always think about the unintended consequences. For example, we all enjoy our cellphones, but somehow, we’ve created a negative situation for honey bees and disrupted the ecosystem. Similarly, I wonder what we’re doing to our bodies and the world with our vegan and plant-based alternatives. Are we ruining our bodies by eating processed “vegan” food because we don’t know what the real effects are?


I’m not a medical doctor, but I read a lot for my own edification. Here are some suggestions that seem to make more sense:

  1. Read labels. Just because it says “vegan” or “plant-based” doesn’t mean it’s automatically good for you.
  2. Know definitions. There’s a difference between a vegan, vegetarian, or plant-based meal, especially when it comes to burgers. For example, a Beyond burger, black bean burger, and a veggie burger are completely different.
  3. Eat vegetables. There are thousands of healthy vegetable-based recipes that require real food. They fall more into the vegetarian category.
  4. Consume less. Don’t buy more food than what you and your household can eat.

Point number four probably requires its own blog post. While I think of how to expand the
“consume less idea,” let me know if you’re vegan, vegetarian, or a staunch meat eater. What do you eat? How do you maintain your health in such confusing times?


*Information presented is a combination of blog, magazine, scholarly articles, and my opinion.

Monday Notes: On Aging (The Gray Area)

In the United States, there seem to be two choices: you’re either young, or you’re old.

That’s it.

When you’re young, you’re hella attractive. You have lots of energy and the latitude to make so-called “silly” choices—in music, in relationship, and in the overall living of life.

When you’re old, you’re hella unattractive. If you’re “brave,” you let your gray hairs grow wild and speak your mind like a toddler, but more often than not, the elderly are depicted as being crazy and forgetful pains that society either tolerates or ignores.

Well, what about people like myself, who are middle age? Where do we fit?

Kind of like my generation (X), I noticed we don’t fit anywhere.

On the one hand, I blame pop cultural and preformed societal views. We’re too old for skinny jeans, but not old enough for a Mumu. Too old for the club, but not old enough for the senior center. Too old to “start over,” but not old enough to retire.

On the other hand, friends and family tend to limit us. For example, if I decided to do a TikTok video for the Touch Down 2 Cause Hell challenge, eyebrows would raise. In fact, I’ve had people question why I even watch and know about these social-media challenges. I’ve never asked, but I surmise they think I’m “too old” to be aware. Based on the wide-ranging TikTok video demographics, I know this isn’t true. Anyone can lip sync and dance. But I do think there’s a reason why we’re so impressed when an over-fifty person twerks on beat. It’s seen as an anomaly.

Because I like to play contemporary rap music in my Jeep as loud as possible, my sister once called me a twenty-year-old forty-six-year-old. Maybe I should be like the phlebotomist I met who blasted the smooth crooning of Anita Baker’s love songs, or perhaps, I can mirror one of my favorite bloggers and deem only R&B from the seventies and eighties as respectable. Just kidding. I’m good with the music I prefer; however, I think others believe I’m “too old” to be listening to what I do…how I do.

If that isn’t enough, I have a thirty-something friend who has referred to one of her forty-year-old friends as “old and crusty.” She’s also admitted that she fears growing older and putting on a few pounds, possibly looking different than she currently does. There’s the other friend who has described her daughter as “cute and young,” while grumbling about how said daughter isn’t “like us…old” (and I assume not cute). And finally, there’s the friend who recently left me a birthday message deeming both of us as now “old,” because we’re approaching fifty.

It makes me tired. I’ve never spent so much time announcing that I’m not old or emphasizing that I’m getting oldER.

<insert big ole sigh and eye roll>

Let me leave you with this final story: A few years ago, one my cousins partied with me in New Orleans. He’s the type of person who stays on the dancefloor until the club closes, and this night was no different. He took up so much space with his moves that party-goers started screaming, “Go Old School! Go Old School! Go Old School!” in unison. It was like a scene out of a movie. He be-bopped around, sweat pouring down his face, shirt drenched. Then, he did it all again the next night.

Why can’t we acknowledge the gray area and let people live their best middle-age lives, whether it fits our societal norms or not?

I’ve frequently thought about that night. Aging is something we’re all doing, every moment, but proclaiming to be old is quite another thing.

I’ve wondered why my cousin couldn’t dance his heart out without being labeled “Old School?” Why couldn’t he just be a human being having fun in life?

More importantly, why can’t we recognize there are more than two types of people? Pun intended—why can’t we acknowledge the gray area and let people live their best middle-aged lives, whether it fits our societal norms or not?

Let me know what you think.


Here are some other articles from bloggers who discuss aging:


Writer’s Workshop: 3 Reasons Why you Should Consider a Blogging Series

If you blog on a schedule (i.e., every Tuesday at 11:00a), then you already use this feature. If you blog about one topic on a schedule (Writer’s Workshop), then that qualifies as a series as well. However, the type of series I’m referring to is the kind I shared a couple weeks ago reflecting on my travels. This type of series is more like Netflix. There are at least three posts, and they are serialized to come one right after the other. Once you’re done, you return to your regular posting schedule.

Here are three reasons you may consider this type of blogging style:

#1 Your post is too long. Most blogging “gurus” will suggest you write under 750 words. I agree. Anything longer, and you run the risk of losing your reader. The first blogging series I did was when my father died. I needed to write about my experiences with him; however, it ended up being a three-thousand-word document. I knew that was way too long…no matter how captivating I thought the story was. So, I broke up one essay into five and shared one a day leading up to his funeral. By that Saturday, people were invested in the narrative and genuinely offered me some much-needed support.

#2 You want to delve into a topic. Although I hate the phrase deep dive, deep diving aptly describes my purpose for blogging. If I want to remain surface level about a subject, then I use social media, like Twitter or IG, but when I wanna get deep—I blog. With the travel series, the only way I could fit everything in one post would have been to use bullet points with little explanation. Bullet points work, but the format wouldn’t have served my purpose if I really wanted you to lean into the story and the lessons with me. So, I opted for a series.

#3 You want feedback for a publication. I never write a series for this reason, but it is a thing. When I published the series about my father, another blogger provided some advice. “Flesh out your father’s character, and make him seem more multidimensional,” she said. Later, I had the inclination to publish this story in its entirety as a creative nonfiction work, and in addition to her feedback, a friend of mine also suggested adding some details to my father’s character.

Similarly, you can use the statistics feature that WordPress offers to understand which parts of the series garner the most attention. This may lead you to develop the best parts into a publication.

I know there are more reasons for writing a series that are focused on marketing (e.g., gaining more followers, etc.), but those don’t fit my personality or rationale.

Have you ever written a series? If so, feel free to share how it’s helped you in some way.



Living in Central America for 8 Weeks: Final Lessons (Part VII)

I thought I’d end this series with five brief lessons. Here goes!

It’s all America

I’ve stopped referring to the United States as “America.” Although we all learn that there is North America, Central America, and South America, quite honestly, when you say “America,” I think you’re talking about my home country. However, Central America can also be called “America.” I suspect the United States cornered the market on being the America, and I could probably pontificate on how and why, but I won’t. Living in Central America has reinforced the idea that I should just refer to where I live as the States.

Being surrounded by women who are shaped like you gives you confidence.

It didn’t take me long to notice all of the brown women in Costa Rica were short with wide hips. Panamanian women were more diverse looking, but most of them were just as short with wide hips. That’s how I look, and growing up, I really didn’t have anyone who was shaped like me. A lot of the time, I felt like a short, squat, fat girl. But seeing Central American women wear whatever they wanted at the beach or on the street helped me gain a bit of confidence about my own self. I’m fine the way I am, and I can wear what I want.

People will project their fears onto you if you let them.

While Dwight and I were away, a few people commented on how I’d “abandoned” my children. The “children” they were so worried about are nineteen and twenty-two. I thought they were joking, but one continued with “They still need their Mama.” After this happened a few times, I stopped defending myself. The way I see it, people’s comments always demonstrate more about their own fears, insecurities, and jealousies and less about me and what I’m doing. Plus, I know what real abandonment looks like, and it ain’t when your parents take an eight-week trip.

There are many ways to show care but doing nothing at all means you don’t care…about something.

Years ago, I got into an argument with my former therapist about this. Dwight and I discuss it frequently, and I’m sure he still disagrees lol During this trip, though, the concept was solidified.

While I was away, I could only speak with iPhone users easily. If you had a Galaxy or something else, then you had to download WhatsApp so we could talk. Several friends did this. Others did not because we communicated in other ways (Viber, social media, email, etc.).

Now, there is another group of people who I didn’t talk to for eight consecutive weeks because they didn’t download the app, leaving us with no way to keep in touch. I know there could be a million reasons why, but I firmly believe that if you know I was out of the country, and you chose not to engage (even though I asked you to get WhatsApp several times), then there’s something you don’t care about. Maybe our relationship is not a priority. Maybe you don’t care about talking and finding out how someone is doing (immediately). Maybe you don’t value virtual conversations. Whatever it is, there is a lack of care.

There’s no such thing as the “perfect” situation.

We stayed in an Airbnb in both countries. In Costa Rica, we lived in a house in the mountains. We were so high up that I could almost reach out and touch the hawks that flew by every afternoon. Because the owner had two mirrors, we woke up to a 360-view of the mountains every single day. However, it was noisy. A rooster crowed every day from about four in the morning to at least five in the afternoon. Someone’s car alarm sounded every afternoon around three. And because we were in the mountains, every so often you’d hear screeching brakes from a semi or old car. It wasn’t perfect.

In Panamá, we stayed in an area called Casco Viejo in a brand-new apartment. We were in walking distance from touristy shops and trendy restaurants that played music from Friday through Sunday. We were a $2-5-Uber drive away from two malls. We were minutes away from grocery stores that sold familiar products, such as Tide, cranberry juice, and trail mix. However, it was noisy. The apartment wasn’t just new, it was still being built. That meant Monday through Saturday, we were awakened to hammering, sawing, and yelling from seven in the morning until five in the evening. Making phone calls or attending virtual meetings were arduous tasks. Likewise, because we were in walking distance of restaurants and bars, we were also within hearing distance (from the terrace) of every type of music you could imagine from all directions.

This trip reinforced the idea that something will always have to give. There will always be something that will annoy you about places (or even people). The idea is to know what you can live with and go from there.

Agree or disagree…let me know what you all think.

Special thank you to each and every person who has read, commented, liked, or shared any of these posts. I’m very appreciative ❤



Writer’s Workshop: Improve FLOW by Removing 3 Words

I love writing that flows. When I read a book, I like to feel as if I’m riding a wave or listening to a smooth melody where the notes come together in concert to create beautiful harmony. When writing flows, you don’t want to abandon it. In fact, you may re-read sentences just to appreciate the beauty.

How do writers combine words to create flow? One way is to follow a specific rule. Now, I know in the last Writer’s Workshop I told you to dismiss rules, but I should’ve added the word sometimes.

So, here’s the advice: Remove these three words as much as possible: that, adverbs ending in -ly, and the.


THAT is considered a filler word, meaning it just adds space on the page. As much as possible go through your writing and try to delete “that.” It will make your writing and message much cleaner. Here’s an example:

She had made Daddy promise that he would come straight home.

*She had made Daddy promise he would come straight home.

Do you see what I mean? The word “that” doesn’t add more meaning to this sentence. It just increases your word count. This isn’t to say you never need “that” in writing. Sometimes there’s no way around it. But if you can do without “that,” remove it.


ADVERBS ending in -ly can also be cumbersome. The rule here is to replace -ly words (i.e., quickly, smoothly, etc.) with actual descriptions of what you’re talking about. Here’s an example of replacing adverbs.

“Well, I guess I’ll sit out here and keep you company. You sure look pretty.” He smiled sheepishly and nodded approvingly.

*“Well, I guess I’ll sit out here and keep you company. You sure look pretty.” He smiled and nodded at approval of my dress.

Sheepishly and approvingly drag the sentence along. Here you have two choices: remove the adverb altogether or remove the -ly and add descriptions instead as this author did.


THE is a little trickier, which is why I’ve left it for the end. Although it is natural to use “the” when speaking, a lot of times this small word can bog down your writing. “The” is not always necessary. Don’t believe me? Go check out your favorite piece of writing. I bet “the” is used sparingly. Here’s an example of what I mean:

            We cut out the clothing we thought would look good on me.

            **We cut out clothing we thought would look good on me.

Here, “the” isn’t needed. If you can understand the sentence without using “the,” then ditch it.

I hope these three tips help to improve your writing, but I suggest trying one rule out at a time and only after you’ve written a draft. Editing and writing at the same time can oftentimes destroy your flow.


*The first two examples come from Mbinguni’s Looking for Hope, which I also recommend reading.

**The third example is from Sister Souljah’s A Deeper Love Inside.

Both were written perfectly in their books. I added the fake, bold first draft example.


If you’re interested in hearing more about my personal writing process and flow, then my talk with the Pasadena City College English Department may interest you: PCC Visiting Writer K. E. Garland.