Finding Your Voice

I wasn’t always a writer.

In the 11th grade, I had to take after school English tutoring because my grammar was so atrocious. It was my only hope of passing the class. I worked my butt off with my “its and it’s”, and my “there, their and they’re”.  My teacher told me that in the end, I’d probably pass the class, but I’d never really be much of a writer. I just didn’t have an “aptitude” for it. I got the C+ I needed and moved on.

I didn’t write for years after that – unless it was absolutely necessary. I dreaded anytime I had to sit down to write a letter, or put together a script for a college class. I certainly never wrote for fun. Every sentence was a struggle. Mostly they’d come out in very boring, flat phrases, with simple words. They certainly didn’t paint a picture of anything interesting or striking.

Oh sure, I was good at other things. I had an “aptitude” for music. I could teach. I was very organized, and extremely creative. I ran with the things I was good at, and had some good success early in my career. But all along, I wished I was a better writer. I wanted to enjoy it. I had all these ideas swimming in my head and I wanted to know how to write them down so they made sense. But the voice of my teacher still rang in my head “You’ll never be much of a writer.” It’s amazing how one negative experience can hinder so much.

Today, when people ask me what I do, I usually say “I tell stories”. I now identify myself on this blog, and on my other online presences as “a writer”.  I’ve found my voice. It wasn’t easy, but for anyone with a desire to express themselves (and in my experience, that’s just about everyone), it is totally doable. Here are some ways you can start to find your voice. And this doesn’t just apply to the written word, either. Gary Vaynerchuk talks about DNA in his upcoming book, Crush It!. Some people are programmed to be writers. Some are programmed to be in front of the camera. Some are visual artists. Others are musicians. Finding your voice is finding that way that you uniquely express yourself.

Practice practice practice. Nothing comes easy. Even people who seemingly ooze natural talent still have to put in hours and hours and hours of work. My friend Greg Wyard is one of the most talented musicians I know. He can play anything on an acoustic guitar. I mean ANYTHING. Like Bohemian Rhapsody. You have to hear it to believe it. Greg is a totally natural talent. He was truly born with a gift. But does he come by it easily? Not at all. He’s been playing for more than 30 years, and to this day, he STILL practices up to 8 hours a day.

Malcom Gladwell says you have to do something for 10,000 hours before you can be considered an expert at it. So if you really, really want to find your voice – you have to practice your craft, a lot. Don’t believe me? Go read Jon Swanson then. He’ll tell you everything you need to know about deliberate practice.

Fear is for wusses. It’s really scary to put yourself out there. To write something that you know other people will read. To put yourself on video or create a work of art that other people will see. Your biggest fear is that people will think you suck. If you don’t try at all, you can’t fail. That’s a nice, safe place to be, right? Too bad it’s boring as hell.

I was told to my face that I would never be much of a writer. Imagine my fear of putting fingers to keyboard and starting to write this blog two years ago. I thought all my ideas were dumb. I thought my bad grammar would make me seem like an idiot. But I did it anyway. I decided not to care what people thought. I did it, and still do it, first and foremost for myself. Because I wanted to practice. Because I had something to say (even if it was to myself). Imagine my surprise when people actually started to respond positively to what I was doing. Suddenly, my fear had been replaced with pride.

Don’t be a wuss. Sit down, and just start. You’ll be amazed where you end up.

Don’t strive for perfection. Imagine if we were all perfect? If every idea we had was 100% solid, and nobody ever made an error? Imagine how dreadfully awful that would be?

One of the things I love about writing this blog is when people disagree with me. It gets me fired up to have someone tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. It makes me downright giddy when someone gives me new ideas or a new way of looking at things.

Expression of ideas, whether it’s the written word, video, audio, music, or visual art, is about bringing something out that is inside.  Five people could write a blog post on “Finding Your Voice” and they’d all be completely different. Your voice is unique, and that means that people might not always see things the same way. A piece of art that I like may look horrible to someone else. That’s the beauty of living in an imperfect world. We all perceive things in our own way. Don’t try to be perfect at any of this. Just try.

Finding your voice is about digging deep, sometimes to a place that will make you a bit uncomfortable. But once you’re there, you’ll find richness beyond your wildest imagination. Take the first step. Sit down, and do it. You won’t be sorry.

Not Your Grandma's National Arts Centre
Mozart Would Have Liked the Internet


  • September 30, 2009 at 10:51 am

    I don’t know if it’s the culture we’re immersed in, the way schools tend to be structured, or maybe too many Martha Stewart-type shows, but you’re right. So often we give up because we aren’t perfect the first time we try something new.

    And you’re spot on about the folly of making perfection the goal, because even that is subjective. Trying to find one’s own gifts and use them well… that’s worth doing. Thank you for the reminder!
    [rq=762660,0,blog][/rq]Guest Post: Being Pretty

  • September 30, 2009 at 11:59 am

    Interesting post, Sue. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I never would have guessed you struggled with writing.

    I’m incredibly fortunate in that I’ve always been able to write. My style / voice has changed as I found my footing in every other respect but I’ve always been able to write.

    The interesting journey for me has been my experience working in communications. One of my bread-and-butter skills is my ability to adopt the voice of who I’m writing for. The reality of the comms guy’s life is that I rarely write for myself. In my current gig, I have no fewer than three ‘voices’ and I’m able to switch between them pretty seamlessly. The foundation of the writing is the same but the nuance changes. For example, I know the president of my org likes folksy words and phrases mixed in. I seem to be able to do this in a natural way.

    The byproduct of this chameleon-like writing style, though, is that I sometimes wonder what my own voice sounds like these days.

    My blog often goes neglected for long periods of time because I’m just too tired of writing when I get home. When I do start to write posts, more times than not I lose my momentum and can’t finish a post.

    That’s a new phenomenon. And I don’t like it.
    [rq=763341,0,blog][/rq]On the outside looking in

  • September 30, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    Thank you for this; it’s encouraging to be reminded to never give up, even if the odds are stacked against you. I also love the “conversation” aspect of blogging that introduces many different perspectives. Disagreement and criticism can be scary, but they have such great potential to help us grow.
    [rq=763532,0,blog][/rq]If you give a Karen a coffee, she’s going to ask for a donut!

  • October 1, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    It must be sweet revenge for you to know that not only are you a writer; you’re a good writer. A storyteller with the skill to create powerful narratives that inspire and empower people.

    Once when I was in a grammar school art class, we were paired off and told to draw each other’s portraits. I am intensely creative in many ways, but drawing is not one of them. I have to work really, really hard at it. So I was particularly proud of my factual representation of my subject’s face and her unfortunately large nose. She cried. She cried, and the nun took a dark, thick, black pencil and narrowed the nose on my perfectly shaded, delicate grey pencil drawing. This was the same girl who had claimed in music class (and as the music teacher’s daughter, she must be believed,) that my original musical composition was not, in fact, original.

    Both incidents affected my belief in my own creative abilities for much of my life. Those first life lessons, on the blank canvas of a child’s psyche, leave deep and lasting impressions. So after raising four children of my own, I went to art school, and have discovered (after three years and thousands of dollars,) that I am a much better writer than artist. But I had to try. I had to answer the “what if” that had plagued me for so many years, to satisfy the artist, and free the writer within. And through the art, I have come to understand myself a little more.

    I think that, even if you’re not exactly sure what you’re “meant to be,” if you take a step in any direction and start working hard at something, putting heart and soul out there, that whatever it is that you’re perfect at doing, it will find you. John Lennon went to art school. Paul Gauguin was a stockbroker. Maya Angelou was a fry cook. It takes time, but eventually your passion will find you, when the richness of your past experiences can make the most of it.
    [rq=778026,0,blog][/rq]lakew00d: Voted for Pete: 30 Under 30. Is it bad that he’s the only one I knew? RT @mashable Survey:Inc Magazine & Pete Cashmore

  • October 3, 2009 at 8:03 am


    This is a stunning piece that everyone needs to read. You are a stunning human being. I love you my friend BECAUSE of your faults not INSPITE of them.

    Refer to Ken Robinson TEDTalk and wonder what the world would be like if none of us tried.
    [rq=789221,0,blog][/rq]What Is Local To You?

  • October 4, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    hi! New to you here, and I enjoyed reading your comments. As a former teacher AND creative director/copywriter I cringe whenever I hear how a “teacher” has discouraged yet another potential …I write because I have to get out whatever thought I’m having, and it makes me feel better and relieved once I’m done…so keep at it kiddo, it just gets better!
    [rq=799208,0,blog][/rq]La Belle Montreal…



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