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.