When I write, I feel like an armless legless man with a crayon in his mouth. —Vonnegut
Finding your true voice is more art than science.
It requires deep self-awareness, practice, experimentation, and a strong sense of personal security. A rather intimidating list of to-dos.
This is why finding your voice takes time. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve yet found mine. As I mentioned Tuesday, it’s been my biggest challenge as a communicator. I’m closer than I’ve ever been before, more in tune and at peace with my unique literary offerings. But I’m still in process. As I grow, so does the voice I use to deliver my message.
I wish I had a 1-2-3-step program to offer. Instead, it’s a process. Like a seed about to break the surface of the ground, your voice requires a birthing. To set it free, you must push past the obstacles to give it full expression:
Perfection. There’s nothing wrong with doing things well. For years I excused my addiction to perfectionism as a pursuit of excellence: in writing, speaking, mothering and even my faith. It’s true that perfectionism brings some benefit, including drive, productivity, and conscientiousness.
When trying to find your unique voice, however, perfectionism becomes less a tool and more a chain. Your true voice cannot contradict who you are. And last I checked, you and I are anything but perfect. Often we try to present ourselves like a well-framed portrait: edited, photo-shopped, utterly contained. But real life—real people—is uncontainable. It spills out the edges, leaves marks and messes to clean up. Instead, spend less time trying to frame yourself, and more time learning to be yourself. As Anne Lamott said, “Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us life is being lived.”
Fear. I could spit nails as I type the word. At first impression, I’ve been told I appear confident, fearless, undaunted by most anyone and anything. But I do not, in fact, laugh in the face of danger. I choke.
The truth is I cringe at the prospect of being wrong or offensive, appearing foolish or inept. I don’t want to be misunderstood or criticized, to the extent I’ve been known to analyze and edit every word of a simple post or article until it is so buffered, so watered down, nothing offends or missteps. Nothing challenges or inspires, either. That’s not the kind of writer I want to be.
To set your voice free, you must face your fear. What’s the worst that can happen? For example, with regards to this post, you could think it stinks, find it boring, ineffectual, and a complete waste of the 60 seconds of life you spent here. Maybe you’ll unsubscribe or never return. Guest what? I’ll get over it. I have a whole beautiful life outside this blog. And as much as I want this post to encourage and inspire you, I can always write another.
Comparison. Writers are typically readers. Those who appreciate the art of communication make it a habit of studying those who do it well. We read their books and savor their words. We follow their blogs and listen, rapt, to their presentations. We fall head-over-heels in love with their work. Then—gasp!—we look at our own. And all we see are scribbles and scratches not worthy to hang on the refrigerator. We compare ourselves with others, and end up discouraged at a result.
To find your voice, you mustn’t get so caught up in another’s gift you fail to see your own. You are an entirely unique creation. You have a voice unlike any other, a seed ready to burst forth from the ground, with an offering of color the world has yet to see. Don’t let perfection, fear or comparison keep the world from seeing one of the Artist’s greatest, individual works:
Of these three obstacles, which most interferes with your true voice?