You Don’t Need to “Find” Your Voice. You Need to Use It.

Hugging a penguin
Writer? Be kind to yourself. Hug a penguin today.

Seth Godin says that writer’s block is a fraud. “There’s no such thing as talker’s block.”

Writer’s block is real, and Seth knows that, but he’s making a (damn good) point. We’d like to write how we talk. And we have no trouble talking. But when we sit down to write, something gets in the way.

Here’s what it’s like for me.

When I sit down to write a piece for my blog, I put myself into a different mindset than I’m in when I’m just having a conversation. I am no longer thinking about making an argument or an observation using clear, fun language. Instead, I am thinking about page views and judgment.

I don’t want to do that. It doesn’t help–it hurts. I’m much more witty, charming, thoughtful, when I’m simply in my element. (That is to say, when I’m actually witty, charming, and thoughtful at all.)

That’s what people mean when they say “find your voice.” Actually, we all have our voices already. We don’t need to “find them”, per se.

We need to get everything else out of the way.

The worries about what people will think. The worries about whether it’s good or not. All worries, basically.

My best stuff happens when I get as close to conversational as I can. I’ll often find myself in conversation saying something with a clever emphasis or turn of phrase (OK, maybe not “often”), and then I think, “now that’s how my writing should sound.”

But when I’m actually sitting down at the keyboard? Pfft. It feels like each sentence is just a different fart noise.

There’s that trick of picking someone to write for. You pick your two best friends, or your grandmother, or a favorite blogger or mentor.

And there are also people who say, “I’m writing for myself.” I think I’ve been misperceiving what they mean by that. They are not trying to say, “I’m not writing for money or fame.”

No, they’re actually answering the question, “who am I writing for?” Or more clearly, “who am I writing to?”

They are writing to themselves, in the future.

Part of the reason I feel like something’s missing is that I’m not always writing to myself. I’m writing to some imagined critic, or to the hypothetical editor who will stumble upon my piece and simply demand that I begin writing for them immediately. (At a very nice market rate. Obviously.)

This is all a way to sabotage my own writing.

I don’t need to adopt the posture of someone who is a purveyor of wisdom. Especially since I (usually) don’t believe that myself. Better to be just a guy who is writing and wants to share his ideas with others.

People don’t need to be given “advice.” Sometimes they are looking for it explicitly, but most of the time they just want someone they can relate to. Someone who can confirm that their problems are not unique, not all in their head. Someone who speaks the same way they do, using the same words. Someone they want to connect with.

That’s what I like to read, after all.

Photo Credit: SimonWhitaker via Compfight cc

Further reading: Jeff Goins with some questions you can ask yourself about your writing voice.