Jenni here, and this week I wanted to write a bit about something we hear a lot when working with our Brand Plan clients. Particularly in the beginning of the process, many of our clients will say things like:
"I know I should be blogging, emailing or posting to social media more often — but I'm uncomfortable with what to post and owning my voice while I do it."
Believe me when I say, I GET THIS SO HARD.
For those of you who don't know, last year I finished up my Masters of Fine Art in Writing. I spent three years furiously and compulsively studying amazing literature, brilliant writers, and compelling stories to find how I might be able to write a bit more like them. And I learned that a huge part of being a great writer is finding or coming into your voice.
But guess what — I soon discovered that finding and owning your voice is kind of...terrifying. When we write things that feel meaningful, important or purposeful it is UNCOMFORTABLE. What if people read my most honest truth and thought it was stupid? In fact, When I was doing my best work I would often think of this image of everyone reading it, and then gently shaking their head and muttering to themselves, "Oh cute, she's just figuring this out now." Or worse saying, "Why did I waste my time reading this? This is just verbal vomit."
Writing for an online audience can feel exactly the same way. We want to "use our voices," but when it really comes down to it, being "seen" is hard. Being the one to raise our hands and say what we really really think can feel like we're standing naked.
So most of us do one of two things:
1) We publish fluffy stuff that feels fake
2) We don't publish or post at all
These are obviously not great ways to create authentic and meaningful connections with your best clients and reader/followers.
But I have good news for you. You CAN develop a voice online and still feel confident while doing it. I'm going to give you some of my best tips for how to start using that voice, and small ways you can push yourself to step out even more.
1) The Big Secret: You don't find your voice
I have a bit of a secret to tell you. You don't FIND your voice. "Finding your voice," is something that people say, but construes a false mental image around the way this whole thing works.
In the beginning, I felt like I had to "find my voice" — like it was out there hiding somewhere in the universe — perfectly developed, funny, poignant, well spoken, and everyone loved it. And all I needed to do was FIND it. If I was producing work or writing stuff that was crap, well, then I hadn't worked hard enough at finding it yet.
The concept of "finding" my voice made me feel behind. Like everyone else had already found theirs, and I was the only one running around with a crappy voice, embarrassing myself along the way.
So let me re-frame this for you. You don't find your voice. You build it.
How do you build muscles? You'd never say to someone, "I have to go find my perfect beach body." You say, "I need to go to the gym and build some muscle." And then you start on shaking knees and with pathetic small weights breathing way too hard. And you come back the next day with sore muscles and you try again. Because that's how you build.
Your voice is the same way. You decide one day that you're going to try to use it. You're going to write your email with shaking hands and you're going to be unsure if it's shit. And you're going to hit publish and want to barf. And then you're going to come back the next week and do it again even if you felt stupid last week. Because that's how you build.
2) Study the greats and try on their voices
One of my FAVORITE exercises that we did in my program was to write after an amazing writer. For example, Jamaica Kincaid's Girl is a brilliant piece of short fiction that kept me spellbound. So, I wrote a piece where I used her words as a structure or a frame, and replaced them with my own. I loved her lines whose concepts echoed each other, and the repetition of that commanding voice. So, using her work as a guide I wrote my own version of "Girl" and had a blast. I didn't send it to publish or post it anywhere. I was an exercise just for me. And I learned A LOT about how my own voice could bend when I made it do things that were outside of my wheelhouse.
So, take an email newsletter from someone that you always read. Study it.
- Do they open every email with a joke?
- How do they transition into selling or talking about their offerings?
- How do they talk about their personal life or interests?
- Do they use their own lexicon? What words do they integrate from the way they talk?
By doing a close reading of other people's content, you can try their method on for yourself. However, the trick is to fill in the blanks with YOUR stuff. Don't steal their lexicon, try adding your words. Don't take their jokes, think of your own. By stretching your voice this way, you're giving yourself access to a new range that you wouldn't have otherwise.
3) Play the Lottery
One thing that I love about writers is that even the really really good ones still have crappy days (and often). And they talk about the crap work. One of my professors said to me early in my MFA,"It's a numbers game. For every good thing I write, ten bad things have to be written too. So the more you're working it, the more good writing you're going to get."
Realizing this made me feel SO much better. The bad stuff is part of the process. Sometimes you write anything spectacular without getting something bad out first.
As you're sitting down to write captions or blogs, just let the bad stuff be part of the process. No matter how good you get, you'll still have bad stuff. Give yourself editing buffers so you can abandon bad ideas or edit down your content. Or, feel confident that not everything going out the door is going to be perfect. So long as it's up to brand standards, press send anyway.
So, to wrap up this feel-good-while you use your voice manifesto — we all feel like frauds. Don't worry about getting it perfect, just give it a shot. Shoot me a comment or an email (hello at primd dot com) to let me know how it went.
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