Staying True To Your Voice

What do denim hiney shorts, an old-timey compass, a stack of musty books and a toddler eating an ice cream cone have to do with each other?

The answer: absolutely nothing

(Except for the fact that they were also the four images I used when I first launched my business website]

When I flung myself into this crazy world of writing for others, I had no clue about what kind of writer I was. Some people would call this an identity crisis. I lovingly refer to it as the “oh-my-God-what-now” phase of my life. I was at a crossroads and madly scrambling to define myself after being squashed for years under the meaty thumb of corporate bullshit and societal expectations.

It’s absolutely cringe-worthy, but in the name of all that is holy and transparent, in this world, I feel like I must share the embarrassing attempt to discover my voice.

So… back to the stock images.

“I’ll be the copywriter known for brevity”… my first attempt at defining myself. Hence, the hiney shorts image. You know, a clever attempt to convey “short and sweet”.

I also wanted to appear smart and accomplished. What better way to convey this than to have a picture of a compass and timeworn books on your website (which is basically one teensy step up from a hokey stock photo of a woman holding a pen in mid-air while staring off into the middle distance).

And the photo of toddler eating a messy ice cream cone? Sadly, I have no answer for that, other than I thought it kinda-sorta characterized the messy process of writing words.

The pictures make me laugh and cringe at the same time. (Is there a word for that? “Craugh?”) I stare at them like you would your fifth-favorite cousin’s vacation photo album. They have absolutely nothing to do with who I am as a person or the kind of writing that spills out of my brain onto paper. I was so caught up in cherry-picking the voice I thought the business world would value… one full of brevity, inherent wisdom and cleverness… that I neglected to honor what I already had within me.

The voice wasn’t mine, but that of a complete stranger whom I probably wouldn’t want to be friends with. And so, like we often have to do in business and in life, I did a fierce little tango with myself that was all about taking two giant steps backward while dragging a dead weight partner who goes by the name of “What The Hell Am I Doing.”

I’ve never been a big fan of the advice “Find your voice” (like it’s some kind of Matchbox Trans-Am or Purple Pie Man doll that’s been buried in the attic for 25 years and if you just took the time to sort through the 57 boxes, you’d discover it at the bottom of box 56 and all will be right with the world).

What I learned is this: there is no “find.” Your voice is as much a part of you as your fingerprints. It’s the culmination of your experiences, experiments, opinions, disappointments and victories. It’s your exclusive perspective on the world and it’s been chugging along since you first learned to shout “No!” when a spoonful of strained squash was headed straight towards your cherubic lips.

It’s not about the finding, it’s about the defining.

Here are the three things I did to stake-out and refine my voice:

STEP ONE: Who Are You?

I feel sorry for library books that haven’t been read in a long time. Sometimes I’ll even check out a few, not with the intention of ever reading them, but simply to get them out into the world for a bit. I admit that it’s an endearingly weird trait and, yet, it leads to a deeper understanding of the kind of person I am…. one who roots for the underdog, one who notices the little things, one who wears her heart on her sleeve.

I have an affinity for weird people. In school, I was the oddball who was always one banana clip and a Lunchable away from fitting in. I was okay with that for the most part. It led to a lifetime of looking beyond the “normal” (which, really, is just another word for “average.”) And “weird” is now the foundation for the work I do as a business storyteller.

I also can’t stand wearing socks (don’t confine me, man), I value courage above almost everything and my best work is done during the witching hours.

What makes you memorable and different from everyone else? Is it your combination of fierce independence + intense creativity? Your unforgettable sniggling laugh + ability to draw comics freehand? The fact that you can quote “Tommy Boy” verbatim while knitting afghans that aren’t scratchy?

Once you determine who you are, it’s easy to recognize when your voice is bending away from what is true and real.

STEP TWO: What Are You Compelled To Say?

Distill your message or vision down to four or five statements you can keep coming back to it when your voice wavers.

I help businesses tell better stories.

I inspire and support businesses wanting to break free from ordinary.

It’s time to be fearless in your weirdness.

Be weird. Be bold.

These are the absolutes, the non-negotiables, the cornerstone of your voice.

STEP THREE: What Makes You Cringe?

This is probably the most important question you can ask when trying to stay true to your voice. Knowing what doesn’t work can be just as enlightening as knowing what does.

Sometimes I fall into C3PO mode… facts, figures and all things boring I blame it on my childhood propensity for writing reports just for the hell of it. I don’t talk that way, so I shouldn’t write that way. It makes me wince every damn time. Because of this, I’ll edit my writing with a watchful eye to weed out any robot-ese.

Is your “motherfucker” word count hitting all-time highs, even though you’d never dare say that granddaddy of swear words out loud? Swearing to appear edgy is like going out for a run but actually running only when you see a car coming (because you don’t want them to think you’re one of those out-of-shape people who walk-run. If you don’t swear except for when you bang your shin bone on the coffee table, then it’s not part of your voice.

Are you tearing people down or lifting them up with your voice? Rants are great, especially when they’re about conformity and status quo. But when they target a specific person? I just can’t get behind that voice.

I never refer to myself as an “expert.” If feels like I’m brushing my eyebrows in the wrong direction when I do it. I am merely a gal with tons of life experience who also happens to be a writer who offers insights on how to stand out just a little bit more than everyone else.

Know this…

Your voice is needed. Your voice matters. Right now, here, today, resolve to stay true to your voice. I’d love for you to tell me how you plan to do it!

Cheers to defining rather than finding,

6 comments leave a reply
  • March 5, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    This is timely because I am currently working on a new website and looking through cheesy stock photos (like there’s any other kind). I thought I had nailed it with the kid with the ice cream cone, but maybe not? Sigh.

    As far as finding my voice, I feel like I have a good handle on steps 1 & 3; step 2 is what I’m working on now.

    Also, thanks for reminding me about banana clips. Those are due for a comeback soon, yes?


    • March 10, 2015 at 10:52 am

      I sure hope so, Beth (although my crazy thick hair broke many a banana clip back in the day)!


  • March 5, 2015 at 9:25 pm

    I love this, Maisie. And I’ll add that, for me, the defining has been (and continues to be) a process, kinda like life itself (as inconvenient for my copy revision quota as that may be).

    Stock photos are a definite non-negotiable for me — that is, I refuse to use them. I may someday eat my words but for now I love that every photo I use is one that I took (except, obviously the non-selfies of me that might crop up somewhere with a double chin) — it’s absolutely and entire my visual voice.

    I now know to never call you an expert, just a totally kick-ass awesome powerhouse — will that do?


    • March 10, 2015 at 10:55 am

      I love that you take your own pictures, Emily! (And I can definitely see that as part of your voice.) You are absolutely right that voice is a process… it refines over time. 🙂


  • March 6, 2015 at 8:49 am

    Maisie! I love you so hard right now! (Is that creepy?) The things that make you cringe are high on my list of things I can’t stand.

    Currently, I’m working on #2. I know my message, it’s distilling it down into short phrases that I’m battling with now. But I’m closer today than I was a month or a year ago, so I know I’m getting there.


    • March 10, 2015 at 10:56 am

      Hi Yoneco! Thanks for the comment. I can tell you that # 2, the short phrases, have helped me out so much when I start feeling lost in my voice.

      (and I love you too, by the way)


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