on finding your voice
I'm currently in Salt Lake City, Utah, at the Altitude Design Summit, and today, I gave a talk on Finding Your Voice Online. If you were in the session today, I hope you enjoyed it, and I you'll stop by and stay hi while we're here in SLC; if you missed the session and/or couldn't be in Salt Lake City, here are the notes from the session.
Have a great weekend, friends. More about everything ALT Summit when I return.
Next month will mark nine years since I've been writing online here on Chookooloonks. When I first started this site, Marcus and I were practically newlyweds, and I was writing my little online diary just to record the progress of our adoption of our baby girl, for the benefit of our families. At the time, Chookooloonks was just a light hobby, an insignificant pasttime; I had no idea that it would eventually be the main tool for me to do my life's work.
In making this transition, my site underwent several iterations in an attempt to find my own voice: a voice that reflected what I was passionate about and communicated in a way that I felt was effective. The truth is that Chookooloonks remains a work in progress; however, after nine years, I've picked up a few tips on how to create a site that feels authentic to who I am.
And so, without further ado:
my top 7 tips for finding your voice
1. Stop comparing. It's natural to be curious about what others who are in your field are doing, but one of the biggest wastes of time is comparing your work with theirs, particularly since it is patently impossible to create effectively in someone else's voice -- the inevitable result is disappointment. Accept that you will do what you do differently from everyone else -- believing in this will be incredibly freeing.
Given this, I want to be sure to make the distinction between comparison and inspiration (because I do think that inspiration is critical in being a creator), and it is this:
- Comparison will make you feel bad about yourself, or stir ugly feelings of resentment or jealousy. It is completely destructive, and should be avoided at all costs.
- Inspiration will spur you to try harder and do better work. Inspiration encourages experimentation of your own techniques. Inspiration is a good thing, and should be strongly encouraged (but always giving credit where possible).
I won't touch on flat-out copying someone's work, because I think we can all agree that plagiarism of any type is wrong. Copying should obviously be soundly discouraged.
2. Practice seeing. I'm a huge fan of photography, of course, but I love it for more than just the self-expression it affords me. The main reason that I love photography is because it forces me to stop and see. When I shoot, I have to be mindful of the light and the composition, and as I'm taking the shot, I'm forced to evaluate what it is I love about the image in the first place. My camera is another tool to amplify my voice.
As such, I encourage all creators to keep their cameras close at hand -- your camera phone will do nicely -- and take time each day to photograph something beautiful, or inspiring, or thought-provoking. You don't have to share the images if you don't want to, but it's yet another way to objectively gather a body of work that gives you evidence of what it is that you love or are passionate about.
3. Journal, read, collect awesome things. Off-line, old-school journaling provides something that blogging doesn't: the freedom to express and experiment without fear of judgment. Journaling can be our test lab for what we want to say or discovering our own passions. I strongly recommend creating a practice of journaling, as one of the tools we use to collect a body of self-inspiration; further, I encourage devouring everything you can and collecting everything you can to help fuel your own inspiration and voice.
4. Name what lights you up. It is impossible to continue to create content on a consistent and long-lasting basis if you're not doing it in furtherance of your passions -- but it is interesting to me how few people get into blogging based on what they're passionate about, or what lights them up (but rather, "what they think people need to know about and will pay me to write about"). The truth is that you should want to create the kind of content you would even if no one paid you a dime.
So spend some time figuring out what you're passionate about, to the most minute detail possible. You might love design, for example, but what kind of design? Web design? Fashion design? Sustainable design? Do you love the art or the history of design? Or maybe the functionality of design? Do you want to teach people how to design, or do you just want people to be inspired by design? Do you want them to be inspired by the design you create, or the design of others?
Go through this sort of exercise with every subject you enjoy, and really be able to name your passion as precisely as possible. Knowing the answers to these question will help make your online (and offline) voice crisp and clear.
5. Travel. I'm obviously passionate about travel, but I also believe it to be a necessity of life: I think travel opens our minds, broadens our horizons, and helps us look at what we perceive as "normal" and "everyday" in a whole new light. I strongly recommend spending time each year traveling, even if it just means getting in a car or a bus and visiting the next town over for a day. When you do, be sure to take those cameras and journals with you, putting yourself in the "inspiration" rather than "comparison" mindset -- you'll be amazed at how much you learn.
6. Make life happen. It's so easy to let life just wash over us, and deal with it as it comes, but it's so much more fulfilling to go out there and meet life halfway: make a point of having an adventure, however you define it to be. Learn something new, even if it's something mundane, or experience something, just to say you did. Create a life list -- a list of fun things to try -- and keep it handy, for the next time you're bored. The more experience you have, the more honed your voice becomes.
7. Create your own story. Finally, in the words of a dear friend, create your own story -- don't let others create it for you. Once you've pulled together the results of all the tasks shown above, put it all together, and tell your tale. Say your peace. Express yourself. But when you do, a bit of advice:
Know the difference between "intimacy" and "privacy." In my experience, intimacy is often what makes a blog successful -- the ability of the author to connect with the reader, and make the reader feel similarly connected. That said, no one suggests that this means you should divulge everything about your life and thoughts -- it is perfectly okay for certain aspects of your life to remain private, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. If you need to express something that is private, that's where journals come in very handy.