Own Your Voice: Here’s Why

Over the years my church has developed a series of topic-specific Bible Study courses that they call “Bible Institute.” I’ve been very privileged to have the opportunity to teach a few of those classes. There’s one particular course that’s always been my favorite, and it also happens to be the one that I get to teach most often.

At the end of 2014 my pastors asked me to teach it again – but this time I’m sharing that responsibility with my BFFFC (Best Friend Forever From Church … a different person than my BFF/SNOO). We’ve been taking turns, teaching alternating weeks, and helping each other out along the way. It’s been a lot of fun, and one of my favorite aspects of the experience has been getting to sit back and listen to her unique perspective. Hearing her teach the material has been exciting. It’s given me a fresh outlook, a shift in focus. Even though I know what she’s going to be teaching, hearing her explaining it has opened my eyes to things I’ve never noticed, connections I’d never made. I LEARN in her classes. It’s awesome.

But two weeks ago when we were discussing our schedule, she suddenly sighed and said (in the most self-defeated tone imaginable,) “Maybe you should just teach the class from now on. You’re such a better teacher than I am!”

Um … what?!

First of all this woman is a teacher by PROFESSION. She teaches for a living. And secondly, she’s GREAT at it! She makes her topics come alive in a personal and instantly-applicable way that I could never do. Her stories are funny and self deprecating. She has a wonderful flow between covering the source material and explaining it in her own words. She’s awesome, and I love listening to her teach. In fact, I’ve found myself on more than one occasion wishing that I had her perspective and her voice – wishing I could teach like her. It never occurred to me that she was sitting in my classes wishing she could teach like me!

It turns out we were each suffering from a certain degree of voice-envy. We both wished we sounded like someone else (each other, in this case.) But isn’t that silly? We were both able to benefit from and enjoy each others voices, and that’s a great thing. But it doesn’t mean that we should try (or even want) to change our own.

In thinking about this, I’ve realized what a common trap voice-envy actually is. As a reader and a writer, it’s one that I find myself struggling against all the time, and I think that it’s one that plagues too many writers and would-be writers in this world. After all, we all have favorite authors of our own, men and women whose words come alive to us on the page, people who inspire us to try our own hand at writing. And far too often we start our writing journeys by wishing above all else that we could write like ___________ (fill in the blank with as many other writers as you’d like).

But writing is an art form. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or something completely abstract and experimental. The words that you put on the page paint a picture. They tell a story. And the picture that you are painting is as much a product of your interpretation (your artistic voice) as the subject you’re conveying.

Could you imagine if Van Gogh had tried to paint like everyone else, or if Jane Austin had tried to write like a man? What would have happened if William Shakespeare or Earnest Hemingway had abandoned the originality of their voices in order to sound like someone else?

I’m not saying that we’re all destined to be the next Shakespeare. But what I am saying is this: the world doesn’t need another copycat. The world needs artists with original voices, people who are willing to write from their own perspective, to tell stories their own way. That doesn’t have to mean that we throw out all convention and toss the rules to the wind. We all want to write well. But if you’re serious about the endeavor of writing, then you need to be willing to own your voice.

By all means, read. Read as much as you can as often as you can. Glean what you can from the masters. Learn what good writing sounds like. Let other authors inspire and influence you. But don’t ever lose your voice. It’s what makes you special. Without it you will never produce anything that can teach or inspire others.

Irony

Irony is what happens when you get a brilliant idea for a book on how to get started with plans that God’s given you, you’ve gone through your prep, finished doing your research, and created your outline, but suddenly find that you can’t seem to start writing the actual thing.

This post could also be called “Learning by Doing” “Practice What You Preach” or “Why Am I Surprised?”

So here’s a question for all you people in blogger-land. What do YOU do to get past writer’s block?

Setting Goals

Setting goals – it’s one of those things that we all think we understand, and of course it’s especially popular at the beginning of every new year. We set these goals with all sorts of good intentions, but it normally doesn’t take us long to abandon them altogether.

Why is that?

One reason, I think, is that while we are generally determined to do better, we are often less enthusiastic about being better. Of course we want to achieve that level of success, finish that book, lose that weight, etc. We just aren’t as thrilled about having to do the work it takes to get there.

The other reason, I think, involves a simple lack of clarity. It amazes me how often people set goals that are either outrageously unattainable (I’m going to write a book a month for the next 12 months!) or so vague that they can’t be measured (I’m going to save money this year!)

So how do we fix these problems?  How do we change our patterns so that the goals that we make become achievable as opposed to forgettable?  How do we help ensure that we’re setting ourselves up for success instead of failure? What can we do differently today that will change our outcome tomorrow?

Well, everyone’s different – what works for me might not work for you. But here are a few general guidelines that have helped me along the way:

1. Get Specific. This is one of the simplest things that you can do to help make your goal achievable. If you’re serious about a goal, then you should be able to specifically define what qualifies as success in your mind. Do you want to save money? Great – how much? Do you want to get healthier? Do you want to write more? Well, that’s wonderful, but what does that ACTUALLY mean in your mind? If you can’t tell me that, then you don’t have a goal, you have an idea. Ideas are nice and all, but you can’t achieve ideas. You can’t work toward ideas.

2. Try setting goals that you can meet all on your own. In other words, don’t put your success into someone else’s hands. This can be a hard one to face up to, because so many of our goals involve approval or acceptance by other people. But when our goals involve decisions that we aren’t empowered to make, we can end up feeling like failures just because of other people’s choices. So if you want a better job – don’t make “getting hired”  your goal. That’s not in your hands. But set goals that will make you a stronger candidate for the job you want, and set goals for how and when you will go out there and apply. Do you want to sign with an agent? Well that’s not a great goal, because at the end of the day it’s not up to you. But you can start SUBMITTING to agents – and that’s the type of thing that you can control and plan.

3. Set goals for habitual change, not end results. This isn’t an absolute must, but if you’re the type of person who forgets about your goals 60 or 30 (or let’s be real, 10) days in, it will help to keep you on track. Instead of setting the goal of loosing 20 pounds, try setting goals to change what you eat or increase you exercise. Instead of saying you’re going to finish your book by the end of the year, why not set a daily writing goal – one that’s manageable – and try sticking with it for a month or two? You’ll be surprised how those small daily successes will keep you motivated, and at how quickly they will lead you to real results

4. Build gradual increases into your goals. I love those people who decide every January that they’re going to run 5 miles every day and stick to a strict raw-vegan diet from now on. I love them, but I don’t believe them, because most of the time those types of extreme changes aren’t sustainable. What is sustainable, however, is change that comes in gradual increases. So rather than deciding that you’re going to write 5,000 words a day every day, why not go for gradual change? Set a low goal for January, one that’s easy to achieve – maybe you’ll decide to write 200 words a day or 1000 words a week. And then decide that on February 1st you’ll change it to something more challenging. And then do it again in March. These kind of gradual changes give you time to adjust your life to fit the goals that are important to you.

5. Only set goals that you want to meet. There is no bigger setup for failure than the goal that you don’t actually want to achieve. We set these goals out of a sense of obligation or guilt, but deep down inside we don’t care if they never happen. News flash – those goals are not only pointless (because let’s face it, you’ll never actually do them) but they’re also incredibly harmful to the goals that you actually want to reach. They clutter your plate, so to speak. They weigh you down unnecessarily. They stifle your momentum and steal your focus. None of those things will help you to reach the goals that are important to you. So this year why not do something radical and get rid of the goals that you don’t actually care about.

6. Keep track of your progress. This is so important for anyone who has a goal that’s going to take a while to reach. If you don’t have a plan to reach your goal, you won’t meet it. But just as importantly, if you don’t STICK to your plan, you’ll fall short in the long run. So revisit your goal on a regular basis. Look at how you’re progressing, and celebrate your incremental victories. It’ll keep you focused and motivated throughout the year.

7. Make adjustments. Listen, life is going to throw you curveballs this year, the same way it does every year. That’s just how it works. Some of the goals you set now will happen more quickly and easily than you expect. Others might suddenly become impossible as a result of unforeseen circumstances. That’s all fine. Don’t throw in the towel when things don’t work out. Don’t stop pushing just because you’ve already done better than you’d expected. Make adjustments to your goals throughout the year if you need to. It’s ok to redefine success as you move ahead. That’s part of life, part of growth. If we all stuck to our original goals the world would be full of princesses, ballerinas, fire fighters, and doctors. That wouldn’t be such a bad world, but you get the idea …

I hope these tips helped! Comment below and let me know what you thought. What kind of goals are you setting for 2015? What tips or tricks have worked for you? What important piece of advice did I leave off of my list? Let me know!