7 Ways Writers Can Find an Exclusive Voice

It’s one of the best compliments I receive from readers. “I loved your book. I could hear you encouraging me as I read. It felt like we were talking over lunch.”

Unique. Transparent. Courageous. Authentic. Fresh. Today’s most popular writing voices are often identified by these descriptors. But how do you tap into the exclusive inflections that showcase your authentic self on the page?Grandpa and Granddaughter

Recently, while watching my nine-month-old granddaughter amuse herself by practicing her newly discovered babble, I thought about a writer’s struggle to speak on paper. In the infancy of our career, we could learn a lot from babies about speaking in an identifiable way. And if we relax and learn to amuse ourselves in the process, we’ll likely find our voice faster.

Most of us need help understanding our voice. But if you follow the seven steps listed below, I can assure you, very soon, you’ll relax into the thrill of conversational-style writing.

  1. Karen Jordan author of Words That Change EverythingWrite to your best friend, parent, sibling, spouse, or child. Someone you wouldn’t hold back with. Last month, I rode to and from the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association Conference, (AWSA), and Christian Booksellers Association, (CBA/ICRS), expo with my author friend, Karen Jordan. One of the things I love about her new book, Words That Change Everything, is her transparent way of writing. Like me, she often envisions a specific person when writing her words.
  2. Imagine your ideal reader. Then, write to them, and only them. Writing expert Jeff Goins says, “My ideal reader is smart. He has a sense of humor, a short attention span, and is pretty savvy when it comes to technology and pop culture. He’s sarcastic and fun, but doesn’t like to waste time. And he loves pizza.”
  3. Ask yourself, What do I like to read? Spend some time looking closely at the books, articles, and blogs you are drawn to. What are their similarities and differences? What is the personality of the writer?
  4. Review your recent writing, and ask yourself, Is this how I talk?
  5. Interview some of your readers. Ask them, “What does my writing voice sound like to you?” List the answers you receive, and ask yourself, Are they hearing the real me through my words?
  6. Don’t start your project/page/chapter by thinking about writing for publication; at first, simply write it for yourself. Free-write without pressure or hindrance — you can always trash it later. But for now, allow your mind to run unfettered and your fingers to type unbound. The gems that shine through your free expression may surprise you, and will lend to freshness in your voice.
  7. Ask yourself, If I knew I had thirty days to live, is the message I’m sharing coming through in its purest state? Is this what I would want to say to the world through my last breaths, and how I would want to express it?

Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Book CoverRemoving our writing masks takes intentional effort. When I wrote Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over, I left puddles of emotional blood on many pages. However, I knew readers needed me to do it — our creative endeavors depend on reaching into our souls to thrust our true selves onto the page. When we do, readers feel like they know us personally, and want to draw nearer. Loyal fans are engaged when they can recognize our projects, without seeing our names.

Can you hear my writing voice in this article? How have you learned to write from your authentic writing voice?

What Actors and Authors Have in Common

Writing is a Personal JourneyI was watching Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show when it struck me. Jimmy greeted the actor with a cheek-to-cheek kiss, before ushering her to the comfy studio couch so they could share a cup and a chat.

After some banter about a recent encounter they’d had at the party of a mutual friend, they discussed some morsels about their personal lives, focusing on commonalities they shared. Then they got to the real reason for the staged visit.

Fallon gushed, as he introduced the new movie title. “Gosh, it’s so, so good. I just love it. I mean when you… Oops. I almost spoiled it, but it’s just that good.”

Listen So Others SpeakThe actor giggled. “Thanks, Jimmy. I was honored to play this role, I know I’m supposed to say I love it too, but I really mean it. This is probably my favorite project so far. I only hope the people who watch it are touched as much as I was making the film.” She raised her hands in the global prayer pose symbolizing humility.

As I watched their interchange, I reflected on other shows I’d seen her on, and her other movies. It seemed every year she was cast in a new release, some blockbusters, some with a cooler audience embrace. That’s when it hit me — how similar a successful author’s experience is to that of an actor.

My third published book just released, and as I promote it, pursue the next big project, while juggling my personal life in the process, I realize the importance of strategic planning. I wish I had the resources, connections, and energy of a Hollywood public relations machine behind me, but even without, I can learn from their methods.

7 Common Factors Between Actors and Authors:

  • Getting Through What You Can't Get OverThe actors are the face of the movie, so no matter what anyone else does behind the scenes, it is the actor who must make public appearances and visit shows on the interview circuit. An actor’s passionate voice, joined with an intriguing movie trailer, is what drives audiences to theaters and streaming sites. For authors, it’s no different. We are the face of our books. Our passionate voice about our message, mingled with intrigue about our book’s content, is what drives readers to want to know more.
  • Each actor brings their own distinct personality to promotion. Some outgoing and bubbly, some serious and reflective. Both work, they will simply attract those of similar taste. Be who you are as an author, and allow natural attraction to draw people.
  • A fresh movie release shifts the actor’s focus to a new message. As authors, I think hearing the branding mantra sometimes makes us sound stale and boring — think broken record. Personally, I believe it’s not only acceptable, but interesting, if we moderately mix up our messages, while staying true to who we are.
  • Getting Through What You Can't Get Over EndorsementA good actor hunts for new scripts and contracts — sometimes preparing for years before they can make a movie they are excited about. Successful authors should do no less. Keep your ears open for hot topics, and drop ideas, research information, quotes, and more for future books into a program like Scrivener — Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over started this way.
  • Most actors would prefer to spend more time on their craft than on marketing, and many authors feel the same. However, actors and authors both know that without solid marketing, we won’t get the opportunity to do another new project.
  • No matter how many shows an actor guests on, if the movie is lousy, sales will spiral. The same is true of our books. We can’t get around it. Good content is, and always will be, the marketing king.
  • Actors cannot produce inspiring art alone. They require support people like agents, fellow actors, experts in PR, producers, directors, etc. Authors also need a group like this to expand their message reach.

The more I reflect on what it takes to release a successful movie, the more I see the connection to releasing successful books. The Hollywood model has worked for decades, which tells me that as much as things are changing, some things stay the same.

What commonalities between actors and authors do you see that I failed to mention?

 

 

 

Three Things I Wish I Would Have Known When I Started Writing

I still remember sitting in that very first session at my first writer’s conference. Nervous. Insecure. Excited. Then the instructor shared that dreaded statistic. It wasn’t good news.

“About one percent of writers succeed in getting published. Because most give up and drop out of the race.”

I felt liking running out of the room into the brisk autumn air. But instead of following my instincts, I stayed — and made a vow to become one of the one percent. I tell that story here.

Extra ExtraSeven years later, I can report good news. I have two published books, First Hired, Last Fired: How to Become Irreplaceable in Any Job Market by Leafwood Publishing, and Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over by Barbour Publishing. A third, (one I was hired to write for someone else), will release in the spring of 2016, a new proposal is on the market, and I’ve contributed in two others. No one is more surprised than me.

Sometimes I still shake my head and give myself a pinch. Am I really a professional author and speaker now? Those dreams I journaled, those goals I put in black and white — are they truly my reality? Why, yes, they are.

It’s hard to believe only a few short years ago I seriously began to pursue my most secret desire. When I started this journey, I didn’t believe in my abilities. If I had, I wouldn’t have waited so long to get serious.

  1. What you have to contribute is just as valuable as what anyone else has to offer. Trust God’s call to write more than you trust your fears and comparisons. Dare to believe.
  2. Do something in regard to writing every day, (except your Sabbath). Research, blog, write articles, outline new proposals, brainstorm titles, interview someone, whatever it is, make sure that six days a week you are making forward motion in your writing career. But don’t discount any of it. Sometimes you will feel as if you didn’t accomplish anything because you didn’t type words into your computer, but if you conducted a new interview, or outlined a proposal, you were productive in your writing. So quit beating yourself up!
  3. Analyze all of the things you learned in past career fields, much of it will transfer to your writing career. I’m amazed at how my background in banking, accounting, marketing, and even manufacturing have given me insights and understanding about the business of professional writing. Nothing is wasted — including the time you spent doing those things. Don’t begrudge your past, express gratitude for its benefits.

Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Book CoverEach day that passes I become more comfortable in my own writing skin. I realize what I am compelled to put on a page can really help others. For instance, we’re now in the most depressing three months of the year, November through January. Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over will make an ideal gift for those who don’t know what to get someone suffering from anxiety, grief, PTSD, or depression. I can now make that statement with confidence, whereas three years ago, I wouldn’t have dared.

I guess what it all drills down to is something we hear many times as authors. It takes perseverance, tenacity, and determination to make it. If I could go back to the beginning of my career, I would encourage my newbie self to keep on keeping on every day. And there’s one particular thing I would add. I’d lean in close, cup my hand over her ear, and then I would whisper, “Never give up, buttercup. In the end, you’re going to make it. You become one of the one.”

Letter to the Spouse of a Writer

Dear Spouse of a Writer,

Please let this letter serve as a note of gratitude. Though you committed to support this journey, I realize your spouse’s growing career might not look like what you imagined. Within six months, any dreams of grandeur probably transformed into desires for normalcy.

At this point, you might feel frustrated.

Let’s face it, your writing spouse’s hours aren’t always that great. Early starts or late runs are often on the schedule. Deadlines might mean sacrificing a date night on occasion.Old Typewriter

You probably question whether the lack of sleep is worth it, or if they’ll ever sit still and watch a movie with you again. And what’s up with the constant pecking on the keyboard?

Do they have anything to say that people want to hear? (Other than family?)

What is the goal?

Money? Can you actually make money at this writing thing?

Why would anyone pour their heart, their energy, their time, and their soul into something so hard? And why would any spouse in their right mind continue supporting it?

Let me give you three powerful reasons it benefits you to cheerlead your spouse’s crazy dream.

  1. Not only did you and your spouse become one according to the biblical definition of marriage, but your role as cheerleader, coach, and sometimes counselor, means you play a direct role in the creative process. Your spouse cannot reach their full potential without you on board. A happy writer is a thankful writer, and a thankful writer wants to give back. In other words, there is definitely something in it for you.
  2. A marriage is not whole if each partner is not given the ability to explore their healthy passions. How would you feel if your spouse tried to take away the things that made you want to get out of bed in the morning? Maybe you’re driven by golf, fishing, shopping, painting, running, or food. Whatever it is that spurs your energy — liken it to how your spouse feels about their writing. For me, reading is my obsession, while writing is my compulsion. Telling me not to write is like telling me not to breathe. By feeding our healthy passions, we are more fulfilled, energized, and interesting.Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Book Cover
  3. The payoff isn’t always calculated in dollars. If one reader is touched, their lives made better, or even saved, no amount of money compares. I’ve received emails from two readers of my latest book, Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over, who said they didn’t commit suicide because of what I wrote. Though I realize we have to put food on the table, and I work hard to do my part, I remind my husband often, “Writing is about souls more than sales.” By supporting your spouse’s desire to write, you could indirectly motivate another human being, brighten their day, inspire them, or even save their life. You and your spouse together can make a difference.

So to all the spouses of writers out there, thank you for what you do. You are the unsung heroes. Though you are often unacknowledged, you are not unnoticed. We couldn’t change the world one word at a time if you didn’t let us bounce them off of you first. We need your voice of wisdom discreetly influencing what we write.

Signed,

Another Grateful Writer

Bad Writer, Bad Writer

Working with Me, Myself, and I isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Now don’t get me wrong, they’re great people, (for the most part), but when they’re bad, they’re really bad.

Every one of them has a propensity to be a bad writer. But maybe not in the way you might think.

Stop When You Are DoneThey, (me), are bad in the realm of behavior. For instance — right now I should be writing the memoir I’ve been hired to pen. It’s a fascinating story of a true miracle man, and I am honored he asked me to help him tell his true story of supernatural experiences.

I should be chomping to listen to the audio recordings of interviews we’ve done. I should be rushing to relay my time with some of the top cardiologists in the world at Mayo Clinic. But am I doing either of those things?

No.

I’m fighting myself. The part that wants to do anything BUT make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I’ve been given. Here’s what today consisted of:

  • Earlier, I caught myself popping onto Facebook without realizing I was doing it.
  • I keep checking the rankings of my latest release, Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over. (Granted, at this writing it’s in its twelfth consecutive week listing among Amazon’s best sellers, so it’s hard to ignore, especially when my author’s heart is thumping like a beaver tail on a warm spring day.)
  • I set up two promotional giveaways for Getting Through. One on Amazon, and one on Goodreads.
  • I accepted an invitation from a local TV station to record four, one minute devotionals. Of course, my brain started to buzz with possibility as soon as we confirmed the deal.
  • And all of this spurred a great idea for a WordServe blog post, so I had to jump over here before the inspiration leapt from my brain.

I hope you understand. I’m not saying any of the things I’m doing are wrong, in their appropriate time and setting, they are each very right. We need to stay relationally connected with our readers and our network of fellow writing professionals. It’s important to keep momentum going when a new project is launched into the world. And who doesn’t want to share great insights with our WordServe friends and family?

BreakdownBut how do I ensure I finish the project I was hired to write? First, I need to give myself a little grace. Enough to brush away unhealthy guilt, but not so much that I keep allowing poor behavior to make me a bad writer. When I give myself the level of patience I offer others, a breakthrough often follows.

I also take a few to celebrate the good things. Excellent reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. Strong sales rankings for Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over. New opportunities to spread a message of hope and healing for the hurting via television. All blessings, I couldn’t conjure or imagine — these are gifts from God. So allowing myself to express gratitude is in order. Knowing if I focus only on the gifts instead of the Gift-Giver, I’m out of line.

Finally, I set goals. A target keeps me accountable, even when Me, Myself, and I try to distract me from the work at hand. Word count — that’s the key for me. No matter how tired I am, I push toward the prize, reaching that daily word count before going to bed.

Goodreads Review Getting ThroughWith a shift in mindset, I’m now bathed in fresh discipline. A self-imposed word count waves in front of me, one I will meet before retiring. A grateful heart beats in my chest with new praise. And I’m almost done with this blog post.

As I process all of this, I realize — I’m not a bad writer, I’m a human one. At the end of the journey, it’s what connects a reader to my message. Real, authentic, raw. Word after word, step after step, Me, Myself, and I are helping change the world. All it takes is one positive review or reader response to remind me why I keep on keeping on. What I experience resonates with others — the writing comes from the living.

The Power of the Ask

I sometimes forget the strength of the simple. Social media is a brawny tool, but it’s sometimes vexing to figure out the best way to reach the masses using our profile platforms. That’s why a couple of informal posts I recently put up surprised me in their reach and response. I re-learned a lesson about the power of the ask.The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

From infancy, we quickly figure out we must communicate our desires and needs in order to have them filled. A baby cries. A toddler whines. A little child begs. A teenager says, “Mommy or Daddy, please?”

If we make our requests without manipulation or ill motives, especially when we are inspired for a greater good, we generally receive what we ask for. I remember a few years ago, when I read Randy Pausch’s book, The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams, and feeling struck when he mentioned the power of simply asking as criteria for getting what we want. The world relinquished a wise and insightful man when he lost his battle with pancreatic cancer in 2008. Randy’s book was his final gift to the world.

Randy Pausch Questions More ImportantI was reminded of The Last Lecture when two different times I asked for help on my social media platforms. My intent was to help others, but as a by-product, the information I received also helped me. I believe because my questions were genuine and sincere, my friends, fans, and followers were eager to assist.

First, as a favor to a friend who is an editor for a women’s magazine, I asked seven questions in order to find out what the hottest topics were for women today. Not only did the volume of answers surprise me, but so did the patterns they revealed. It turns out many women are struggling with similar issues–raw, real, and relevant in our 21st century culture.

My friend got the information she needed, but as a bonus, I’ve been able to share what I learned with other women with hearts to share messages that matter. The benefit I received was my own fresh insight into what sisters of today are battling, allowing me to search for answers on their behalf. All because I dared to ask.

Getting Through Amazon Best SellerThe second thing I asked for came as a result of requesting detailed and specific aid from my social media peeps. When my latest book, Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over released in late March, it enjoyed a strong opening run. The first 90 days, readers reviewed and spread the word as the message resonated with many who were hurting, or knew someone else who was. But as authors, we know the challenge of keeping our messages out there, and figuring out how to reach appropriate audiences with our words of help, healing, and hope.

So when I asked on social media for ideas and/or connections to reach chaplains for the military, hospitals, or prisons, I was again shocked at how much my friends were willing to assist. The power of the ask extended my reach, and the longevity of my book’s impact.

In a world that often feels complicated and confusing, with voices shouting, “Try this. Do that,” it’s refreshing to remember the strength of the simple. Lately, I’ve seen many ask for help in a myriad of ways on social media.Social Media Platforms

“What pediatrician do you recommend in the Denver area? Go!”

“My son got blood on my favorite yellow shirt. Can it be saved? How do you remove blood stains? Go!”

“I need a quick dish for our family reunion this weekend. What’s your fave? Go!”

These days, folks are used to being asked to help with many things. So why can’t we ask for help in sharing our messages, or to find out what messages we should share? Instead of overcomplicating it, why not enact the power of the ask?

What are your current hot topics? Do you have any insights on how/who I can spread my message of real healing and hope for the hurting? How can I help you?

Paying It Forward — It’s Never Too Late to Start Writing

It’s my birthday as this publishes, so I think today is a great time to tap into a subject many aspiring and experienced writers wrestle with. Am I getting too old to publish?

Colorful Birthday Cake

A Colorful Life Makes Colorful Prose

This week, I met a fabulous ninety-two-year-old woman named, Gloria. Before arriving in America, Gloria, along with many of her friends and family, falsely believed the streets in the United States were made of gold. I think they had us confused with Heaven — which America definitely is not.

Gloria’s first husband brought her to the United States when she was a young woman. The only English words the onyx-haired beauty with raven colored eyes knew were, “Hello,” “Thanks,” and “Goodbye.” Yet, with her baby son, she braved a storm-tossed sea on an ocean liner bound for her land flowing with milk and honey. However, as often happens in life, her milk curdled and her honey soured.

Shortly after their arrival, Gloria found out she was pregnant a second time. Her husband panicked and left. She and her family never saw him again, and her sons grew up not knowing their father.

For several years, the single mother raised her sons as best she could in abject poverty. But Gloria, not a woman easily beaten down, learned English, got a job in a local bank, and worked her way up the ranks. By the time she retired more than forty years later, through hard work along with savings and investments, Gloria was a wealthy and influential woman in her Iowa community.

This ninety-two-year-old powerhouse is still impacting others, and will again this December, when she goes on a mission trip to Africa. She knows it’s never too late to make a difference.

I learned most of her story by devouring Gloria’s self-published memoir. Talk about a fascinating and motivating read. I found myself speaking out loud to some of the pages.

“You poor thing.”

“Spot on, Gloria.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“How did you survive?”

“So that’s your secret.”

I laughed, I teared up, and I thought: If Gloria could make it through her situations, then I can face my fears and do the things I’m compelled to pursue.

But then another thought niggled my brain. What if Gloria hadn’t written her book? If she hadn’t shared her story, her family and the world at large would miss out on ninety-two years of revelation, inspiration, and motivation.

Getting Through What You Can't Get Over

My Way of Paying It Forward

Like a fine wine, writers get better with age — let’s face it, the more life we’ve lived, the more we have to offer. Deeper insights, decisions tempered with wisdom, balanced viewpoints, lessons learned, and the list goes on.

If we inspire or motivate one soul, if we can help someone face their pain and cry healing tears, or laugh out loud when they’re experiencing difficult moments, I think we should at least try. It’s the ultimate example of paying it forward. This is the very reason I wrote, Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over.

If we justify not putting words on the page or excuse ourselves due to age, then we hoard our gifts and steal from others. No matter how old we are, if we are writers, we should write. It’s never too late to start writing…whether for the first time, or for the first time on a new project. No matter how many birthdays we celebrate, we have something to offer.