How to Kill Your Voice

This morning a random memory fired through my brain.

I’m in the seventh grade, sitting at my desk with my Macintosh desktop computer (before they got cool), and I wish that I had a story to tell so that I could write it. But I wanted to write something extraordinary, so the filters in my brain were cranked up to high levels. Suffice it to say not many ideas made it through.

It occurs to me now after all these years of making mistakes, learning from them, and making them again that I just should have written something. That day at my desk, I felt so much pressure to write something exceptional that I wrote absolutely nothing at all. I should have just written whatever story popped into my head, no matter how inane it was. Instead my standards were so high that I didn’t write anything.

I believe I was worse off for this. I believe that I would have been better off had I written junk than being afraid to write junk and writing nothing at all. That little shadow I had back then exists to this day. It looms over me whenever I sit down to write. That pressure of wanting to make it really, really good still filters everything that comes through. I don’t get anything done when this thing is around. That’s why I tell people to write crap.

Write it just so you can write something. You can write crap and salvage it latter. Or you can write it and decide it’s not worth salvaging. It doesn’t have to be anything right this moment.

But when you tell yourself, “I want this to write the great American novel” or “I want this to go viral,”  then your writing has to meet that. If it doesn’t, then you feel like you’ve fallen short.

Setting expectations kills your voice.

There’s plenty of commentary on the online world about the millions of blogs out there, about how many of them don’t get enough traffic or are abandoned entirely. There’s also a debate among self-published authors about what poorly written work does to the image of self-publishing and how that work should be vetted.

There are standards to be sure, but when you sit down to write, it doesn’t have to be anything. Whether you show it to anybody or not, publish it or not, you can decide that later.

You can decide that it won’t be anything at all. Having expectations of how it should be can invite that shadow to sit at the desk with you.

So whatever it is, just write it. It doesn’t have to be anything right now. Allow it to be whatever it will turn out to be.


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