Let’s be real with ourselves for a second–we tend to get in our own way. We overthink and doubt our own abilities. This is especially true when it comes to writing. For years, I would sit in front of my computer and either stare mindlessly at the screen in front of me or write a paragraph and realize I didn’t like it and start over. Writing was a stressful process, simply because I was getting in my own way.
The question is, why was it so hard for me to just write?
As I’ve grown as a writer, I’ve realized the key to getting out of my own way is finding my voice. Often, a common link of frustration among consultees in the Writing Resources Center is lack of confidence in their writing abilities. I firmly believe that everyone has the potential to become a great writer if they take the time to find their own voice. You may be thinking, “Why should I find my own voice if people have already said something better than I ever could have?” I assure you that finding your own voice will lead to better writing. Of course, this is a process that won’t happen overnight, but it’s never too late to start! Here are my top 5 tips to begin finding your own unique voice:
- Describe yourself using 3 adjectives. Using different adjectives will help you get a sense of your personality. Your voice as a writer is a part of who you are and your personality is also a part of who you are! Combing the two may help you find a style of writing you like the most.
- Make a list of what you like to read, such as books, magazines, blogs, comic books, etc. Can you find any similarities between them? How about any differences? What genres are you drawn to? Is there a particular writing style? We often admire who we want to be, so what is it about these readings that intrigues you?
- List your cultural/artistic influences. I am a singer, and people often ask me who my musical influences are because they affect the nuances in my singing. This can be true for writing as well. Are there any figures in pop culture that inspire you, such as journalists, actors, slam poets, etc? How can these influences inspire your writing?
- Write in another environment. I can’t always work in the library and need to find inspiration in other places. My favorite place to write is Lake Matoaka because the surroundings are calming, and I can breathe in fresh air for a clear mind. Try walking around campus to find new spots to write! Even take advantage of the beauty in Colonial Williamsburg and find a nice quiet place to think outside of campus.
- JUST WRITE! The best way to find your voice is to simply sit down and write. Write what’s most comfortable to you without any editing and see what you can come up with! This is a great way to see your voice come to life on paper. Also, look at what you’ve written before. You may discover that your unique voice is already emerging in your work.
These are a few ways to begin finding your voice. It may not be as easy as I made it sound, but the journey is certainly worth it.
My heart was on fire.
I clutched five note cards in my shaking hands, staring back at countless faces. My heartbeat throbbed in my ears. My throat was tight. Why was this happening? I had prepared, spent hours making my slides and perfecting my presentation. My research was solid. Yet fear clutched me as I stood in front of the class, unable to speak. No matter how hard I tried to retain control, my emotions betrayed me. I felt like a coward.
I’ve always been quiet. My fear of saying the wrong thing often prevents me from saying anything at all. I sometimes feel that my contributions to a conversation may turn out to be meaningless or boring. When I do speak up, I sometimes regret it. This leads me to spend too much time worrying about the things I’ve said in the past and not enough time on what I want to say in the future.
My worries peaked early in high school. Anxiety permeated my class presentations and group discussions, hindering me from expressing my true opinions in fear of rejection. None of my friends had come with me to my new school. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was inferior and that my classmates would always know more and understand more than I ever could. I started spending long hours preparing even short class presentations and discussions just so I could feel like I was in control. My anxiety kept me from living my fullest life and from taking the risks that I should have. Striving towards perfection left me with no time to myself and little energy.
College shifted my perspective. I was still anxious, but I found myself comforted by the fact that no one really knew each other at the beginning of my freshman year. Thousands of strangers gave me a newfound anonymity. My anxieties significantly decreased when I decided that I didn’t really care what random students in my classes thought of my words. I realized most people tend not to pay attention to presentations and class discussions anyway. Most are more concerned with what they’re going to say themselves when their turn arrives.
I’ve learned that being quiet shouldn’t stop you from speaking up. Your friends will care about your opinions and view them as valid and worthwhile. Those who dismiss your thoughts are not your friends anyway. Because of this outlook, I began to see myself as an equal to others in my classes and in my life. While I still feel some anxiety before presentations and discussions, I’ve realized my thoughts are valuable, despite their imperfections.
Image: Creative Commons
Trips to Wawa and hanging out on the Terrace define my experience here at William and Mary, but so does the struggle to begin writing papers. Here a few strategies from my arsenal that make getting started on paper-writing just a little simpler.
When getting started, make a checklist.
And not a checklist that says “write paper.” That can only be checked off, well, in that distant time when the paper is finally done.
Instead, I have a checklist that is much more focused on each step of writing. My average paper-writing checklist looks something like this:
- refine brainstorming by sequencing ideas
- flesh out thesis
- figure out topic sentences
- go outside and find a dog to pet**
- write intro and conclusion
- develop body paragraph structure
- plan structure of body paragraphs based on topic sentences
- ⅓ paragraphs done
- ⅔ paragraphs
- binge watch Parks and Rec**
- channel my inner Ann Perkins and do something nice for another person**
- all body paragraphs done
- adjust intro and conclusion accordingly
When I check off a box on the checklist, I am motivated to stay productive because I know that I have at least begun the writing process. This system might not work for everyone, but the age-old tip of breaking large tasks into small, bite-sized steps is pretty golden advice.
When brainstorming, don’t dismiss your own ideas.
One trap that I fall into when brainstorming is dismissing ideas as “too dumb” to be included in the paper. Simple ideas form the basis of more complex ideas; when dismissing ideas, you narrow the scope of ideas that have the potential to form the foundation of your paper. It’s one thing to remove ideas from your paper once you’re finished outlining – that likely means that the idea may not be relevant to your thesis. At the brainstorming stage, however, all ideas are game. Once all ideas are on paper in the form of questionably legible half-sentences in a notebook (my way of brainstorming, though that might not be the best format for everyone), you’ll discover trends in your ideas. These trends and patterns in your ideas will form the basis of your thesis.
It’s super important to begin the first stage of writing with self-validation in order to stay motivated. Don’t doubt the strength of your ideas when brainstorming!
When done with your writing, take time to appreciate what you’ve created.
Part of what makes writing so daunting is not taking the time to look back and appreciate what you have created. Seeing what you’ve written is a reminder that you seriously did transform some ideas in your head into a real paper. The real world calls for people to take concepts and turn them into something tangible through the writing process. It is an incredibly powerful gift to have the chance to take your ideas and systematically validate them. While writing papers can be challenging, they are part of what makes our liberal arts education so valuable.