Cultivating a voice: Growing into your own skin

People talk about finding your "voice" in social media. But it's not easy, nor is it something that happens overnight. In fact, my journey has taken about ten years, and oddly, brought me right back to where I started.

Once I graduated, I decided it was time to get serious.

When I started writing at my first job after college, my top concern was to be professional. Not a bad goal for someone just starting out (especially someone starting out by working for a religious organization), though it was a jarring shift from the wacky stuff I'd been doing in college. (For example, in college I'd once written a long, tongue-in-cheek paper examining the multifaceted uses of the word "dude" for a 300-level English class, and made informational signs for my dorm with the occasional obscure reference to one of my favorite geeky TV shows.)

Being weird

But once I graduated, and I had to adjust to writing in a new and different way, my writing came out...well, kind of stilted, in retrospect. "Inauthentic" might be the best way to describe it. It's not that it was bad...it just wasn't "me." And it's not that I can't be flexible as a writer, it's just that the best stuff any writer creates is that which comes from the heart...yet on the rare occasions I had to do that kind of writing, I was too concerned with being "professional" to risk it.

And then I got scared.

My second job, a few years later, had me working under a lawyer. She was a great boss in a lot of ways, but she drilled into me that every single word of what I wrote had the potential to offend someone important and/or instigate a lawsuit, so we had to be ridiculously careful and accurate and...well, "legal" in our phrasing, to the point where our copy was only understandable by lawyers (despite the fact that the intended audience had no legal expertise). This was a huge step out of my comfort zone, and resulted in a lot of second-guessing and fear. So much fear, that when I got to my next job, at an organization that WANTED me to loosen up my writing and have fun, I found it nearly impossible. Because WHAT IF WE GOT SUED?

Doing things for fun

But then...I dipped my toe in the water.

I lived under the spectre of a theoretical lawsuit for years, with that fearful space in my head becoming my new comfort zone, from which I wrote a lot of bland and inoffensive blog posts and tweets; until finally, here at Small Act, I decided to test the waters a bit and write something a bit controversial, a bit more relaxed, and a bit funnier.

And it went over like gangbusters. It's one of our most popular blog posts ever.

Encouraged, I began to write more posts that felt right, that felt like "me." And it felt GOOD.

Normal

And it worked!

Ironically, it took a big step out of my firmly-established, familiar, quasi-comfort zone of professional blandness for me to step back into my old comfort zone of writing from the heart, being quirky and taking risks. I am oddly grateful for those years of "blandness," though, because they taught me some valuable lessons on clarity of writing and being careful to read your writing through various perspectives. But now that I've loosened up a bit, not only am I happier with my writing, but I'm noticing an uptick in the amount of engagement we're getting on our blog and from our tweets.

What you have fun writing is often fun for others to read. And people pass along things that are fun to read.

Obviously, a quirky and occasionally goofy or sarcastic writing style isn't going to fit in everywhere (and it's certainly not everyone's style), and of course there will be lots of times in my career where I'll have to write in a less-fun style. But looking back, I'm amazed at how long it took me to actually use the permission slips I was given to loosen up and write in a way that was comfortable to me - which, as it turns out, is a way to get results.

So if you haven't found your voice yet with blogging and/or social media, don't sweat it too much. Just don't be afraid to try something new. or to apply the kind of writing you like to do for fun toward your professional work, maybe just a little. You might be surprised how far it takes you.