As a professional content creator, you’ve got your job down pat. You’ve long since mastered the technical aspects of your chosen profession, and you can crank out amazing articles, bleeding edge blog posts, and scintillating marketing copy like a machine. You’re super competent. You’re an expert.
There’s just one small issue: Your portfolio, though technically adept, is generic. Bland. Corporate. The very best of you — your personality, style and voice — isn’t represented in your body of work.
For many people, this isn’t a problem. Sticking to proficiency in a craft doesn’t generally interfere with one’s ability to earn a living, and a creative can have a long, happy, satisfactory career without ever progressing beyond technical competence.
But technical competence isn’t the same as mastery. Mastery requires innovation, not mere replication. For writers, that means developing a unique voice. And the hard truth of developing a voice is that most writers — even truly excellent ones — suck at it when they first start. After all, mastering anything, even something you’re pretty good at, takes a lot of time and effort.
So what do you do?
What do you do if you’re a good writer but your voice sucks?
- Follow in the footsteps the greats.
When you’re first starting toward mastery, it’s okay to be derivative. Let’s all repeat that together: It’s okay to be derivative. Much like crawling before walking, you will inevitably reflect elements of the works that inspire you as you tack back and forth trying to find your voice. And that’s okay. We officially give you permission to be derivative. Hunter S. Thompson took an extreme approach as he was developing his craft and typed out The Great Gatsby and A Farewell to Arms word for word to get a feel for what it would take to create great art. Even Shakespeare’s talent didn’t spring forth fully formed like Athena from the head of Zeus — he, like many others since, stole like an artist. If it’s good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for you.
- Write, write, write. Then write some more.
Individual raindrops won’t break a dam, but get enough of them and they’ll tear down everything in their path. If you’re feeling like the resistance you’re facing is insurmountable, err on the side of activity. Take a page from Isaac Asimov. Over the course of his life, he wrote almost 500 books … some of which undoubtedly suck. But if that’s the price to pay for authoring books that helped define an entire genre, who cares? You don’t necessarily need to be as prolific as Isaac Asimov, but heck, it couldn’t hurt.
- Get passionate.
How important is passion? Let’s put it this way: Through volume, Isaac Asimov defined a genre; through passion, J.R.R. Tolkien created one. Early in the previous century, Tolkien was one of the (probably) six people on earth who cared deeply about philology, or the study of languages. His nerdy passion for languages led him to create one of his own — Quenya — which led to The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and a significant portion of Peter Jackson’s career. Figure out what you’re nerdy about and just start talking about it. Passion leads to excitement, excitement leads to flow, flow leads to voice.
- Join a community of creatives.
There’s a great deal of romance around the idea locking oneself away in a remote cabin for weeks at a time to write The Great American Novel, but as Mark Twain or Abraham Lincoln probably said, it’s impossible to grow in a vacuum. Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers and C.S. Lewis had The Inklings; Gertrude Stein, Hemingway and Fitzgerald had 1920s Paris. There’s nothing quite like being in the company of other creatives to inspire growth and action.
If you’re looking for a local community of creatives who are ready, willing and able to help you push past competence and toward mastery, there’s no better group than Craft Content Nashville. Sign up now for the annual Craft Content unconference (#CCN18) and hear some of the brightest voices in Nashville speak on creativity, crafting content, marketing and so much more.