How To Find Your Voice (4 Tips on Taming The Black Dog)

How To Find Your Voice (4 Tips on Taming The Black Dog)

HappyAlexMy son turned two recently. This means he’s reached that magical age where he gets into everything he’s not supposed to, and screams “no” a lot. Except that, he doesn’t say “no” a lot. Frankly, he doesn’t say anything resembling a full sentence. My son is two, and he’s going to be a late talker. Now, whether this is because of blockage in his ear canal, or he doesn’t feel the need to express his wants and needs beyond a window-shattering screech remains to be seen. Mommy and Daddy have been put on a list for speech development therapy, and hopefully something will come of it.

Still though, he’s happy. Despite his lack of vocabulary, he’s healthy and happy and loves to play and get into trouble as every two year old should. And just to be clear, no, he isn’t on the spectrum. He responds, he interacts, he smiles and laughs, and most importantly, he tries to speak. He wants to speak. A lot and at length. He wants to pontificate and sing and argue. But, as of right now, the best he can do is sound something like an octopus that desperately wants to join the world of man, so he disguises himself Clark Kent-style to go about his business on dry land.

Boss: “Johnson, have you finished those quarterly reports yet?”
Octopus: “Glorba BLORGA blorga glorba blorgablorg!
Boss: “Ah, very good. You know Johnson, I like you. You’ve got the right attitude to make it in this business. Wilcox, how come you can’t be more like Johnson?”
Wilcox: “Because he’s a cephalopod, sir.”
Boss: “Have you always been this racist, Wilcox?”

He likes to talk. He wants to. And when he starts chugging along on his little sibilance choo-choo, I am convinced that he thinks he’s making perfect sense. I am convinced that he’s got The Gettysburg Address, The St. Crispin’s Day Speech, and ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas completely memorized, and he’ll roll it off his tongue at the drop of a hat. The thing is, no one can understand him, although not for lack of trying. His family all just smile and nod and do their best to understand. And he’ll still get frustrated at us because we still don’t get it.

I cannot help but sympathize. Sometimes, I feel the same way when I write. Especially when I blog.

So, You Want Your Voice Back?

For the past couple of days, I’ve allowed, as an old friend used to say, The Black Dog to

sherlock-202-the-hound
Yeeesh..

come to my doorstep.

The beginning of my blogging days were cultivated in the dark, dark days of the now defunct Yahoo 360°. For those of you too young to remember, Yahoo 360° was a social profiling site along the lines of MySpace and was the perfect place for the more socially averse who weren’t quite ready to jump on board the Facebook bandwagon. Those were the days where I was still cutting my writing teeth and finding my voice. Although, as I think back to then and reflect on what I do now, not a lot has changed. And I’m not quite sure I found my voice yet.

Among the new friends I accumulated at that time was a fledgling author. At the time, she was doing the song and dance of getting herself published. Her blog kept her friends and followers in the loop as to how and when the publishing was coming along. That is, when she wasn’t regaling us with tales about her kids, or refurbishing a house she and her husband just bought, or random pieces of erotica that she wrote. Her writing would have us in stitches, but every once in a while, Doubt would come calling, along with her kooky cousins, Anger and Depression. She would apologize for her candor, and blame it on the Black Dog that showed his teeth when she tried to step outside of her house.

It’s over ten years later. The people I knew on that site are now scattered to the wind, and I wish them well. It’s over ten years later, and it hasn’t been until recently where I’ve actually considered getting published myself. I haven’t thought much about that time until now. I would have been satisfied leaving it in the past, but presently there is a familiar beast who has found himself just outside my own door with a sign around its neck reading, “Isky sends her regards.”

I get lost. More times than I’d like to admit. It’s so hard not to in this brave new world of self-published authors and readily available information. I want views and notoriety just as much as anyone else who starts down this road. I want to write as a career, and I’m willing to work for it. But sometimes I get impatient, and the void I scream into doesn’t respond back. Then I start to question my motives and practices, and maybe I should return to the “real world” because my blog hasn’t sold enough widgets and the placement of my SEO has gone all screwy or whatever. I get nervous, and the Black Dog gets hungry.

When I get lost, the first thing I gravitate towards are the hectares of blog posts that are so eager to dispense advice on how to boost your blog traffic. Their oh-so clinical and categorical language always leave me more confused, frustrated, and about as satisfied as forcing myself to eat a freezer-burned Lean Cuisine when I really want a pizza. Then come those days where I just want to detach altogether, put a ball-peen hammer through my computer screen and spend the rest of the month binge watching Gilmore Girls. When I get scared, I lose my voice. When I lose my voice, I get lost. When I get lost, The Black Dog will find me.

But I’m not alone in this. I take the smallest grain of relief in the knowledge that there are others out there like me who are worried that they haven’t found their voice yet, or fear that they may have lost it all together. However, in acknowledging this, I have discovered something that’s been in my pocket for a long time. In worrying about not finding your voice, or not finding your words, you allow doubt to take over. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration, afterall.

Full disclosure, I didn’t go to school for writing or blogging or business. What I have learned, I learned on my own through my own research and just sitting in front of a monitor every day while my fingers tap out a few thousand words, and, most importantly, allowing myself to make mistakes. I’m not an expert, but here’s my advice for whenever The Black Dog starts growling.

1. Ignore Just About Everyone.

“Okay, Google.”
blingityblink
“I’m drowning.”
[Seconds pass as the lifeboat sinks a little deeper.]
blink “Here are some websites to tell you what to do in case of drowning.”
“Not very helpful, Googleblubblublblub…”
blink “Sorry. I didn’t quite catch that.”

Research should be second nature to you, right? Blog post, genre fiction, non-fiction, book report, burrito recipe, doesn’t matter. We used to spend hours raiding the shelves of our local library, now everything you need can be held in a few tabs worth of Google searches. You put the time and effort into researching everything before submitting anything which is the way it should be. However, I think the byproduct of living in the age of Google is that we have become too dependent on it. We rely on it for everything we need to know. Unfortunately, Google can only tell you so much. Case in point, in terms of advice, Google is really good at telling you who said what and when, it’s not so good at telling you whose to follow.

“Okay, Google.”
blingityblink
“Tell me I’m pretty.”
[Seconds pass as the mascara runs further down your face.]
blink “…errrrrrmmmm… Can we just be friends?”

There comes a time when you can only absorb so much advice before you realize that you haven’t put any of it into action. Are you honestly looking for advice because you’re stuck, or are you looking for someone to validate the exact same thing you’ve been thinking about for the past week? Have you painted your manuscript into a corner, or are you licking your wounds from a really bad review and in need a virtual drinking buddy? Taking advice is fine, just remember that most of it shouldn’t be taken as gospel. If you want to write, get writing.

2. But, Be Careful With the Advice You Seek.

The biggest pet peeve I have with blogging/writing advice is the presumption that it should be done with full intention of getting views/clicks and generating an income. Every post on the subject is a “Top 10 ways to blahblahblah,” or “The Most Obvious Thing That Your Blog is Missing,” or any other form of  flashy, deep-fried clickbait that gets you to read the same regurgitated information that’s been shared a thousand times before. It gets to the point with me that I figure the most guaranteed way to get more clicks, is to title my blog post “How To Get More Clicks” and give away a FREE BOOK on the subject that’s worth $100’s of DOLLARS and FILLED WITH VALUABLE INFORMATION that someone else wrote, but you can NEVER FIND EVERYWHERE ELSE if you don’t know how the internet works and BE SURE TO GET ON MY MAILING LIST because YOU’LL GET HERPES IF YOU DON’T!!1! FUCK YOU, SHUT UP AND CONSUME!!

Nothing against you guys doing what late night infomercials have been doing for years before the internet was born, but I’m looking for writing advice, not the P.T. Barnum Playbook with a foreword by Zig Ziglar.

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Anyway, getting back on subject…

According to many pro-bloggers, blogging is solely designed to facilitate sales. That’s it. Not the exchange of ideas, and certainly not to be used for any artistic or abstract expression.To paraphrase from  Halt And Catch Fire, “Writing isn’t the thing…it’s the thing that gets the thing…” Nope, it’s all about the almighty dollar, y’all. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that (I mean, c’mon. It’s the way I’ve chosen to pay my bills coughcoughCheckOutTheDonationButtoncough), it has very little to do with what I’m seeking help for.

What gets me so bummed whenever I think I lost my voice and I go out to find it, is that I’m not careful with whose advice I follow. After taking into consideration the wisdom that some gurus dispense, I tend to think that what I’m presently doing is wrong. Simply because I’m writing fiction and entertaining readers, rather than to just knuckle down and write some drab, emotionless fluff piece for the corporate interests of others while utilizing the tried and true Carrot-On-A-Stick Method.  My intentions with this blog is to entertain because I want to, inform when I can, and yes, sell things that I’ve made (coughRandomMerchPagecough…sorry, allergy season). That’s the way that works for me. What works for you might be completely different, and that’s okay. Just don’t do one thing that’s disguised as another in order to make a buck.

Writing is fine. Self-Publishing is fine. Making a buck is fine. However, there is a difference between the three. And meaning and intention tends to get blurred in the ye olde Google search.

This is something I obviously struggle with on a regular basis. I hate to break it to ya, but nobody is going to tell you what’s going to work for you as a writer. Seeking wisdom from our heroes is always good for perspective, but if you really want sage advice on how to find your voice, keep reading.

3. Realize That We All Start Somewhere.

So, you lost your voice. The manuscript you’re working on has stopped making sense by the second act , your characters have all walked away from you while flipping you off and giving you the side-eye, and the fear of “not being good as your heroes” that you’ve shoved to the back of your nervous, flop-sweaty little mind, is now front and center wearing a Boater, a candy striped blazer and twirling a cane in his fingers singing, “HELLO MY BABY, HELLO MY HONEY, HELLO MY RAGTIME GAAAAALL…” Before you pack it in, consider this…

This fear is a good thing.

This fear means that you are on the right path.

Because, let’s face it. If you didn’t want to be a writer, you’d be doing something else by now like repairing lobster traps, or learning how to be a spreadsheet whiz-kid, or whatever you kids are into nowadays… with your Facebooks and your smartphones [shakes fist].

I’m presuming that since you are not any of these people, or have no intention on becoming one, that you have a story inside you that no one else can tell.

Great authors, like great football players, actors, surgeons and sandwiches, aren’t born. They’re made. Anyone can deliver a plot. Plot is nothing. Plot is the barest of minimums. But, you’re looking for something with a little more meat on its bones, right? You’re a storyteller, Harry. If you want to deliver your plot on something other than an a styrofoam plate, you need nuance and foresight and planning and grace and other words that aren’t coming to mind at the moment. All of which takes a lot of trial and error. All of which takes…

4. Practice.

That is all. Practice. It doesn’t get any simpler or any more obvious than that. There is no magic pill, no secret that only a few know about, that is free with purchase if you order within the next 20 minutes. Nope. That’s really all there is to it. Practice.

If you want to write, write.

“But…”
But, what?
“But, I still lost my voice.”
Oh, that’s not true. You’d be amazed what could happen once you get going.
“…but…”
What now?
“I don’t sound like J.K. Rowling.”

A word about that.

Many writers will tell you, and I’m in full agreement with them, that there is something to modeling yourself after your heroes when you are first starting out. It helps with the process of writing the story as well as finding your own voice. Yes, we all want to be the next Rowling. Just like I want to be the next Robbins, Thompson, Gaiman etc. So, I study my idols. I dive into their works and study how they do it and with a little luck, I’ll come out on the other side with just the right colors in which to paint my own landscape.

We all want to be the next Rowling…

Have you ever considered being the first You?

There is a story inside you that no one else can give a voice to, but you. Your craft is to build worlds from nothing more than imagination. We’d all like to see it, but the only way we can see it, the only way that you can stop sounding like an octopus in a polyester polo shirt, the only way to bring The Black Dog to heel is to just keep writing.

You’ll see.

keepwritingnotposter2015bla
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Motivation Monday: Halloween Edition

Maybe it’s the time of the year.

Maybe it’s because I haven’t posted anything in over a week and I needed to stretch out and do something before I lose more followers.

Maybe it’s because I re-opened my t-shirt shop with a couple of new designs, and one of them was a design that I’ve been preparing for a couple of months, but it wasn’t completely finished until I found a technique that woke it up a little bit and I’m probably going to reapply this technique on future designs.

Like it? Buy it here.

Maybe it’s because I could stop saying to myself, “It’s only a matter of time before they reboot this” when I recently heard the news that they are finally remaking The Crow. My only hope is that they will be closer to the source material this time. Nothing against the movie, I had the movie adaptation on video. Watched it so much that the tape broke.

Maybe it’s all these things that prompted me to make today’s post, but since it the season for all things horrifying (Ebola hysteria notwithstanding), I thought this quote was particularly motivational.

“The Crow” was an independent comic produced in the late 80s. It’s a dark series involving darker characters and even darker story line that was inspired by truly unfortunate and even darker, real events. I’ll spare any spoilers for the one or two of you who haven’t read it yet. I will say that the antagonist of the story isn’t the most virtuous of souls. He is, however, one of the most tortured. Vengeance does that to a guy…especially for a guy that just came back from the dead to kill the people that killed him and his fiancé…

Anyway, today’s motivation quote appears at the end of the book, as the hero returns to the afterlife reunited with his beloved. This quote has always stuck with me. First, in a paint-my-fingernails-black-and-listen-to-The-Cure-while-I-lock-myself-in-my-room kind of way. But later, especially in these days of striking out on my own, I’ve reinterpreted it as a way of saying, “it ain’t over, till it’s over”.

Nothing is over until you say it is. Nothing. Not your life, your love, your wisdom, your empathy. Nothing. Yes they may come with bullets and crude weapons, they may come with a “cease and desist”, they may come and liquidate your entire department while promising you that if another position opens up, you’ll be the first in line and then 8 months later, advertise for that position in the want ads and “forget” to CALL YOU AND OFFER IT TO SOMEONE ELSE. ARE YA HAPPY, YA BASTARDS?!!!

….sorry….

While you still draw breath, you still have a chance. Poker players refer to this as “a chip and a chair“; so long as you have those two things, you still have a shot at the jackpot. It ain’t over till it’s over. Don’t give up. You still have a shot and so long as you are still walking and talking, you have a chance. You’re not dead yet.

It’s only death if you accept it…

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Motivation Monday: (Tuesday Edition) Paul Coelho

“So, you have how much experience in this field?” He made me wait in an uncomfortable meeting room for ten minutes. His assistant was in a rush for me to finish the five page, photocopied application. The application they had me fill out was something that I’ve never seen before. I was thoroughly convinced that it was set up specifically to deter…well…everyone. In the previous employer section, there was a part that I had to fill out entitled, “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?” Like, differences of opinion, unable to meet unobtainable sales numbers, or getting laid off weren’t good enough reasons? Is it really pertinent to this job I’m applying for? Should I remember the reasons you let me go in the future for the next company that doesn’t want to hire me to begin with?  “How much experience do you have in this field?” He said, barely interested in what he was reading.

The week before, I applied for several jobs in one day. Got calls back on all of them. This job that called me back, I had no (literally no) experience in. I never expected a call back from them, but that all changed when the phone rang and I answered like some college kid hung over from the night before, “Who are you again?” Things, suffice to say, didn’t go so well for the next 24 hours.

They called me into a job that I had no hope of ever getting hired in, the boss’ assistant had to tell me to hurry up and fill out a five page application that was written by Beelzebub. Nothing in my life has prepared me for this moment in time. The boss of the company was playing with me; filling the air with, “Oh. You went to University…not a trade college?” and, “you know, it is difficult to find a job in this area.” He said to the guy who’s unemployment just ran out and who’s been looking to no avail since January. “How much experience do you have in this field.”

Although I didn’t say it, my expression was doing all the talking. “Look pal, I don’t know how I got in here, but you and I both know that this is just a waste of time. Can you just hurry up and get to ‘no’?”

Waste of time.

What to do now?

Beat my head against a wall for another 8 months, or get up and move in another direction?

I’m studying Quickbooks. I don’t need an MBA or have to be certified by some board, all I need is experience and the will to know how to use it. And, since everywhere in this town is a Mom-and-Pop Venture and they don’t need CPA’s with a Harvard degree, it would behoove me to bone up on this skill and become a gun-for-hire.

In the meantime, I have bills. And they’re piling up.

I’ve been saying it for months. I’ve been dancing around the subject but never really pulling the trigger. I’ve been motivating myself every week, and I still have yet to take that initial step forward.
By the end of this week, I hope that I have some Freelancing gigs. Which is kind of a big deal, because I’ve never done this before. But considering the circumstances, I have very little choice.

I’ve been putting on my Bravado hat for months now. I’ve been saying that I will do this. I will do this. I will do this.

…so why haven’t I? (Excuse me while I talk to myself for a minute…)

Marilyn Allysum
  • I don’t have enough followers? No, that can’t be the case. You have a fraction of the readership any other blog would have, but you’re gaining interest every day, and you trust and love each of your followers. The numbers will grow. Just give it time.
  • I don’t think I’ll be able to reach the requirements? Well, considering you’ve just cranked out over 600 words in just under 30 minutes, I don’t think that will be much of an issue. You used to thrive under pressure. You also had a mild stroke at 35. Regardless, it’s in your nature to do this.
  • My research skills aren’t that great? Dude…I don’t wanna hear this. You were born in the Year of the Rooster, do you know what that means? That means you are a born detective. You were named after the Patron Saint who found things that couldn’t be found. As soon as one of your so-called jobs asked you to do research on a certain subject, you dove right in without thinking twice. This is what you do. Stop denying yourself this. You aren’t a numbers man. You’re a words man.
  • I’d run out of things to blog about? Okay, now you’re wasting my time…which is essentially YOUR time. I think you have run out of excuses…

So, why haven’t you done this?



There is nothing to fear because nothing has happened yet. And nothing will happen until you move forward. If you want to fear something, fear not moving forward. Fear not taking a chance. Fear not believing in yourself.



Fear giving up.



…It’s up to you…

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Motivation Monday: The Dog Ate My Homework Edition

I’m up! I’mupI’mupI’mup…I’m awake…
Where is everyone…?

Where am I…?

Crap…missed it again…

Okay, the last thing I remember, it was Monday and I thought it would be a really cool idea to make a nice graphic in honor of National Coffee Day.

“National Coffee Day? What madness is this?” I ask to myself as I wake up and turn on my computer and listen to the news. It was the lead story on every news outlet. It was almost as if there was nothing else happening in the world. No war, just coffee, and the day attached to it. No political unrest in Hong Kong, no shake up at the Secret Service. Just…coffee. Coffee as far as the eye can see.

I started my day as usual, with a bowl of cereal and a pot of coffee. A few hours later, I decided to celebrate some more by making another pot, because this design wasn’t going to make itself. I sat down at the computer with my fifth cup of the day.

And then all went black soon after…

I awoke several hours later. The general early 70s ambiance of my house was so rotten, so incredibly foul. What had happened? There was evidence in this room of excessive consumption of almost every
type of drug known to civilized man since 1544 AD. What kind of addict
would need all these coconut husks and crushed honeydew rinds? And why was my son duct taped to the ceiling? Too savage…too agressive…

Jesus…did I just say that?

I finally came down the next day with no project, no idea where to start, and a huge goddamned electric bill…

Sorry, just riffing.

My days are all mixed up and I’m not sure if I can stick to a regular schedule. But we must prevail.

Moving on…

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Motivation Monday: Jack Kerouac (In Honor of Banned Books Week)

Motivation Monday: Jack Kerouac (In Honor of Banned Books Week)
“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars…”

This weeks installment of Motivation Monday is a salute to Banned Books Week. This is the week that we honor those books that have made reading infinitely cooler by pissing off just about every uptight librarian, conservative English teacher and Fundamentalist Christian for as long as there have been words that offend.

So many books have been banned, it’s so hard to pick a favorite. The dictionary itself was banned at one time. I guess if I had to pick a favorite, it would have to be required reading for all things cool, Kerouac’s “On The Road”. The first time I read it, I was unprepared. The first time I heard it read aloud, I was still unprepared. It is a work that is endless as a Texas highway, as vast as a night’s sky in Colorado, and apparently, as naughty as a sailor on shore leave, according the morals of 1950’s America.

This was banned because of implied misogyny, “coarse” language and encouraging immoral behavoir. “Immoral” as in discovering your world and in doing so, discovering yourself? The nerve of some people, right?

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Motivation Monday: Sing Along If You Know the Words…

Go ahead. Take another piece of me. Use me up until I am a withered husk. Take away my livelihood, make me question my choices, steer me in the wrong direction and blame it on me. Go ahead. Take everything.

You can’t take the sky from me.

from Funnytoo.com

Firefly never stood a chance. The geniuses over at Fox tried to rekindle a relationship between those of us who were old enough to remember watching television on a Friday night, and content that would be worthy enough to keep us home on a Friday night. Long story short, the experiment failed. People still watched TV, just not enough to justify another season of this show. Any television show that gets cancelled mid-season probably has a pretty good reason for it; mainly because no one was watching it. Firefly had yet to complete its first full season of television, and yet has accumulated a rabid world-wide following.

Why is this?

Could it be that the time was right for a Sci-Fi Western with hints of Steampunk? Maybe it was the episode where Captain Mal showed his buttocks (amiryte, ladies)? Or, maybe it was the distinct writing style of Joss Whedon that hooked me in for those turbulent weeks, and turned me back into that kid in his pajamas waiting for Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, The Dukes of Hazzard and of course, Knight Rider to start.

It could have been all those things. Still though, I’d like to think that this show, short lived as it was, hit the right chord with the right people at the right time. And I’m not talking about giving nerd-dom another universe to devour, although I’d be wrong if I didn’t say that it had just a little to do with it…

Why, yes! That is my Firefly board game, thank you for noticing!

I’m speaking in terms of the feel, the underlying message of the whole thing. I mean, I could be wrong and completely biased, but what I took away from this show was a never-say-die spirit that has been beaten up and yet survives; on to the next job, it might be dangerous, but we need to survive. The Captain of this ship is a veteran of a war that he didn’t win. He could have curled up and died, he could have wasted away in some back water, he chose instead to survive. He chose to survive by essentially being an independent contractor. Sure, most of the jobs were shady, but at the end of the day, the captain and his crew were still big damn heroes.

What I took away from this was to go ahead and take a chance. Make your own way. Carve your own path. If you can’t find it, make it! They’ve liquidated your job, sent it over seas. They told you that you were “overqualified”. They are hiring, but just not right now. They told you to fight in a war that you had no hope of winning, and if you survived, you’re on your own. Make your own way. What are they going to do, take another piece of you?

They can’t take the sky from you…

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There comes a time when you have to get off the sidelines and join in. Not satisfied with the sandwich you usually get? Make your own. Not finding the photo or the tutorial you want? Make your own. Don’t settle for just good enough. Don’t shrug your shoulders because you can’t find what you’re looking for. If you can’t find it…

…make it. Construct it. Build it. Write it. Bake it. Sing it. Sculpt it.

Join in…

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