I spent the summer of 1984 being my own twin cousin. I was ten. My mom had just chopped my long hair into a shoulder-length bob.
After crying about my uneven bangs, I put on a pair of white plastic sunglasses, stuffed three sticks of Doublemint gum into my mouth, and introduced myself as twin cousin Jennifer from Oswego.
A few kids were skeptical of my twin-cousin claims, but I answered their questions about my likes (swearing, climbing apple trees, reading Cosmo) and dislikes (playing with sticks, messing with ants, and answering questions).
When they asked how we could be twins if we didn’t have the same mother, I told them our mothers shared a mother and that was pretty much the same thing.
Without the Internet to debunk my theory, kids agreed to call me Jennifer.
In becoming someone else, I began to see who I really was.
Your first voice lesson was about finding your courage.
Here’s lesson number two: To find your voice, you have to know who you are.
Some people think having a voice means turning on the sass, revealing your master’s in slang, or dispensing f-bombs like they’re PEZ candy. Others think you need to be gonzo like Hunter S. Thompson and tell counter-culture stories in strange accents.
If you’re not gonzo or sassy, trying to write as if you are is like wearing a mask to work. There will be weird looks. When you try to convince someone your mask’s rhino horn is actually part of your forehead, someone will call bullshit.
Be yourself instead.
Here’s your inner work:
Exercise #1: What word do you use to describe that piece of furniture in your living room? Couch? Sofa? Davenport? Divan? Love seat? Rumpus Machine?
There’s no shame in being a couch or sofa person. If you say divan or rumpus machinen, own it. Just begin to notice what language you naturally use.
Exercise #2: Flip through your real or virtual photo albums. Pay attention to your style. While some fashion choices, like jelly sandals or MC Hammer pants, might have changed, I bet a few things remain the same. Perhaps it’s the cut of your clothes or your color palette. That something that remains the same is likely an aspect of your authentic self.
Exercise #3: Make a list of adjectives that describe you.
Exercise #4: Answer the following questions in your journal:
- Who am I?
- What are my passions?
- How do I see the world?
- If I could follow my bliss, what would that look like?
Here’s your outer work:
Exercise #1: Make a list of 3 or 4 animals that could represent you. Share the list with a group of friends and ask them which one they’d choose and why. Compare their answers to the adjectives you’ve chosen for yourself.
Exercise #2: Scroll through your social media posts. Find the ones you’ve written that have the most likes. Copy and paste these posts into a document. Note which ones seem like they represent your authentic voice. We’ll come back to this document later in the month.
Here’s your writing work:
Author and entrepreneur Marie Forleo believes writing it rude will help you find your voice. Here’s what she means. Write your shitty first draft as if no one is going to read it. Pump it full of opinions and emotions. Say it with feeling and don’t worry about who’ll get hurt.
In that passionate place, you’re most likely to write from your authentic voice. Underline the sentences that truly communicate your message, then revise, revise, revise to get the rest right.
When you revise, leave your voice in but take the rude out. As Marie says, the best writing comes from a place of both passion and compassion.
Authenticity is a journey, not a destination. And. it’s important because you’re important.
Take it from Martha Graham:
“There’s a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. it is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
If you did the animal exercise, send me an email and let me know which one your friends chose. I’d love to know.