Blogging breakout: voice rules, topics drool

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In June 2007, one of famed impressionist, Claude Monet’s, Water Lilies paintings sold at auction for $37.5 million USD. Last week, I painted a picture of water lilies, too. It hasn’t sold yet, but I’m quite sure it’ll go for at least a buck. Why do you care?

Because, if you blog, if you write, if you paint, if you create…anything, there will come a time where you look at what everyone else is doing, especially the leaders in your field, and wonder…

What could I possibly add to the conversation that’s different?

How many millions of people have painted water lilies since big, bad Claude cranked out his first masterpiece? How many bloggers have written about making money online, growing subscribers, and getting links? How many writers have waxed poetic about personal-transformation? How many dancers have floated through Swan Lake?

The answer to all of the above is, oh, about a billion! But, even with all these people repeating the same topics, painting the same subjects, writing about the same issues and dancing the same dances, there are always a small subset who do it in a way that is so unique, so captivating, so exquisitely compelling, that even though the subject is old and overdone, the way they approach it draws the attention of millions.

Now, my question is…don’t you want to be that person?

You must cultivate your inner-virtuoso.

Here’s a ridiculously simple, yet powerful tip that will keep you powered up and creating, even when it seems everyone on the planet is writing, painting and singing about the same thing as you.

Forget about trying to find something radically different to explore, some new topic or subject, unless you are authentically compelled to do so. Forget about trying to crank out another list, product, service or widget and then market the hell out of it.

Focus instead, on the much harder work of developing your voice.

Your own exquisitely unique point of view. Your own style of writing. Your own palette of colors, your own movements. Your own stories and linguistic patterns.

Seth Godin didn’t create the field of speaking and writing about marketing, but he did it in a way that way uniquely, um, Seth-like. Claude painted water lilies just like millions of others, but the way he did it was different. Mikhail Baryshnikov danced the same pieces as millions, but his voice, his interpretation of each made it unique. So, unique that, even though many others covered the same subjects, people were desperate for the chance to see how “they” were going to do it.

So, if you are a blogger, rather than wracking your brain to find something different to write about, spend that time developing your voice.

If you write about the same thing, but bring your voice, your take, your stories to the topic, that should be enough. If you are a writer, spend more time developing your stories, your point of view your style. If you paint or create anything, spend your time getting so good at whatever you do that, even if a million others have done it before, people will line up to hear, to see, to listen to you do it in your special way.

And, if they don’t, don’t go searching for something else to write about or a marketing team to make people pay attention…

Go searching for your voice.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments below.

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22 responses

22 responses to “Blogging breakout: voice rules, topics drool”

  1. BAM! That’s the sound of you hitting the nail squarely on the head, Jonathan. Excellent advice, and you do have a unique voice, yourself.

    Finding something new and unique isn’t by itself the formula for success, but if we can do that (at least to some degree) and say it in a unique, appealing voice, then I think we’ve got something. Better, I have the feeling that cultivating our unique voices will lead to that as a side effect.

  2. Mark Dykeman says:

    I think you need both good material and voice, but I hear what you are saying about voice. It’s good to keep reminding people about the basics.

  3. Mike DeWitt says:

    Jonathan and Michael, you guys are both spot on! It seems to me that the process of finding a fresh viewpoint on some number of topics is the process of developing your own voice.

  4. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Michael – here’s something interesting, since I was a kid, I’ve tended to look at a look of things “differently” than other people. Same experience, different perception. And, while this actually made things a bit more challenging earlier in life, my willingness to to continue to develop my own take on life has served me really well later in life.

    @ Mark – great point, though, I don’t really agree that you need both good material and a unique voice. Does it make it easier? Sure! But, I have to tell you, I have seen many people take a subject area or topic that seemed incredibly ordinary, outright blah, and by layering their own perspective, turn it into something magical. So, does it help to have both? Yup, But, an extraordinary voice can often overcome what is, to many others, a very uninspired subject.

    @ Mike – that’s it, same process. I think it’s important, though, to always keep it authentic. So, if you’ve genuinely got your own take on something, share it. But, artificially constructing your own take, unless you are doing with very specific intent, never reads as powerfully to me.

  5. wow, thanks! I now feel mediocre.

  6. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Michael – ha ha, ain’t no such thang, my friend! Btw, nice answers to Shane & Peter’s interview!

  7. shane says:

    Now thats interesting – what you are saying is that charisma (aka voice) really is the difference?

    Heck, Winston Churchill, managed to rally an emotionally defeated country in WWII through conviction.

    Has a waffler ever become immortal? Or is it the conviction, not just charisma, behind our words what differentiates us? After all, John Kerry lost an election, mostly for being too open minded.

    What is the common thread among the voice of the great?

  8. My take on finding your voice is writing like you talk.

    I have driven several editors crazy because I write in “fragmented” sentences. One was formerly an English professor – and a nun to boot! You can just imagine what she had to say.
    (She also hated dashes!)

    No nown – or where is the verb and what is the subject of this sentence? Thought I was back in Catholic grammer school.

    But that is my style. My voice. (See, no sentence here!)

    So my advice is to even record your thoughts and then transcribe them to an article.

    People want to connect to a real person. To hear a real voice. (Whoops! There I go again!)

  9. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Shane – great question “What is the common thread among the voice of the great?” Been working on that for a long time. But I believe at least three criteria are in play.

    One, a mad-passion for specific process of creation chosen and, secondarily, the subject. So, you’ve got to be mad about painting lilies, even if you aren’t mad about lilies.

    Two, you’ve got to have used this passion to fuel the creation of your voice often for years, because virtuoso voices need a lot of time and a huge effort to incubate to a level that is beyond just really good and truly great.

    And, three, you’ve got to be authentic. I am sure there are more, but that’s what comes to mind!

    @ Corinne – ha ha ha! one of the biggest professional disagreements I had was when I was a lawyer and my very rigid boss reamed me publicly for constantly using split infinitives. I’ve learned quickly, though, that if you truly want to get your point across, you’ve got to be natural!

    So, here’s to blogging o naturale!

  10. Aaaaahhhh.

    Visiting “Awake At the Wheel” reminds me of why I used to love “West Wing” …

    Intelligent, witty conversation, with the participants moving from room to room at full speed.

  11. esther says:

    i think part of developing your own voice is the not-giving-a-crap-what-other-people-will-think confidence that usually develops over time (though some lucky enfants terribles have it from the get-go). you just do it, say it, write it, create it, without regard to other peoples’ opinions. you can only be authentic when you’re free of that. when you’re wondering what peoples’ reaction will be or if you’re on the right track or ‘doing it correctly’ -whether it’s grammar or water lilies- you’re always coming from a place that’s constrained, which is ultimately a very uncreative place to be. i once had the pleasure to work with the jazz musician max roach and a group of us were talking about bad reviews and how you deal with them, and he just laughed and said “i’ve been up and down so many times… now i just play.”

  12. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Sheila – Man, the first few seasons of that show did rock! I think I need to set up some rooms at the blog. Hmm, note to self, must find decorator for Lincoln bedroom… 😉

    @ Esther – Wow, you worked with Max, the MAX, that’s awesome! And, yes, I totally agree, very often your voice doesn’t really begin to develop until get to a place where you are comfortably telling the word to, well, ya know! And, even then, there’s a lot of back and forth, trust me, I’m in and out of that place on a daily basis. But, I trust that, over time, it’s more intelligent to develop me for me, rather than me for everyone else (did that make sense or was it just bit too Woody Allen?).

  13. Adeline says:

    I am very passionate about what I do and that passion comes across in conversation, but I am still working on having my voice “heard” in my written word. Any advice would be appreciated.

  14. Collis says:

    “Exquisitely Compelling”, that’s a wonderful phrase!!

  15. esther says:

    jonathon: not woody allen at all, yes, made sense. i like the phrase “more intelligent to develop me for me” – that nails it. whenever i’ve chased “me for everyone else” it’s a mess!

  16. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Adeline – Two things, continually craft and refine your message, then devote yourself to practicing the skills that allow you to express it with the most power. It’ll very likely take years, if not decades to really start to get it down. I’ve been at it a long time and still consider myself very much in the middle of the process.

    @ Collis – Thanks, man. In a weird way, words are like paint to me, small changes or pairings make huge differences in impact.

    @ Esther – glad u got the meaning!

  17. Adam says:

    Just wanted to post a quick note on this, as it is similar to the thought I had when I was initially gathering my thoughts for my blog. The phrase I had come up with was:

    “You don’t have to do something different, you just need to do it differently.” (Hmm . . . might be due for a post of my own on that topic, the creative cogs have started clicking)

    Now, I’ll admit that I haven’t really finalized my voice (to the extent that someone’s voice ever is solidified), but it’s something I’m conscious of when writing.

    Great post!

  18. […] instead, on the much harder work of developing your voice. (Jonathan Fields) Everyone has noticed recently (over the past few years and in particular lately) how dominant […]

  19. […] they right,” simply because of the voice they bring to any topic. So, spend a lot more time developing your unique voice and message-crafting […]

  20. It’s true but hard for me as english is not my first language 🙁

  21. […] the blogger/writer’s voice and unique ability to express themselves. So, people who work to hone their writing abilities and unique voice […]

  22. Brytney says:

    good day, really good post!