If you’ve been reading my blog for any time at all, you’ve heard me talk about these 2 things at least eleven times:
Embracing your Voice & Finding Your Great Big Why.
In my experience, these 2 things are really important Pre-Prewriting steps any writer should take in order to start really focusing in on her message & sharing it confidently.
Which makes the story I’m about to tell you the perfect one for me to explore this week, because I’m running a free Blogging Warm-up Challenge to help bloggers find their own Great Big Why & then express it using the Writing Process you know I love.
But I’ve never shared this story before about how I spent many years, focusing on perfection…& then built an eventual truce with my own broken Voice.
Since I’m writing my Great Big Why post along-side the Challenge participants this week, it felt like the perfect time to share this one with you.
Because obsessing about making your Voice perfect will only sabotage your efforts of sharing it.
The draw toward perfectionism can be strong, but it never gives me motivation or creativity.
It shuts me down completely.
I can see you doing it too: reading every line as you go & telling yourself that it’s not good enough. Your hand is hovering over your keys as you search for the absolutely *perfect* word to describe your product – or your feelings – or your breakfast.
Your trashcan (the one in your office, or the one on your laptop screen) is filled with rolled up, balled up pages of work that you refuse to share because it simply isn’t good enough.
People will know. They will see through me.
So you throw away the offending words – the imperfect ones or the pages that make you feel open & vulnerable. You’re not ready to slip out of your safe, protective turtle-shell so you ball up the scariness & run away to hide on Facebook, or in the cookie jar, or under the blankets.
But that’s work that you’ve thrown away. Your work! You put time & effort into those pages, & then you tossed them away because they weren’t…what? Perfect?
When I was a teenager, I sang classical music in a world-class choir.
As in – I sang in Latin & German & a few dozen other languages; I sang 7-part-harmonies with famous orchestras all over the world; I sang on TV (in a silly red bonnet…but I’ll tell you about that another day) & in live concerts & recording studios.
I experienced things I can’t even believe: reading newspaper articles with my big ole face on the front page, receiving the music for a performance on the morning of the concert & feverishly practicing for 8 hours straight before a live performance for the composer himself, & travelling the world to sing on stages of all sizes.
I had the joy of breaking out into song spontaneously with just a handful of my friends to have strangers approach us with thanks, & I experienced the power of performing music with as many as 500 other voices that was so beautiful I had tears running down my own face at the sheer power of it.
I sang in Carnegie Hall, when I was fourteen years old.
Yeah. That happened. I still can’t grasp it, really.
Between practises with the garage-band I pretended to be in & napping in the field beside my high school, I had the luxury & absolute fortune to walk up those stage-hall-steps & see signatures of singers like Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix & Luciano Pavarotti on the walls, as I got ready to take the stage they had once stood on.
It was pretty freaking amazing.
But a LOT of work went into getting the 40-odd teenage girls in our choir to that stage. We spent many a Sunday afternoon, Monday night & lunch hour singing & breathing & singing some more.
We drove miles in rented busses, practising scales & harmonies, and we sat crammed into a tiny hotel room on Carnegie West, singing & singing & singing our parts.
All in the pursuit of perfection.
We were professionals, so when those curtains opened in New York, we were expected to bring that level of expertise to every second of our performance – right down to our smiles, “General smiling position of the face, girls!” It was all prepared & practised…perfectly.
It was an amazing experience, full of moments I will never forget, & I miss it. I truly do.
But it did some damage, kitten. It’s been a lot of years since I left that stage, but I’ve only recently come to terms with that damage & embraced the imperfections I naturally have, as – you know – a human person.
Not to mention the damage I caused myself in the process of chasing that perfection.
A year or two after that trip to New York, we were asked to be a part of a concert series with a semi-famous piano player & were sent a packet of music for a choir that included Baritones & Tenors.
The problem was that we were all girls – & one thing girls aren’t naturally suited for? Singing Baritone. That’s the lowest of the low scales, for grown-a@$ men. Like…Barry White low notes.
There was no way we could do that, but we were professionals, so we did.
The 5 or 10 altos in the group who normally carried the lower parts got broken up into tenors and baritones, & we sang those low notes like professionals – perfectly.
We practised pushing our voices down into the lowest ranges we could possibly reach: not quite the octave they were written in, but way too low for a handful of teenage girls to be expected to sing.
At our first dress rehearsal for the concert, we started into the opening bars of “The Little Drummer Boy” & the band leader jumped out of his seat. “Where the f%#k is that baritone coming from?!” he yelled at the stage full of sweet-faced girls in uniforms & knee socks.
Four of us raised our hands from the alto section & he shook his head with his eyes wide, muttered some astonished mumblings at us & went back to the piano to continue the dress rehearsal. Every now and then, he would look up at the four of us again & shake his head.
In the moment, we were super proud. It was pretty amazing that we were able to pull it off, right? I mean, teenage-girls aren’t built to sing that low, so we must have been pretty good to be able to reach those low-down notes, right?
But it hurt.
It hurt a LOT, and by the end of the first night, all of us were barely able to croak out the final notes. Still, we finished & the crowd cheered & the piano man congratulated us on our professionalism & skill.
Another perfect concert, ladies! Well done.
Life went on & I went to a basketball tournament the next weekend with some friends – as any 16 year old does – & I cheered my little heart out as our team won…or didn’t. I don’t even remember that part.
What I do remember is waking up the next day with no voice. None. I literally broke my Voice, kitten. It was gone completely; I had complete laryngitis for over a month.
And when my Voice did come back, it was different. It’s never been the same, in fact. I stopped singing shortly after that concert, because I couldn’t do the thing perfectly any more.
All of those years of practising & learning & perfecting the skills were lost. When I opened my mouth to sing, I couldn’t trust my Voice to come out perfect. I could barely trust that a sound would come out at all.
So I stopped singing completely.
No karaoke. No more garage band (that’s another story). No harmonizing with Phish songs in my friend’s bedroom (it was the 90s). None of it.
It wasn’t until yeeeeears later, sitting in my kitchen with my daughters, did I hear myself singing & laughing with them & actually love the sound of my Voice.
I could hear something beautiful there. It was sitting in the imperfection, itself.
You see, when I was laughing my heart out with them – that kind of laughter that hurts a little bit, but is so so SO great – I heard the imperfection as something different. It was like a texture or a patina that my Voice has found over the years because of the stresses it’s faced: singing, cheering, teaching, yelling & laughing for over 3 decades of life.
It’s full of my own character & joy – my broken Voice. It crackles with my excitement when I teach. It splits when I call out to someone I recognize from far away, & it cracks to let my emotions out, when I am moved by the message I get to share now.
Those imperfections show more about me than any of the perfectly pitched performances I worked for as a singer…except maybe that time when I didn’t let the fact that I’m a girl stop me from singing a man’s part.
Since then, I’ve gotten attached to my crackling Voice. When I feel it slip & rasp during a coaching call or speech, I kind of love it. Because it means that I’m excited about what I am saying, & I’m using my Voice for what it’s meant to be used for.
And that, my friend, is just perfect. Isn’t it?
It’s time for you to shake your fears about Sharing Your Voice. You can start by taking a look at your own Writing Process to see if it needs a little freedom for creativity and fun.
Oh! And if you need a little more support, find me on Instagram @WriteWithaK, because I like to share Instagram Live videos through my Writing Process each week, and would love to hear about yours.
Thanks for hanging out with me. Now go hit “Publish”!