Note: My blog contribution this month is geared specifically towards writers, but I hope if you are engaged in any creative endeavor--be it writing, preaching, teaching, music, visual/fine arts, team leading, coming up with Sunday school lessons, or any number of other activities--you'll be able to apply these ideas to your own unique calling and vocation.
My friend Bernie Sheahan (an extraordinary writer and the sort of person one never forgets) says the best writing advice she ever got was this: "Find your voice and shout."
Not every writing genre benefits from a strong personal voice, of course. But those of us who are mining personal experience to write fiction or reflective non-fiction can benefit from the advice Bernie received. We each need to inhabit our own skin when we write (or sing or speak or teach or relate), expressing the perspectives, senses of humour and turns of phrase that make a piece uniquely ours.
Ironically, one of the ways most of us get there is by absorbing and even temporarily copying the voices of other writers we respect. The songwriter Nick Lowe talks about this process from a musical perspective:
"… I hadn’t been writing songs very long and, like everybody else who starts out doing anything creative, you start off plundering your heroes’ style and catalogue. When you’ve exhausted that, you move on to somebody else and do the same thing with them, and the day comes when you’re rewriting your latest hero’s works, and you put in a little bit of the first guy’s thing that you ripped off, a middle eight, or a bridge, and as it goes on you include more and more of these bits and pieces that you’ve ripped off, until, suddenly, you haven’t ripped them off at all. They’ve actually become your style. And then all you need is a good idea. And then you really are in business. I remember having this idea—“What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding”—and almost falling over in astonishment that I hadn’t heard this before, that it really was an original notion."
We each become a unique amalgamation of whatever we take in. That's what makes immersing ourselves in great work so important. If you want to be a great writer, read great books. If you want to be a great painter, view great paintings. If you want to be a great songwriter, listen to great music. Conversely, if you want to be a vacuous artist of any ilk, watch reality television. (That's a tangent, but it made me laugh, so I'm leaving it in!)
So I'm going to adapt the advice Bernie was given just slightly: Listen to great voices, let them become part of your own, and then shout! If you are faithful in both the listening and speaking, you will most definitely have something unique to say.
I'll leave you with this, from Eugene Peterson:
"The Bible makes it clear that every time that there is a story of faith, it is completely original. God's creative genius is endless. He never, fatigued and unable to maintain the rigors of creativity, resorts to mass-producing copies. Each life is a fresh canvas on which he uses lines and colors, shades and lights, textures and proportions that he has never used before."
I blog, therefore I am at:
Songville (brand new site for songwriters)
Conversantlife.com (where I muse on Stuff That Matters)
Wrestling with Angels (where I park my Christianity Today columns and other pieces)Carolyn Arends Newsblog (where we post goings on, twitter updates, and other news relating to my work as a recording artist and writer)