"I knew it was you before I even read the byline of the article," she said to me. "No one else has your voice."
It was a throwaway comment from a friend—she probably doesn't even remember saying it. But I tasted those words for weeks because they came after a hard-won battle.
Six years ago, I quit writing. After more than 20 years of calling myself a writer, I laid the dream down in the ground, heaped on a bit of earth, and walked away. There were many reasons why I quit writing, but the final nail in the coffin was the literary agent who told a roomful of hopeful writers if we didn't have a huge platform (think mega-church pastor) to recommend us, then we'd be lucky to have a unique enough voice to ever be published. Quite right, quite right, murmured the packed room taking notes at the writer's conference, all while my carefully curated dreams of sitting across from Oprah discussing my book's inclusion in her book club crumbled to dust.
I knew the truth in that moment: I had no voice. Even though I loved to write and had a knack for a phrase now and then, I knew, quite clearly after listening to that literary agent, that my voice did not exist, and so I could not be published. That night, I had a come-to-Jesus moment in my hotel room. This sounds a lot more romantic than it was. In reality, there was a lot of wadded up tissue and the bitter sense I had been chasing rainbow gold that did not exist. I was a failure.
Less Strategy, More Authenticity
Before that moment, I had tried to be strategic about a writing career. I don't think there's anything wrong with being strategic at all, but for me, I was using strategy to mask the lack of substance—strategy as smoke and mirrors to distract from an inauthentic voice. I had read the tactics and tutorials for being a better blogger-turned-writer and so I tried them.
If a blogger was popular, I tried on their voice or topics for a while, imitating style and substance. I thought that I needed to narrow my focus a bit more because I couldn't find my fit in the progressive Christian blogosphere—I wrote too much about my life and motherhood, perhaps. So I tried writing proper fodder for mum-bloggers: tutorials and tips, lists, and anecdotes. This was a disaster because I was not made for do-it-yourself crafting or potty training tips. Then I tried the Christian-lady-blogger world with blog posts as devotionals, but I was bored to tears and my own experience defied tying my spirituality up in a neat package. I tried to write like wry and smart feminists, objective and logical. Then I tried to write like a serious social justice advocate for women.