(This quote, of course, comes from Hamlet; Act I, scene 3; Polonius is speaking to his son Laertes.) It’s been said that for the context of the play, Shakespeare intended it to mean that we serve ourselves best by making wise and sound choices. At face value, this may seem like a simple concept, but I believe that no matter how you slice it, it’s a pretty profound statement.
To quote another famous guy on the same note, Lao Tzu said,
“To master others is strength. To master yourself is true power.”
My point is this: as writers... as artists… as creatively-driven people, we are most successful when we develop our styles to match our truest purpose in life. And if you’re well in touch with that, then I would say that you’re way ahead of the game.
Let’s take a moment to examine the case of someone who has been under the microscope of late: former Food Network Star, Paula Deen.
Portrait of Ms. Paula Deen
Ms. Deen, while having seen many years of success, has gotten herself into some trouble, evidently, because of things that were said—and of things that were not said. These “things” I’m referring to are not so important for the purpose of this discussion (if you haven’t heard the story, there’s always Google). What is interesting about her case is that it raises the question, “Was she being true to herself?” You may be asking what this has to do with storytelling and style, and my answer is, “Everything.” Whether you are writing/creating characters, reports, or blog posts, it is imperative to keep in mind that your style is your brand. Every star or public figure has an image. This image—becomes that person’s brand. That “brand” therefore and in essence… is a script. Paula Deen didn’t fail because she is a bad person (although this now seems to be a commonly held belief). She failed because she hid things about herself from the public, and in doing so, damaged her brand.
Taking it back to the word, style—your best style comes forth when you are true to your nature, whatever that may be.
If we think of comedians as another example—all of which, by the way, are writers—these folks are not typically ones that we would think of as model citizens. Comedians are often crass and outlandish, and sometimes they are even mean and downright rude. That being said; once a certain style becomes known and is recognized as such, then it becomes the expected. We expect to be shocked, we expect to be insulted, and we expect to laugh as a result. It’s in the script. Therefore, Louis C.K. talks like Louis C.K. when he comes onto the stage, and not like Deepak Chopra.
So let’s say that you’re new to blogging, and you’re unsure about your voice. What do you do?
My best advice is to look at yourself, and also your motives. There are a few reasons that audiences form: 1) to be informed, 2) to be entertained, or 3) to be inspired. You might capitalize on one of these things, or you might hit on all three—yay, you! “What if I’m not really a writer?” You might ask. Gary Vaynerchuk will gladly tell you that he prefers to be in front of a camera rather than typing at the keyboard. (We call that “vlogging.”) Others prefer podcasts. Do what works for you. The means by which you tell your story is not so important, but how you tell it matters. Lots of people will have lots of advice, including thoughts on SEO and SEM… and while these things have their value and place, it’s best to focus on being authentic, first. The rest will come into place as you develop your style. Your style.
So if you’re snarky, and that works for you—be snarky. If you’re joyful and upbeat—hallelujah. Enjoy being you, and be true to your nature. No one else can do that, and that is what makes you special.
Speaking of teachers, here’s one I highly recommend (I’ve had the pleasure of taking one of his classes), and he has some great advice in this recent post:
...And one of my favorite pieces on the subject:
How to Write With Style by Kurt Vonnegut