Blogging and your moment of truth

You’ve probably never heard of Ernie Watts, but he is among my favorite jazz musicians. I’ve listened to his music for 20 years and I would know his distinctive sax “voice” even if I was listening to a new recording.

He has a live record called To The Point: Live at The Jazz Bakery and as I listened to him explain this song and his concept, it seemed a perfect analogy for the demands of distinctiveness and immediacy that comes with blogging. Here is what he said:

“When you record live music … that’s it … everything leads to this.

“All the practice, all the other gigs, everything you’ve ever done, comes down to today.  This is as good as I get in this moment. Tomorrow is another matter. We’ll get up again and practice and try to get a little better … but this music is about the point of truth today.

“It’s about ‘Who are YOU?’ and ‘What do YOU do?’ You listen to Charlie Parker and you listen to John Coltrane and Theolonius Monk, and you have all that in your head and it gets down to who are YOU in relationship to all of this.  Because no matter how hard I practice, I will never be John Coltrane. I’m me and I’m coming from where I’m coming from.

“So at a certain point in your life, you get to that.  That’s the point of truth, that’s your point of reality. It’s who you are.”

This quote sums up my feelings about creativity and blogging so well. You may read other bloggers and admire other bloggers, but at the end of the day, it’s about “Who are YOU?” about how YOU fit in, YOUR point of truth in that moment.

Like Ernie’s sweet and unique sax tone, you have to find your own “voice” too. It is literally the only way to stand out around here. We don’t need another list of the Five Biggest Mistakes on Twitter. We need YOU.

Every time I hear Ernie play I marvel at how it all makes sense. Everything comes together to express who he is, how he is, and where he is in that moment in such a beautiful and unique way.

What do you think?  Have you found your blogging “voice?”  Are you trying to emulate other bloggers or are you reaching down deep to find your moment of truth?

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  • Anonymous

    Very tasty post, Mark – and thanks for the intro to the tasty Ernie Watts, I went a listened to a sample of his stuff and really liked his sax voice. I’m still finding my blogging voice; since, to quote Whitman, “I contain multitudes,” I’m not sure whether the process of finding will ever end. (Here’s the Wikipedia snip about Whitman and the self:

    My friend Shelly Lowenkopf’s written a lot about writers finding their voice. I don’t always agree with Shelly, but his sharp mind and skills hone mine. And he’s got exquisite taste in mystery writers!

    Here’s a bit from Shelly’s blog:

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Tasty comments yourself Lori.  I have most of Ernie’s recordings, but probably my favorite is an album simply titled Ernie Watts Quartet. Listen to “Language of the Heart” for a beautiful and uplifting tune.  Thanks for commenting, and the links!

  • Anonymous

    Those who have a “voice” are heard. And my Tolkien task is to find that voice. I’m relatively new to blogging so I’m immersing myself in the masters. 
    Much like Ernie Watts has done with Coltrane and Monk, I’m learning from the greats: Brogan, Brown, Dietrich, Godin, Joel, Schaefer among them. I experiment with styles and content knowing that eventually I’ll know enough to just wing it and be myself.One of the challenges I have is how do I balance “list” blogs with editorial blogs? Do I blog to gain Klout or to express myself?Does the musician play with his back to the audience (à la Miles Davis) or play to the crowd à la Kenny G?Perhaps it all comes down to building as much influence as you can. Then once you’ve reached a certain height, whatever you say will be heard.Great brain food once again Mark.Thanks

  • Mark,

    This is great. I blog to really let my “voice” be heard. Thankfully people seem to be listening. I got to a point where I could not go on without being heard any longer. My “inner Seth” demanded that I get the blog shipped, and my only regret is that I waited as long as I did.

    About a month or so ago, I had written a post called “Are YOU An Emotional Chicken?” and boy did that get some amazing comments. I have been blown away, by the kindness of those who read my blog and come and comment on it.

    I guess because I was silent for so long, finding my voice has not been that tough. The harder thing for me is figuring out how to get everything onto the page. The floodgates have opened, and some days if I do not blog, my head will hurt until I sit down and blog.

    That being said, I wanted to share something with you that I had to wait a few days for. My very good friend Margie Clayman (who is a FANTASTIC blogger) has begun a new website called The Blog Library. I am her very first “Featured Blogger of the Month” I had to wait until July 1 to say anything, but I am beyond honored. It makes me realize that people are listening.

    Thank you for being such an inspiration to me Mark.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Wow. I hope you know this comment would make an outstanding blog post!!!   I love this personal musing. Very powerful and real. Thanks!!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Wow.  That is incredible.  You’re a natural Nancy. Keep at it!

  • I have heard a lot of Ernie Watts’s music and he is terrific. His performances are incredible as he has a unique jazz language. Indeed you have to find your own voice in whatever you do.

    Jazz Songs

  • Mark W Schaefer

    I have only seen him play one time live, with Charlie Haden’s Quartet West, which is unbelievable since I have been a fan for so long.

  • The answer is simple: both.

    It has to be both. There is no escaping it. You are influenced by what you consume and you try to make it your own. At the beginning, you’ll be acting in mimicry of those you read. As you become comfortable, your voice will begin to take form and all of your influences will complement that.

    An illustration of this is in painting.

    A painter used to take up an apprenticeship to be taught by a “master,” who himself shaped his style based on those who preceded him. That master was taught, at one time, by another master who was shaped by those who preceded him. So on and so forth. Each of these painters practiced the styles of those who came before until they were able to distinguish themselves. But that had to build that knowledge, the tools. That is how art is made, how writing happens, and how life occurs. We are indebted to those who come before us in history.

    That being said, I have little idea of what I’m doing or if I’ve found my voice. I’m just trying to get better.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Love that comment Shad.  What a well-written opinion.  Well done!

  • If you don’t love blogging you won’t last. I seem to be saying this a lot lately, but I’ll play the obnoxious veteran because I am. I have been blogging for Seven years now and have seen a million different changes come through the blogosphere.

    Love it or you will leave it is generally how it works because blogging is work that doesn’t provide pay- or at least that is how it goes for most people.

    I write because I am compelled to do so. It is how I empty the contents of my heart and soul. That is not hyperbole, it is who I am. I write because this is cathartic for me. It is how I gain a better understanding of what I think and feel.

    I write because I can’t imagine not writing. There is no one way to be successful in blogging but I am willing to guarantee that if you don’t love it you won’t last.

  • I knew eventually you’d bring Ernie Watts nto the discussion. Great post!  For another great jazz “voice”, check out Kurt Elling’s “Dedicated to You” featuring Mr. Watts and the Turtle Island String Quartet..

  • Thank you Mark that was hugely helpful and a great back up to what I was saying to my husband, just before you dropped into my email box.  He reckons Ernie Watts is one the greatest out there.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Jack this is the comment of the week. I love that sentiment. Thank you for sharing this!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Obviously this is very special to me that you would comment on this particular post! My best jazz buddy! I will check out that recording today. Nice to hear from you Rob!

  • I do get Jazz as a free expression of a lot of hard work on behalf of the musician; and that they make it “look” they aren’t trying to play but are just playing.
    It is that way because of the practice.
    As a new blogger I can see that the more I practice and observe other bloggers the more I learn to play. So I practice at least three times a week and observe every day of the week. So that next week will be the best week yet!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Nice to learn of another fan. Ernie Watts is just an extraordinary musician. And he’s pushed some boundaries too.

  • Great attitude. It took me about a year before I felt I was starting to find my voice. Still am. : )

  • Isabelle

    Thank you Mark. Your post gives oxigen 😉 to my thoughts on what we and I am doing and creating through social media.

  • Thanks, Mark.  I enjoyed this post.  I think I have a clear voice but suspect I need to find a niche?  It’s hard for me to pick one main subject to focus on because I get bored easily.  I guess I fall into the diarist category and mostly want to share my experiences and observations.  My blog has a nod to wellness themes, and I hope readers will find some of the reflections helpful.  I wonder if it’s too aimless though?

    At my memoir writing workshop this morning, Hugo Hamilton (Irish author of The Speckled People) spoke about the value of writing from personal truth rather than stating mere facts. The challenge of writing honestly, discovering one’s voice, and committing to authenticity is definitely worth the effort!

  • Hi Mark,

    I love these posts that are short and sweet and cut right to it. Just started my own personal blog last week – literally! And I admit, I am still trying to find my voice. I know what I want to talk about but I am having a hard time creating brilliant posts like yours and many others I follow and enjoy reading. I find myself constantly thinking ‘damn, why didnt I think of a post like that?’ But it will come with time I am sure. For now, I am writing everyday about something. I dont care what it is or how it ties back, I just write. One day I will find my voice. I learned that patience is the best trait of any blogger and at least I have that going for me!

  • Simple yet real solid advice. I must admit that it is very easy to fall into the motion of emulating other bloggers around especially if you’re not confident with your own “voice”. One thing that is often overlooked is that even singing covers requires your own voice and style – you can’t get anywhere by 100% emulating.

  • Mark,
    The way you made the point of this post is unique to you so it leads by example.  I am a recent blogger, discovering that the value to me personally is worth more than I expected. If all I accomplish as a result of blogging is finding a unique voice it will have been well worth it.  I love the way it is possible to experiment and get feedback in many forms (views, comments, likes, etc.).  The results may not always make me feel good, but they are always helpful.

  • Jack, I’m upping the ante on Mark’s comment…that’s the comment of the day/wk/year for me.  I’ve only been blogging for 5 months now, and I started because I had a nasty habit of self-editing (probably comes from years of writing strategic plans for government agencies, business plans for entrepreneurs, proposal documents, etc.)

    I felt that if I just started writing for me…emptying the thoughts, impressions and soul-inspired words that were rattling around within me, I’d find my true voice.  And I feel like that’s happening.  I know that it’s happening.

    “I write because I am compelled to do so.  It is how I empty the contents of my heart and soul.” That’s poetry to me,@TheJackB:disqus  Thanks for putting into words what the process feels like to me.  Cheers!  Kaarina

  • Christina, damn the damn’s and write on!  Your own voice will find its way out of you the longer you write.  Don’t try to be like anyone else.  Just be your own unique you.  Patience and persistence are your friends: let go of any fear.

    There’s a saying in the publishing industry that if you’re writing for the reader, the words probably won’t be found.  But if you write because you have something to say, the words will spill out.  You know the saying, “Dance as if no one is watching”?  Write as if no one is looking.  Let the words flow like music from your soul.  Just my two cents.  Cheers!  Kaarina

  • Made my comments in terms of responses, but I just have to say: Beautiful, lyrical post and amazing photo.  This will remain a favourite of mine for a long time to come.  Cheers!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Awesome. Thanks for telling me. That’s nice feedback!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Mr. Hamilton offered you some brilliant advice there, which hopefully mirrors the point of my post.  If Ernie just played a song, he would be stating the facts, reading notes from a page. but he brings something extra — himself. 

    I think it’s OK to be eclectic to a certain point.  If you go too far off you can confuse your audience, But in this example I was able to tie my love of music into a relevant theme for the blog and I think that helps me from ever getting bored! : )  Thanks for your comment Robin!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    This is perfect advice for Christina. I couldn;t have stated it better myself.

    My son is a professional musician. I love his earlier work but he won’t even acknowledge it at more, let alone play it. It’s so inconsistent with the “voice” he’s found. Same with me. My early blogs suck. So don’t be frustrated. Give yourself permission to suck for a long time to come. : )

    It will come, but only through the courage to be persistent and be yourself.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    I agree with you Jan.  I think the emulation factor is a huge deterrent to success. I’m not saying we can;t learn from others — we can, and we should — but we also need to have the wisdom to and fortitude to let our own personality shine.  If we don;t we become part of the echo chamber and who needs that?

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Thanks for this very beautiful comment. I can tell you are approaching your blog from a spirit of freedom and experimentation and that is a wonderful path!  Thanks so very much for taking the time to comment!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Awww, shucks.  Thanks for that very nice comment.  I’m smiling! 

  • “All the practice, all the other gigs, everything you’ve ever done, comes down to today.  This is as good as I get in this moment. Tomorrow is another matter. We’ll get up again and practice and try to get a little better … but this music is about the point of truth today.”  — Ernie Watts

    That sums up play, work, blogging, and life.

  • Thanks Mark for the fine reminder that we all have our own unique voice. Yes, I’ve found mine, but it’s not the best I can be. It’s just the best I can be today…..

  • Amen.  Love that Sally!

  • A lot of wisdom there, isn’t it?  Thanks for commenting Harvey!

  • Ah, great post, Mark. See, pretty soon you’ll be using Batman for analogies too 🙂

    This is a key point though. Blogging is an intense struggle to get comfortable. comfortable with putting your thoughts out there. Comfortable with how you say your ideas. Comfortable with the idea that some people will think you are the best thing since sliced bread while others thing you are completely daft.

    When a musician does a live concert, some people want the songs to sound exactly as they do on the record. Others want it to be a completely different experience because, after all, they can listen to that record any time. You can’t please everyone, so you’d better make sure you please yourself!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Write for yourself.  I covered that theme a few months ago and some people disagreed with it. Isn’t that ironic?  I was writing for myself and people disagreed. I find that funny.

    And I really do need to do that Batman thing.  You have a great memory. Heck if you can riff on dwarves I can certainly pontificate on the Caped Crusader.  Holy Wordpress Batman!

    I could create a new villian called Blogger.  He would look like @mitchjoel:disqus 
     who already has that Lex Luther thing going any way.  His super power would be to be able to explain search engine optimization.  Well, that might be a bit far-fetched. 

    Yes, I need to do this.  Just for the picture. : )

  • Wayne Beamer

    Hi Mark,

    The comments (riffs) off your initial post are a joy for me to read. The question you’re really asking: Why do YOU write?

    I couldn’t answer that question without a prodigious amount of explanation until I spent 40 minutes on treadmill listening to a podcast interview with comedian Christopher Titus on Marc Maron’s awesome WTF.

    When Titus was going through a particularly hard time in his life, he attended a three-day seminar that changed his life. The seminal question: What gives meaning to your life? After an hour of flailing about, Titus and the attendees got their answer, but it wasn’t what they expected… Life is empty and frightening and hard, but it is what people do with the life and time they have that gives it meaning, joy and happiness. What makes my blogging life have meaning is the journey I take to help my readers learn stuff to live a fuller life, whether I’m writing about cancer, supplements, whole health issues, censorship, sports, creativity, Batman, movies or my kids. Getting people to see beyond themselves and look at the big picture… That’s my mission, and one I often fail at miserably.

    But when it works, it’s an awesome feeling… Thanks for allowing me to share this with your tribe. Wayne

  • Anonymous

    Okay, so I’m back for a second dip into comments here, because (darn it) you and Walt Whitman started me thinking. (That’s one reason I so love your blog!)

    I found a crazy number of results on Google Search for “finding your blog voice”–and none for “finding your blog voices.” But if trust is based in part on authenticity…and if our voice sensibly, naturally varies depending on audience…are we wasting time looking for our true voice? Shouldn’t we be more concerned with hearing voices–ours, our audiences?

    I know that’s not in keeping with WWEWD (What Would Ernie Watts Do?)…but maybe the quest for a singular voice is a distraction from listening closely.

    Now off to find some coffee… 🙂

  • How did people disagree with that? Like, literally…:)

    I think what you’re really on the road to is an epic super heroes post. You need a Captain America (clearly), A Superman, a spiderman, a batman…and then a series of villains. I like “Blogger” but to me that sounds more like “Joker.” And who would your Penguin be? 😀

  • Pingback: – The Blog Library()

  • Craig McBreen

    Been reading your blog for a while. Loved this post and wanted to tell you where I am on this.

    I first considered a blog for one main reason. I wanted to improve my public speaking through writing. Not that I do much speaking in public, but anyway, what better place to practice writing, right? Nobody’s “listening” anyway. I figured what the heck, start a blog, write away, become somewhat proficient at it and become a slightly better speaker in the process. So off I went.

    Little did I know what I was in for. When I discovered Copyblogger I truly thought I had discovered something. I really did, being a bit wide-eyed and naive 🙂 Then Darren, then Chris, then Marcus, Gini, Danny … and Mark Schaefer!

    I’ve started writing, just a bit, so I certainly haven’t found my blogging “voice”. And no real blog yet, hopefully soon. So, yes I now read and admire other bloggers, but still trying to find that … whatever. I’ll see where this journey takes me.

    Thanks, Mark!

  • Mark

    I love this comment Craig. I had never considered myself part of an evolutionary chain of bloggers, but I’ll take it : )

    Give yourself the gift of patience. No matter how much you read and study, you will not secure your voice right out of the box. You just have to do it. Your voice will be forged over months and years of practice and feedback. Good luck with it and thanks for being part of the community!

  • Stephanie

    Okay Mark
    I am an aspiring blogger.  I’m still writing in my head and at the kitchen table.  I will post soon.  Here’s my concern: My “voice” changes.  Is this unusual?  Sometimes I am the wounded daugher, other times I’m the pissed off adult and other times I am the forgiving, confident woman.  The story I intend to tell is authentic and honest (that’s why it has taken so long to get to this point).  You have to prepare your inner self for this type of authenticity.  Do you think my readers will perceive this changing voice as crazy? My hope is that they understand that the changing voice is a result of the emotional rollercoaster ride I experienced to get to today. 

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  • persident.scientist

    please create blog than say me for see it.thank you

  • I think most of us (me included) fall into this step because we’ve read so many blogs that we love and we want to write like them.

    Its like listening to Whitney Houston (love her) and wanting to sing like her.

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