On Storytelling and Finding Voice

Coming to you live from rainy Boston, MA this week, while my super husband holds down the fort in Sunny California!

pumpkin rain

In preparation for a panel I’m participating in this week at the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Arts in Education Program, I’ve been thinking a lot about storytelling. The theme of the conference is Finding Voice, which is clearly something I think about a lot as a blogger. One of the questions they’ve asked me to consider is “What is involved in the work of finding voice?” Wow! What a great question, and with so many ways to answer it. Showing up every week to make art, write, document, share, and reflect (via your fabulous comments) play huge roles in how I’m finding my voice. This blog has become my forum, testing ground, play ground, and writing station.

And the question reminds me of a related video with Ira Glass of This American Life.  If you’re not familiar with him, Ira is a superb storyteller who’s made his life’s work out of documenting and sharing other people’s stories on his radio show. In essence, he says that in order to be really good at your work, and for your work to be as wonderful and big and your own expectations (because, let’s face it, a lot of us make crappy art despite our best intentions), you have to create a huge volume of work. And it won’t all be good. In fact, when you begin it will most likely flat-out suck. But his point is to be diligent, keep showing up, continue working at it, and before you know it your work will match your ambitions. But he really says it best because, well, he’s been at it longer than I have! There are four parts to the series, but I pulled this one out for you. Check out the rest if you like what he has to say.

Preparing for this panel has helped me reflect on my own journey as a writer and documenter of creative learning experiments, and suffice to say that Ira is spot-on! I’m in the process of updating my archives, so you’ll have to trust me when I say that my writing has come a looooooong way since I started blogging last May. By no means am I the best writer or arts educator ever, but I’m getting better at it with each passing blog post. Your comments help me think more deeply about the ideas shared here (so thank you!), and I can use this feedback to help guide the growth of this blog and my writing.

But enough about me, How would you answer this question about finding voice? I’d love to know, from your personal experience, what is involved in the work of finding YOUR voice? What story are you trying to tell? And how are you working at making your voice more effective?


  1. You’re right in my back yard! Boston is only an hour away from HappyLittleMesses headquarters…
    On finding a voice…I took a great poetry class when I was in my masters program, great class, great professor, that taught us, pretty successfully, to tap into our creative selves. It starts with a feeling, something that resonates in your chest. If you close your eyes and listen to that inner voice, what’s outside has to fade in the background; follow that resonating path, then you can speak from just the place you are, in that moment. Kind of like a meditation, kind of like finding the right key when you’re singing, or just the right blend of spices when you’re trying to replicate a grandmother’s meal.

    • Helllllooooo, neighbor! I hear the rain should pass by tomorrow, so maybe it’ll be a better day for outdoor adventures. Thanks for sharing your story about the class and professor. I would have loved that class, and thankfully I can learn from your experience with it. I can be easily distracted by a million + one things that seem to pull me in various directions, and I think I can use this meditation to pull my focus together when it feels like my stories are scattered. The image of closing the eyes and listening to the inner voice is simple enough, and one that most of us can easily tap into. Thanks, Jena.

  2. In my blogging adventure this past year, I’ve been trying to be as honest as possible. I’ve been told many times by friends that I’m a good sounding board so I wanted to translate that into a blog and share my thoughts with more people, especially in this phase of motherhood where it’s so easy to feel isolated. I’ve been working through a lot of feelings in doing so including embarrassment…of my abilities as a writer as well as the thoughts and feelings themselves. I’ve wanted to scrap the blog a couple of times because I worry I can’t keep it up…have had great feedback and feel like I’m going to run out of things to say any day….fear of failure of course, which has plagued me for most of my life. What keeps it going is that I’m also trying to gain more skills as a crafty mama and so if I feel I’m getting too personal, or boring people, I focus more on new projects I’m working on. So, I guess I feel I’m still trying to find my voice but so far think it has a lot to do with courage to put yourself out there and be yourself fully even if you feel scared. Chances are when you do that, at least a handful of people will be relieved you did because they feel the same way but were afraid to put THEMselves out there. Make sense?

    • Hi Sarah,
      Yes, this makes wonderful sense! The idea of being honest totally resonates with me. I find that when I spill out a mishap it humanizes me, and the comments I receive are sometimes more empathetic, fluid, or rich. And maybe that honesty also reflects the real-life drama that so many of us are compelled to follow. We can relate to it and we want to hear about the resolution. “Did her kid really do that? How will she handle it? How did it all turn out?” It does take a lot of courage to write a blog and put yourself out there — you don’t know who will read your writing (if anyone), what they think about it, if you’re spinning your wheels, etc. But if the message is inside of you and you feel compelled to share it, then the only way you’ll get better it is by returning to the writing table each day and writing. Not worrying about boring people, because maybe you are, but knowing that the best way to get past quasi-bad writing is to keep improving and honing your craft. Well, that’s how I’m thinking about it today, anyhow. thanks for sharing your perspective, and glad to have your voice HERE!

      • Thanks to you Rachelle..glad that made sense to you. Blogging is such a strange thing. I’ll think no one is listening and then get a few random emails from people from my past (I always post my entries on Facebook) saying they love reading it. Would never know because so many people people read without commenting. Such a mind-you-know-what, you know?

        Anyway, best to you! Hope the panel goes well and your travels back home are smooth!


        • That scenario can drive me crazy, but then I have to remind myself that I read a lot of content without commenting either. A lot of times I really want to keep up with what everyone is up to and don’t leave comments — not for lack of interest, but for lack of time. My MIL sends me lovely emails after every post I write, and it’s nice to know that I have an audience of at least one happy customer!

          Thanks for the good wishes, and for making time to leave a comment 😉

  3. Reading your post yesterday, it really resonated with me and it took me a whole day of thinking about it to realize the reason was that this is a question i have been wrestling with but hadn’t quite been able to put into words and your post really helped me to do that. I am also pretty new to the blogging world and have recently started a new chapter in my life for which my blog has become a big part of helping me figure out what this new role is going to look like. So for me I think that writing a blog has been a tool for me to find a voice because as you wrote it is a place for making, sharing, reflecting and documenting. Sarah- I also really enjoyed your comment and find it very helpful to hear your perspective!

    Thanks for getting me thinking!

    • I’m so happy to hear that this resonated with you, Katie. In the short time that I’ve been blogging, I’ve met a lot of people who start blogs as a way of shifting their path. It can be an opportunity to reinvent oneself, tell a story through a different lens, and test out fresh ideas without crossing a huge threshold. Good luck to you as you embark on this new journey. And please keep me posted on how it’s going!

  4. my voice comes out constantly!! you can attest to that rachelle. when I’m searching, thinking, seeing, interested, curious, excited…..I want to talk about it with everyone! my blog is the playground, kinder roundup, drinks with the ladies, laying in bed with my husband for our nightly storytelling….I just don’t shut up. ideas. experiences. happenings get me so fired up.
    but it’s the quiet time I give myself ( and others ) at night is where my voice is found. or the quiet moment alone when I’m doing yoga in my studio. or a peaceful walk.
    silence is a most profound tool.

    • You always have a way of shifting my thinking, Danielle! The quiet times are often overlooked, but can be where the most profound thoughts emerge. I do all my writing after the kids go to bed, and isn’t that the quietest time of my day! Thank you!

  5. OMG!! it published! rac. I have been trying to leave comments for months on the Mobil setting and they were constantly rejected. I finally (da!) switched the setting and it worked. yippee. we are back in business. I missed commenting on your blog. I’m a huge fan and do all your projects!!!
    love you! (can you say that in a blog?)
    and Congratulations on your panel discussion!!!!! Thrilling!!
    enjoy it!!!

    • Hooray! And yes, I highly encourage profession of love on my blog…especially if it’s from you, directed at me. xo

  6. I enjoyed the video…I will have to check out the other parts too. Thanks for sharing.
    FInding my voice? My voice seems to come out when I least expect it. It seems to just come out of no where! It definitely happens when I am in the moment with making art or writing a blog post. I think my blog is sometimes a place where I am just posting projects, so I am not sure if “my voice” has come out as much. I enjoy the honesty of your postings and people do really respond to that!

    • Thanks for the feedback, Melissa. I’m trying to embrace a more authentic voice, and it’s good to know that the honesty is coming through. Your comment about being in the moment reminds me of Csikszentmihayli’s theory of Flow…in short: when we’re in our element we completely lose ourselves to whatever it is we’re doing.

  7. I love Ira Glass – an American national treasure. On the subject of storytelling and, well, Halloween – here is an original Halloween story for young children. It is set on the San Francisco coast and features the old Ocean Shore Railroad that used to run between San Francisco and Santa Cruz. It is called “The Haunted Bridge” and is about a young girl who sets out to solve the mystery of why a particular bridge is always shrouded in fog.

    The Haunted Bridge was produced by local artists, storytellers and filmmakers Adrienne Doherty and Adrian Smith

    The Haunted Bridge

    Enjoy and BOO!

    • HI Adrienne! Thanks for sharing the link. What a great, LOCAL story, and I love the illustrations. My grandfather used to take that very train from SF to Santa Cruz, and told the best stories of this amazing time in his life. Boo! ~rachelle

Comments are closed.