The “Pens of Steel” Group Discussion Special: Competing in the Sea of Voices

The Internet is a sea of voices and narratives.

In part 2 of this group discussion special, the Pens continue the dialogue on “what is a digital voice” – while transitioning into another frequently asked question: how do we compete with so many other messages? Should we be focused on beating other voices? Or should we just focus on our own message?

Clockwise from top to bottom: Josh “J.C.L.” Faltot, Brian Del Turco, Willie Scott, and Brent Mclaughlin – The “Pens of Steel”

Jump back in with Part 2 and just in case you missed Part 1, you’re in luck – you can click here to check it out and get back up to speed.

And for more info on the rest of the group, here are some links below:

Brian Del Turco, owner / operator of LifeVoiceQuest




Willie Scott, co-founder of Better Than Blended and T.K.I. Publishing




Brent Mclaughlin, writer


A Clear Voice

If you’re reading this, then you may have an idea of what I’m going to write about. Or maybe you don’t and you’re just curious. Either way, welcome, and here’s hoping you might identify with this post. As we know, there is no shortage of voices who claim to be authorities for navigating life. And they cover just about every topic under the sun: “Be the Best Parent”; “Make More Money Now”; “The Best Guide to Dieting” or “Epiphanies, Theories, and Downright Good Thoughts on Video Games” (sorry, had to throw that one in there for my own sake). But, at the end of the day, how many do you listen to? Well, if you’re a parent, you may tune into more parenting books. If you’re financially insecure, you read up on managing your money. The list goes on. Much of what we read is often an indicator of what we need. Or what we’ve made ourselves to believe we need.

The tricky part is knowing just what it is we need in the first place. Because as we know, there are plenty of voices telling us what it is we need. And the messages come faster than we’d like to admit.

This past week, I intentionally took a week off from Facebook. Not because I’m trying to lead a revolution against social media (I’m here, aren’t I?) but because I knew I needed something: a clear voice. For any writer or artist that might relate, you know what I mean. Yes, it’s fun to flip through your news feed and see what’s happening around the world. Or in people’s lives. I’ve done it frequently. But, there are ramifications if one isn’t careful.

For example, you see someone sharing an intriguing article and you click. That action leads to another click. And another. And another. Soon, you may find yourself reading a top 10 list of what not to do in summer whereas you first started reading a blog on rioting. At first glance, it sounds relatively harmless. You’ve become more “educated” on what’s happening in the world or you’ve been made aware of several hot travel spots you wouldn’t have considered otherwise. But, here’s the point: in a span of 10, maybe 20 minutes, you’ve allowed your brain to be subject to a multitude of incoming messages. And that sort of clutter lends itself to a cluttered mind. Rather than making crucial, timely decisions, your brain is now more interested in vacations (which is coincidentally just what it’s doing now – going on a vacation). The real issue you’ve been working on is lost in the muck and hey, that’s not good.

Reading isn’t bad. It’s fun. It’s entertaining. It’s educational. But, reading anything and everything can be bad for you. It’s why I intentionally decided to take a breather. Halt the messages and find some center ground. Not because I can’t control myself, but because it’s better to not tempt one’s self when temptation is imminent. I don’t need to be up to date on the newest blogs or even the latest hashtag. Those things have a way of finding a person if the message is good. And plus, I can check it out when I want to. Not when I feel like I need to. If what you want is a clear head, then don’t allow so many voices to fill it. It’s really that simple.

Oh, and to any I may have ignored this past week, I’m sorry. This is partially an apology for not checking my news feed. I trust we’re still friends, at least online.




Persistence – That Creeping Voice

Before I finish any major project, I try to take a step back and let it simmer a while. This could be for an hour or two, maybe even a few days; any break mentally will do. It’s something I’ve learned to apply over the years; not something I put into practice right away. In fact, I used to be the type that would do whole projects in a single night, waiting till the last moment to make my move. But, that was mostly because I could. I’ve always thrived under pressure and whenever I was in a pinch, my best work would seem to come forth. It was great for a while, but I had no idea I was building some terrible habits within myself.

At first glance, it’s a familiar story: putting off the important stuff, allowing one’s self to get distracted, and then following through when it’s almost too late to wait any longer. Welcome to Procrastination 101: learning to work under deadlines when you should have started weeks ago. It’s an affliction that can be reinforced over many years without even knowing it. But, when life experience meets your own limitations, it might be a signal you need to change something.

For me, it was recognizing that creeping voice. The one that said, “You can get to this later,” but somehow managed to change its tone moments before I was near completion by stating, “You know, this isn’t going to work.” Now, I’m not claiming to have had bouts with multiple personalities, I’m merely trying to point out that common enemy we all face in the midst of something important to us: ourselves.

When the stakes are high and there is much at risk, we don’t find a friend in ourselves very often. We fight to drown out the noise of failure, albeit struggling to do so. As a Christian, I find it easy to blame everything on the devil. “The devil is after me again”; “I know the devil was in that,” but honestly, applying that type of hyper-spiritualism to everything we face is foolish. Every person does have a real counterattack coming against them and it’s not just from the father of lies – it’s coming from inside our own heads.

It doesn’t really make sense when you think about it. Why would your own mind allow negative thoughts to take precedent over positive ones? Especially when it knows (yes, we are self-aware beings) that success means a need for laser focus? Shouldn’t our brain know better? Shouldn’t it know we need a filter for those things to achieve maximum results? Of course it does, but the question is how well you’ve trained your mind to be that filter. Therein lies the difference.

My encouragement to anyone reading this is to consider what areas you struggle to have confidence in or struggle to find the proper initiative. It could be work. It could be a relationship. Or, if you’re me, it could be fighting to churn out 3,000+ words a day for that next book; all the while remembering the passion you had when you first started the journey.

So be encouraged; stay persistent, but also stay focused.


Persistence – How Long Will It Take?

I really hate waiting. Especially when it’s something I want or I think I want. That makes the wait even worse. As a kid, birthdays and Christmas were two events I hated to wait for. When I got older, it became parties or getting a paycheck. And now that I’m a little bit older, I find myself waiting on some other things: getting recognized, possessing a proper writing platform, a new idea worth digging into, to name a few. But yes, waiting for a paycheck is still in the mix too (as it should be). However, I find myself struggling to remain patient – or at the very least, defining what a healthy version of patience looks and acts like.

I find this to be one of life’s more difficult dances to perform. Running over other people will eventually ruin the road you’re on, but don’t get to running and you yourself will be trampled. Not everyone runs at the same pace, but simultaneously we are all running the same race. So how does one do this gracefully? Or rather, effectively?

For one, we must be willing to make mistakes. When I finished my first two books, I felt a real sense of accomplishment. “Hey, I made it” – that was my new mantra. But, just as Rome was not built in a day, neither is a successful author. People who read my material – and had the opportunity to speak with me on it – would inform me of a few grammatical snafus I didn’t catch and yes, I felt like recalling every last order and throwing the book out for good.

But, my failure was ultimately good. I needed to know that I couldn’t count on the first book I wrote to be a raving success. There were pieces and parts to this journey I couldn’t have seen until I started off upon it. Mistakes were inevitable, the journey was not had I remained on the sidelines.

Secondly, we must be willing to know the difference between observation and initiation. I wouldn’t learn much about driving cars if all I did was read about the process. It’s when I take the wheel and drive that I find where my limitations lie and where I have basic understandings already mastered. Oftentimes, I feel like I can wave my flag proudly if I’m well-read on a certain subject; letting my opinion fly like it matters. But, if I haven’t actually experienced the topic I’m claiming to be an authority on, then I really don’t have a platform to state my case at all.

Like, every voice who claims he or she should be boss but knows nothing of the responsibilities that go along with being the boss, there’s a clear space between the two. Even if it’s invisible to the person who thinks he knows what’s best without knowing much.

Lastly, if we are called to do something, then we must keep listening to that voice that is calling. This is probably the most confusing of the three and the easiest one to mess up too. I used to think that a “calling” was something big, dramatic – HUGE. Like, a person who feels “called” to one day be a CEO or a famous musician, a calling tends to get mixed up with false aspirations; possessing an image of one’s self where we are highly influential and always on center stage. The problem with that thinking, if you are willing to be taught otherwise, is that it’s extremely self-centered and self-serving.

Everyone wants to feel important and to be recognized – much like how I want to be with my writing career – but if I feel my calling is all about taking center stage, then I’m always going to be fall short of what that calling is after. There are tinier battles to be won and seemingly less important stakes to win that will ultimately lead to that position of influence. Because a calling is meant to help you so that you may help others, not to help you feel better about who you think you ought to be in other people’s eyes. And that means taking the hits, taking the setbacks, and doing so with the persistence that I must continue listening to the voice that called me out, not the one that tells me to die where I stand.

I would encourage anyone who thinks their persistence isn’t paying off for them to consider that a little more time may be all that’s required to get to the next step.

As I sit and type this, I am reminded that I have a book being released in just two days and about a half dozen more coming down the pipe soon. That’s something to stay persistent about.





Written Rapport and Why I’ll Never Apologize

It’s tough trying to get noticed.

If you’ve ever been a salesperson, you’ll agree. If not, try and level with me a while. Because if you are salesperson, you probably spend a good deal of time trying to attune yourself to the melodies and rhythms of your target market. You learn the ins and the outs of what makes your prime customer operate and in doing this, you’re after something crucial to making the sale: who they are. What are their interests? How is their personal life? What do they do for fun? If they’re into baseball, you may invite them to a baseball game. If they enjoy golfing, then you might go golfing. Or if they love food, you take them out to eat – provided you can. So you do this with the expectation you’ll gain their confidence. Shared experiences – fun ones – establish rapport; a rapport that says, “Hey, I’ve paid attention to what brings you joy.” And sharing joy is what strengthens trust. It keeps a person coming back. Great sales people know this. Whether they’ve stumbled onto this understanding or not – they’ve learned to hone the process as their own.

So, now comes my writer’s tie-in.

Effective writers must – and I mean MUST – establish a rapport with their reader. But the question is – what does that even look like? How does someone create rapport with somebody they’ve never met? An author can’t exactly take a reader out to eat or invite them to a baseball game – unless they know each other personally. Sure, the author can write a decent story about going out to eat or enjoying a ballgame, but that’s an entirely different thing. What’s more, anybody can do that. My niece who is five can write about eating (not downplaying her English skills, just making a point here). So, once again, what are we talking about when we say, “create a rapport” between you and the reader?

Well, it starts with the author. Specifically, an author who is honest. Not only with himself but with the audience he is speaking to. That means, saying what you intend to say and not apologizing for it. For example, how effective would J.K. Rowling had been had she been confused about making Harry Potter a wizard versus a vampire or an elf? Before the Potter series took off, modern culture wasn’t exactly excited about magic. Heck, it wasn’t even excited about reading. But hey, J.K. was. She knew she had a good story to tell, but the only way to make others see that good story was to own it – to not apologize for writing about wizards, witches, and all manner of imaginary creatures. She plead her case and won. She went deep with the mythos she created and her unapologetic attitude paid off. In a big way, too.

New writers – and even the more seasoned ones – tend to forget this. There’s no magical formula and most readers don’t even know what’s happening even when it’s happening! They’ll knowingly enter into a book without any knowledge or expectation of what may happen should they – the reader – be convicted of the author’s own conviction. The reason being? Every reader is subconsciously sizing up what he is reading. He is internalizing the story, feeling out its presentation, and ultimately assessing whatever stake the writer has in the ground. And if it’s a weak stake like a Ramen noodle, then adios – the reader is off to find someone who isn’t afraid of risking vulnerable pieces of himself for the sake of saving face or offending someone. I find this decision tied to a core belief: a writer’s true voice is not about breadth of audience, but about depth of audience – even though this may not appear to be the immediate issue. For example, what good is your voice without a platform and plenty of ears to hear you? Well, people stick around if they are more engaged by what they hear or read. Consider trying to marry someone who says, “I’m only available Sunday through Tuesday and the rest of the week I don’t want to see you.” Of course you’ll think twice about committing yourself to this person. There’s no reward coming for you in that scenario so consider how a reader feels when an author gives only half of what he can offer?

Yeah, not a fun arrangement.

The author must not be apologetic towards his audience. He must be willing to say, “this is it” and not shy away from it. Otherwise he’s just another screaming voice among the masses. A place that’s every writer’s hell – no apologies here either.