When I was 15, I had a great summer job as a mother’s helper (similar to what the French call an au pair, or basically a glorified babysitter-cum-housekeeper).
It was in a suburb of Boston with two well-behaved kids that I knew well. I also got to spend time with a group of kids I knew, one of whom was around my age. Plus, the job offered a private bedroom, amazing food and even the occasional restaurant meal included.
You see, my employers were my second cousins, both in their 30s and, as I saw them then, two of the coolest people on the planet (actually, I continued to think of them that way right through to the present).
On weekends, we’d visit the home of my cousin’s mother, Aunt Irene (I still don’t know if she was actually my aunt, or my great-aunt, or maybe my second aunt once removed?).
Irene was a formidable matriarch, at the time already in her late 80s, still living alone and doing all the work to keep her house in order. She cleaned the place herself, kept all her kids fed and was one of the most amazing bakers I’ve ever encountered (and that’s saying a lot).
One of Irene’s many specialties was a confection called Fudge-Topped Brownies. Over a gooey, chewy brownie base sat a thick, rich slab of chocolate fudge. Cut into bars, this dessert was pure heaven.
Of course, I asked if I could have the recipe, and Irene happily obliged. I wrote the entire thing down in my new orange spiral notebook, purchased specifically to store memories from my summer as a mother’s helper.
Once I returned home, I immediately set out to make the brownies. I had bought several boxes of My-T-Fine pudding mix, a key ingredient in the squares that you couldn’t get in Canada. Then I set to work.
I meticulously measured the ingredients, followed the recipe exactly. I spread the topping over the brownies and placed them in the fridge for the fudge to firm up.
And. . . it was a disaster! The fudge never set, and I was left with a thin, liquid pool of chocolate sauce over the brownies (tasty, but not the desired outcome).
Years later, my cousin told me that “Irene always gives out the wrong recipe. She’ll leave out an ingredient or make sure the amounts are wrong.”
“It’s because she doesn’t want anyone else to be able to make it as well as she can,” my cousin said. “That way, she can remain the Queen of Baking in the family.”
Holy moly–what a revelation!
This past week, I spoke with a client who was feeling insecure about her style of writing. She worried that it wasn’t “entertaining enough,” that her audience wouldn’t be interested in what she had to say.
She had been reading one of her business gurus online, and felt that her own writing fell short.
But the thing is, when you try to copy someone else’s style, you inevitably lose out.
You see, Aunt Irene actually did me a favor. Because if that recipe had worked out like hers, I likely would have continued to make it for years to come. And my baking would have been a copy of hers.
Instead, I started playing with the recipe and, ultimately, I made it my own. I came up with a version of the brownies that were unique to me–and, I dare say, even better than the original.
The same is true with your writing.
When you let go of the desire to emulate someone else’s style or tone and instead focus on what makes you unique, you’ll not only find your authentic voice–you’ll also undoubtedly find your ideal audience.
Just know that it takes some time and some practice. And you might have a few flops along the way–the equivalent of watery fudge dripping on a pan of brownies.
But keep at it–keep experimenting and playing with your words–and you’ll find that ideal recipe that is your own unique voice in your writing.