Be yourself. Be an actor. Which is it?!

By Milli Thornton

Billie Thomas as Buckwheat in "Our Gang Follies of 1938." Image courtesy Gordon Douglas, Wikimedia Commons.

Billie Thomas as Buckwheat in “Our Gang Follies of 1938.” Image courtesy Gordon Douglas.

Lately I’ve been on a learning curve in my new job as part-time DJ for a local radio station. I can’t help comparing what I’ve been learning about being on the radio to being a writer: the lessons in some areas feel interchangeable.

Last week I received some training from a DJ whose been in the biz for 20 years. When this voice talks, people listen. He can make stealing a donut from the staff room sound like scintillating stuff.

I’d like to share a few of the tips I received from this veteran of the airwaves. See if they speak to you at all in relation to writing.

Be yourself.

Previous to this little training meeting, I was in a rut I didn’t know how to move out of. I was playing it safe. My speaking voice sounded OK, but I didn’t have “a voice.” I was just announcing stuff. No personal style.

When I asked what I should do to find my voice, my mentor commented that it’s not a straightforward thing to explain how to find it. I realized I was going to have to be experimental and take some risks. You don’t really know what you’re capable of, or who you are, until you take some risks.

Since receiving that advice, I’ve been venturing out to the scary edge of safe trying to find my voice. I sometimes sound awkward, sometimes goofy, sometimes a little fake—and sometimes I nail it just the way I was hoping to.

I’ve got a long way to go until my new radio voice becomes second nature. But I’m discovering how exhilarating the challenge is. Exhausting, too. I’m pouring intense amounts of energy into exploring my own frontiers. Eventually, I expect to circle back to sounding like myself. I know, right? Seems like a crazy journey when I could just be myself from the beginning. But when we get up on any kind of stage, very few of us know how to be ourselves right off the bat.

Be an actor.

Wait a minute. I thought he said “Be Yourself”?!

Well, he did. But you have to do both. Showing up every day to talk on the radio is not always an activity that automatically matches my mood. But I’m presenting “AC” (Adult Contemporary programming) and I can’t afford to sound depressed or rattled by life’s little train wrecks.

The answer is to fake till I make it. Smile. Sit or stand up straight. Throw my shoulders back. These simple actions can immediately make a difference in how I’m sounding. Even if I have to force my grin, it still makes me sound happy and upbeat.

Even smiling away to myself all alone in the studio, the smile is infectious. After a few minutes I’m not faking it any more. I’ve connected with the music and the underlying idea that my listeners need me to cheer them through their work day. It’s magic. Some days I’ve gone to the studio brain-tired from a bad night’s sleep, or feeling horrible about something going wrong in my life. By the time I leave the studio at the end of my show, I’m energized and cheerful.

Have an attitude.

I was discussing with my mentor my fears of not feeling qualified enough to be given a radio show. And also not having the right type of voice for AC programming (my voice can sound too mellow, in my opinion). He said I should acquire an attitude that goes “Listen to this! I’m doing this for you.” He added that I could even do a heavy metal show with my very same voice. It’s all in the attitude.

Speak to a real person.

This is traditional advice in the radio industry. Pick out a person in your life that you have a good rapport with. Someone who would be interested in what you’re doing, and supportive of your efforts. Then visualize that person every time you speak on air. Talk to her. Or him. This personalizes what otherwise could sound directed at everybody in general.

I love the idea of choosing someone friendly and receptive to tell my stories to as I write. So much more fun than visualizing a hostile agent or critical readers.

Have you ever changed your negative mood by being forced to pretend you were happy? Do you think smiling in the face of your worst writing fears might also cause a breakthrough?


Milli Thornton, writing coach and author of Fear of Writing

Milli Thornton

MILLI THORNTON (aka Milliver) is the author of Fear of Writing. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course and Unleash Your Writing!, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at Milliver’s Travels and Screenwriting in the Boonies and coaches at Writer’s Muse Coaching Service.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS with us below! Choose how you'd like to comment:

5 thoughts on “Be yourself. Be an actor. Which is it?!

  1. Patrick Ross

    What a fun gig for you, Milli! Yes, I can imagine that “Be Yourself” applies but is simultaneous with acting, which is of course being someone different from you. I can imagine that this experience really fuels your creativity.

    1. Milli Thornton

      Hi Patrick 🙂 Thanks for visiting.

      Although I can already see the parallels between DJ and writing, it may take a little longer before it physically fuels my creativity. So far the challenge is to spend the first half of my day being totally extroverted (which has never been my primary mode of functioning), and then come back to my sanctuary (my home office) and try to de-saturate enough to switch to writing and writing-related activities.

      Even this has been teaching me interesting things. I’m now in production with my own relaxation CD, which sounds very home-made (RecordPad, WavePad and MixPad—yay for free software!) but this way I can control both the script and the background music.

  2. Leigh

    Such great advice for writing; not only the search for “voice” but also the perseverance it takes to find the sweet spot. Here’s to treading that edge of “safety” in all things that matter to us. Life is short! Thanks, Milli!

    1. Milli Thornton

      Peache, you would perfect for my person to visualize! I always feel happy when I think about you, and I always feel like you believe in me. ♥ ♥ ♥


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *