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.

The voice that will assure you you’re a fraud

By Milli Thornton

I’M RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE of an experience of this nature: the voice that will assure you you’re a fraud. I decided to write about it now, while it’s searing through me, as a way to (once again) remind myself what it is next time it’s happening.

About a month ago I started a part-time job as a DJ on a local radio station—after a 33-year hiatus. During my teenage years, up to about age 21, I was a DJ on our high school radio station. A fun experience but that was a long time ago, and technology has changed greatly since then.

After almost a month on-air in my new position, I was finally starting to feel like I was hitting my stride (at least, for a newbie) when a couple of confidence-shattering things happened towards the end of last week. I spent the first part of the weekend trying to deal with my devastated emotions. The second half of the weekend was a lot of fun, I had no time to brood, and I felt somewhat healed. I thought I would be OK once I got back in the studio on Monday morning.

Wrong. I didn’t realize that the voice who will assure you you’re a fraud had taken hold.

As I did my voice breaks, the feeling worsened. I became 100% convinced I was a fraud and as soon as I was discovered, I would be flushed out and eliminated. An extremely uncomfortable and demoralizing feeling that skews things out of perspective.

I had to finish my work so I had no choice but to keep going. I finished my shift and went home to face the music. Every day when I get home from the studio I listen to myself on the radio to see how I can improve. Not an easy thing to do, but you get used to it. Today I could barely stand the thought of hearing myself. I cringed, waiting for my first voice break, right after Sting got finished singing “Wrapped Around Your Finger.”

Then something weird happened. There was no hideous monster doing my voice breaks. I sounded fine. I’m not world-class, maybe not even town-class yet, but I sounded fine. I continued to listen and, as the voice breaks went on, I realized I’d been duped. By that voice.

I’m still feeling a bit shaky and tomorrow might not be much easier than today was. But it sure helps to know it’s not me. It’s a lie. That voice is the only fraudster in this story.

Have you ever had this voice attack you while you were writing?

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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.

Creatively Jazzed

By Milli Thornton

Courtesy Infrogmation, Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Infrogmation, Wikimedia Commons

At the Tumblemoose blog I was reading a post called You Can’t Fake Passion. It was already a provocative post, but this part leapt out at me:

It’s okay if you are not writing from passion central 24/7. I’d be stiffer than a cast-iron lawn dog if I had to expend that much energy. Nope, I’ll take the passion ones when they come my way. It’s just that I’ve decided to not be so random about it.

I found that arresting. I felt I’d be cheating myself if I carried on with my busy day, tackling my never-ending To-Do list while neglecting to do something with that bait.

I took out a decorative journal—a 2006 farewell present from the members of a Fear of Writing group I’d started back in Boerne, Texas. This journal is so ornate and special-looking, I had only used about fifteen pages in all those years. You know that feeling? I can’t write in this gorgeous journal / start my story / write a blog post / work on my novel because I might mess it up.

As I leafed through to get to a blank page, I noticed I’d once written


near the bottom of an entry about what to call my creative muse. This was not the name I gave her, this was how I wanted to feel.

That was it! The motto for the exploring I was about to do.

That journaling session was sweet. By taking the time to write about being less random with my passion, I managed to tap into some passion for writing that I wasn’t already feeling.

How much time and energy do we writers put into worrying about what we haven’t written yet? Or whether we can do justice to our work-in-progress? Or a jillion other self-defeating thoughts? Just think. If we put even a quarter of that energy toward exploring what really makes us passionate, we’d be almost guaranteed to find ways to get more writing done. And enjoyed!

What will you do today to explore feeling creatively jazzed?


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.

Knowing What You Don’t Want

In my previous post, Making Lemonade from Those Writing Lemons, I wrote about discarding an approach to writing that didn’t suit my temperament. One of our readers was so passionate on the topic she wrote a response worthy of another blog post. Please welcome our guest, Judith Shaw.

Image © Milli Thornton

Image © Milli Thornton

IT’S EASY TO HAVE the feeling that to get anything out of a class or clinic you have to agree with the teacher or with what is being taught. I learned how wrong that assumption is when I was a horsewoman trying to improve my skills and the proficiency of my horse.

As with writing courses, every horse trainer has the “answer” that will revolutionize everything. You will become a stellar horse handler/dressage rider/carriage driver—whatever it is you want to learn—if you only follow her instructions. And it’s SO easy to think that there is a key, a magic formula to make it all—whatever it is—finally work well.

There’s good news and bad news.

Good news: You can always learn something from any teacher you have, regardless of the subject. Bad news: It often isn’t what you wanted to learn. Sometimes what you learn is that you fundamentally disagree with what the course leader or teacher has to say.

It’s good news, because it’s just as important to learn what you don’t want to do as it is to learn what you do want to do. Disagreeing with something or someone is a signpost to its opposite.

For example: I unexpectedly popped in on a horse trainer of mine, to find her sitting in the indoor arena with a spud gun. She had 5 or 6 horses tied up to the wall of the arena, and she was casually shooting at them with the intent of de-spooking them from sudden impacts and loud noises. I’d been working with her for quite a while with what I would have called good results, but when I saw this training method I knew: Whatever else she had in mind, it wasn’t for me.

It’s not always that dramatic. I signed up for an online course about how to plot a novel. By the time I worked my way through registration and the mechanics of signing in, I had an inkling that perhaps it wasn’t for me, but having paid my money I was going to have a go.

The basic premise of the course was this: Plotting novels is easy. You need a protagonist, an antagonist and a conflict arising between them. The plot lies in resolving the conflict.

I tried really hard to make the novel I was working on fit into that nutshell, but I couldn’t do it. To begin with, the antagonist of my coming of age novel was life in the world, not a villain with a handle bar mustache. The teacher said that wouldn’t fly. It had to be a person. By the time I realized I could not fit myself or my novel into that schema, I had fallen so far behind there was no catching up.

The course presenter had a lot of good things to say about character development, plot lines and what-have-you, but his method wasn’t for me. Period.

The downside was the course fee down the drain. The upside: I knew one writing strategy that wouldn’t work for me. That realization was worth way more than the $225 I had paid.

I know the lemons to lemonade maxim is a clichéd way of making the best of a bad deal. But it’s also true. Knowing what you don’t want puts you squarely on the path to what you do want. Or at least points you in a useful direction. And it quenches your thirst at the same time.


Judith Shaw

Judith Shaw

JUDITH SHAW is a freelance editor who lived for many years in Asia and Australia and has a deep and abiding love of dogs and horses. She has been a student of the Fear of Writing Online Course and the Fear of Writing Grad Course and is now a happy client at Writer’s Muse Coaching. Judith lives in western Massachusetts with her Australian husband and her Jack Russell Terrier, but sadly, no more horses.

Making Lemonade from Those Writing Lemons

By Milli Thornton

Source: Johanna Goodyear

Johanna Goodyear,

BACK WHEN I WAS writing my first screenplay (a time travel adventure set in New Mexico), I attended a tele-class about asking carefully targeted questions to structure the genre of your script.

I’m a believer in asking questions to help explore my characters and their dilemmas—and the tele-class was being taught by a respected screenwriting teacher—so I was looking forward to learning some insider secrets. But I was not able to last the distance.

What this call (re)confirmed for me is that these kinds of writing systems are too cerebral for me. I know they work for others . . . but I am not those others. I have to know what’s right for ME.

The Silver Lining

Even though I knew in my heart I could not adopt this teacher’s writing system, I did not consider my time wasted. Sometimes, learning what’s not right for us can be just as valuable as finding where we fit.

It’s the same thing, if you get right down to it. The secret is to avoid using situations such as this one to make judgments about ourselves.

I could just as easily have said, “This part of it goes right over my head! I’ll never be good enough as a screenwriter!”

But not only is that not true (I can pick it up easily when it’s presented in a style that resonates with who I am), that kind of self-talk can be cruelly self-perpetuating.

Recognizing I didn’t belong in that tele-class not only freed up my time to get back to my screenplay, it even led (in a round-about way) to more self-acceptance for my writing. Not to mention some deeper thinking about ‘style’ that led to more self-expression as a writer.

Sometimes, it pays to be in the wrong place at the right time.


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.