Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Surprising Key to Self-discovery

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Joel Boggess, is a life coach, radio talk show host, and the author of Finding Your Voice. You can follow his shows and updates on Facebook.

Have you ever watched a truly creative chef work in the kitchen? A dash of this, a dollop of that, a pinch of something else… and the next thing you know, you’re biting into a delicious concoction for which no recipe exists.

Chef cooking

Photo Credit: liber via Compfight cc

Occasionally, the cook misses the mark: a cake flops or the sweet and sour sauce turns out a little too sour. In general, though, experimental cooking works out just fine — and sometimes, the combination of flavors blows your mind.

The same approach also works for writing. Unfortunately, rather than experimenting and “taste testing” along the way, many people approach every decision as if life and death hang in the balance. One wrong choice — and BAM! — it’s over.

The pressure to make the right decision becomes so intense that we sometimes choose to do nothing rather than make a wrong decision. But what if you approached life differently?

Experimentation equals liberation

What if you assumed, as a rule, that most things work out in the end — and the things that don’t aren’t the catastrophes you imagine them to be?

What if you chose to see each situation for what it really is: a chance to learn, grow, and develop your voice?

By giving yourself permission to experiment and try on new writing styles — from a perspective, you free yourself from the fear of failure and expectation of measuring up.

It’s okay if your experiment doesn’t work out the way you planned or if it doesn’t follow a nice, neat, sequential order. Original ideas never do. Testing an idea’s merit alongside your own values and principles, and outside of any box, is far more valuable.

Circumstances bring opportunities

For my friend, Deby, she had no choice but to try new things.

Two years ago, Deby’s voice began to tremble. As doctors searched for the cause and a cure, her voice weakened until it one day it was completely gone.

She had been a singer and songwriter her whole life and was just beginning a speaking and coaching career. She needed her voice to survive, financially.

Through her pain and frustration, Deby heard a voice within that told her to paint. So she did.

This is play. This is a discovery.

Her art teacher Dorsey’s instruction to the class was to remain unattached from the work, to be ready to rip it up and use it in another way. This removed all the stress from the learning process — something Deby desperately needed.

At a time when she couldn’t speak, her art served as both a way to express herself and as a source of healing.

Over the next few months, Deby’s voice slowly returned, but hat she’s learned about artistic expression will add value to the lives of those who read, listen to, and experience her work.

Ditch the grading system

Are you willing to give yourself permission to “rip up” your work? Can you experiment without demanding perfection from yourself?

If no one were around to tell you not to, what other topics, events, and ideas would you write about? What would you sing, create, or build? What is your voice trying to tell you that you haven’t tuned into and started writing about?

Your best ideas will most likely come only after you learn to push your own creative envelope and embrace what life throws at you.


  • Experimentation without expectation opens doors of creativity.
  • Blessings are often dressed up as challenges.
  • There is no report card attached to artistic expression.

How has experimentation helped you discover your own voice? Share in the comments.

Did this post resonate with you? Check out Joel’s new book, Finding your Voice (affiliate link), which will help you sort through the clutter and discover clarity, confidence and direction.

About Joel Boggess

Joel and his wife Pei live in DFW area in Texas. With Master’s degrees in counseling and business, plus seven years of experience as a life and career coach, Boggess has the education, life experience, and wisdom to help you tune into and fully express your unique voice.

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  • Great story about your friend, Deby. I’m not quite sure what I’d do if my writing were ripped away from me, and I’m not quite sure that I’m ready to find out either.

    • Hi Michael,

      Thank you for reading and sharing your words.

      Write on friend…

    • Deby Dearman

      Hi Michael, this is Deby! I hope you never have to experience your writing being ripped away, but no doubt there are undiscovered talents just beneath the surface waiting for an opportunity to rise to the top!

      • Wow, Deby, knowing your story is one thing, hearing this directly from you – you have a strong voice!

  • Great article, Joel. A few months ago I decided to do away with following every rule to the letter. I reached out to my readers and asked what they thought. Someone told me she loved my writing but felt some of it was written too neatly, as if I were writing for a college professor to grade.

    From there on I knew I had to relax and find my style. I started experimenting with different techniques and seeing how I liked my words to sing. Now, I write somewhat differently almost every time as I narrow in on what I think will be best. It’s a fun ride.

    • Hi Vincent,

      Thank you for sharing.

      Your words remind me of something I often remind my audiences of – “When you find your voice (writer’s voice in this instance), everyone benefits.”

      Your readers benefit because they are getting you at your best and of course you benefit because you are at your best.

      • Great article and great to see so many familiar faces. Vincent, I’ve told you how much I love your writing and Joel, the book is fabulous. The person I shipped it to (after I finished) is getting SO much out of it. Thank you for your work!

        • Farnoosh! If this is the place I get to see my beloved friends, I got to come visit often! Thank you for the kind comment!

  • As an engineer/manager by day, writing has become a great place for me to experiment. I love discovering new ways to connect with people and stretch them through my blog and through my other writing endeavors.

    • Hi Jon,

      You are so right. Writing can be a safe place to explore, experiment, and expand. So glad to know that you’ve found that outlet.

      What are your top three things to write about?

      • family, faith, missions (and leadership)

        • Hi Jon,

          Thanks for the response. What idea or storyline are you playing and experimenting with now?

          • I have two ideas right now I’m working on. The first is an ADVENTure project encouraging individuals to pursue the ADVENTure in the Advent season. I’m writing about it every day with the thought of giving it away to my subscribers this year after Christmas and/or next year right before Advent.

            My bigger idea is to share my leap of faith story into short-term missions in hopes of inspiring others to pursue other similar leaps. In this project, I’m thinking about combining my own story with some practical tips for helping others in their own missions journey.

            • Great ideas Jon. Thank you for sharing. Creation as its finest. Which idea keeps you awake at night?

              • The missions related story/idea definitely keeps me up at night.

  • Brooks P. Lynn

    Joel you have stated a key factor in helping people find what they should be doing – Experimentation without Expectations-
    I think that if we all remembered that factor, we would be much happier, and the resulting work path we choose would provide a great benefit for our fellow man.
    Thank you Joel for stating this essential rule of success in life.
    You have found your purpose and you use it wisely to help others.
    Keep experimenting.

    Your friend and grateful client,
    Brooks P. Lynn

    • Hi Brooks,

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

      It’s amazing what can happen when people learn to remove the manufactured pressure that weigh themselves down with.

      What have you learned through your own experiences of experimentation w/o expectations?

  • “Experimentation equals liberation.” I like that reminder. Might have to type that phrase up and put it on my office wall. Just the decision to write again brought with it so much freedom in my life. Love that the learning and growing process seems to be endless so long as I continue to keep writing.

    • Hi Eileen,

      It seems to me that when people harness-up their best gifts and enduring features (for you – writing is one of them), that’s when freedom comes. What other ideas, gifts, or features can you experiment with?

  • Sujata Patnaik

    I was writing a introduction of myself that is when i realized that i was kind of on a voyage to discover myself. The blog resonates so much to my thoughts i went through all day long. Thank you so much for a sweet reminder of listening to the inner voice and experimenting them.

    • Hi Sujata,

      Thank you reading the blog and for sharing. The power of taking hold of your thoughts and ideas and putting them on paper is, for some, revolutionary.

      I’m curious, what did you learn about yourself as you wrote out your own bio and introduction?

  • danieldan

    Writing without judgement of my work has been revolutionary for my writing. Before I discovered this secret, I produced next to nothing. Now I write at least 1000 words per day (mostly garbage, but that’s OK).

    • Hi Dan,

      Congratulations! 1000 words a day is quite an accomplishment.
      And without a grading system attached to it, that’s gold.

      Generally speaking, what are you usually drawn to write about daily?

  • Kim Duplechien

    Solid article with a highly innovative correlation between writing, cooking, and creating. Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

    • Hi Kim,

      Thank you for the kind words. 🙂
      Worlds of creative expression and opportunity open up when a person is available and open to possibilities.

  • Everyday Servant

    Great respective! How exciting to look at every day … every moment … as a new opportunity. Don’t you think it’s like the story of the real estate developer whose first project failed… but that didn’t stop him… and that’s why we all know Donald Trump. I particularly like your thought that the greatest opportunities are dressed up as challenges. That’s one of the things I write about at http://www.everydayservant.com. Thanks for the great post!

    • Hi Everyday Servant,

      Thank you for being involved in the discussion and you are right – it is exciting to know that new opportunities are no further away than the next sunrise.

  • Geoff Hughes

    Great article Joel. Experimentation is playfulness. As writers we should always be excited to just play around with point of view, voice, dialogue. The great writers are great teachers too. It’s fun to try and write in the style of the book you’re currently reading. It may not work, but you can always rip it up or maybe learn something that works and helps you find your own authentic voice.

    • Hi Geoff,

      Thank you joining in the discussion.

      It takes patience and a lot of practice to be emotionally detached from the END RESULT of our work – because as writers, most of us (at least me), have a love affair with our words.

      I may be wrong in this but what I’ve found is that artistic expression come much easier when we take the pressure off.

  • Michael_Rittenhouse

    I don’t remember where I got this idea, but as a teenage writer, I made a couple of paperboard wheels, one smaller than the other, and picked words at random out of the dictionary to write around them like spokes. The larger wheel had nouns, the smaller, adjectives.

    Then I put a brad through the middle of them so I could rotate them and make a new adjective line up with a new noun with each turn.

    I came up with more novel (often funny) word combinations that way than I ever could have imagined.

    I should do that again, now that I’m a boring adult.

    • How fun! I could almost see a youtube movie coming up! The world is still a playground!

    • Talk about a fun family activity that could lead to some wonderfully innovative ideas and solutions.

      Have you even suggested an activity like that to spark people’s creativity motor?

  • Kathy Brunner

    Joel, you always remind me to look for the “way” instead of the “why” when obstacles occur. Funny thing is, whenever I do, I always discover something I never thought I could do and then realize I might have easily missed a great opportunity to develop a new skill. Always enjoy your messages.

    • Thank you Kathy for sharing your kind words.

      Pei and I are excitedly looking forward to speaking at your event in 2014 with Joanne Miller!

  • Sue Neal

    Hi Joel,

    Thanks for this inspiring post, and especially for sharing Deby’s story.

    Until recently I never thought I’d be able to write fiction – I thought I’d no imagination. But I fancied having a go, and started by responding to some creative writing prompts on a writing website – I amazed myself by some of the ideas I came up with and received some very encouraging feedback from other contributors. It’s opened up a whole new world for me.

    • Hi Sue,

      What an empowering phrase – “I amazed myself…”
      That is what happens when people make themselves available and open to possibilities.

      What type of character or storyline are you now playing and experimenting with?

      • Sue Neal

        Cheers, Joel. I’m working on a thriller/ghost story about repressed guilt – the main character is confronted by an old crime he thought he’d got away with.

    • Deby Dearman

      Sue, thanks for sharing your story. How exciting to find that as you stepped beyond your comfort zone your creativity was freed from the cage of self doubt. Congratulations!

      • Sue Neal

        Thanks, Deby 🙂

  • I had this awareness a couple of years ago – I place judgement and edit my thoughts, writing… afraid I get it “wrong”. I shared this on Facebook today: Santa loves children. Actually he hopes all of us are “children at heart”. He wants us to have that “spark” back and love life like it’s still a playground.

  • writerval

    Thank you for this great post. I am coming off a period of being extremely stuck.The story about your friend Deby was very inspirational. I appreciate your reminders about blessings being dressed up as challenges and how there is no report card attached to creativity.

    • Hi Val,

      Delighted to know you enjoyed the post and found it to be inspirational.

      If you don’t mind me asking, what were two or three actions you took that helped you get unstuck?

      • writerval

        Hi Joel,

        I’m not sure I’m completely unstuck. The one thing I did that has helped some was make a list of the tasks I need to do each day so that I can use it as a checklist, which is helping to keep me a little more focused. It has been pointed out to me lately that I have two big problems that are stifling my creativity – one is lack of sleep and the other is lack of help, as I am actively involved in raising my grandchildren around a full-time job. Honestly I think I’m just plain thinking too much about everything. I’m going to try to take Deby’s advice and “let it flow”. 🙂

    • Deby Dearman

      Hi Val, this is Deby! I hope you press through ‘stuck’ and find a new release of creativity. I’ve found that it can flow freely in the midst of trials and challenges . . . some of my best work has come as I’ve painted through my struggles. Let it flow . . .

      • writerval

        Hi Deby! It was great to hear your story. You are an inspiration. I have just written that down next to my computer. “Let it flow”. Thanks, Deby!

  • Greg Vance

    Joel – Great article. You are so right – this is very actionable and practical advice. Times of challenges bring opportunity – though when they are upon you it is usually not as apparent to the person in the challenge to see their way to the blessing. It is so important to have wise people around you that can clue you into the bigger picture. Keeping on pushing forward! Thanks!

    • Hi Greg – Thank you for reading and commenting.

      I may be wrong in this but it sounds like you’re relating to the “challenge” part of the article.

      If so, how could you reframe your current challenge(s) into blessings waiting for you to activate?

  • Brilliant article, Joel! I couldn’t agree more.

    Those of us who make our living from creative work can too easily get blocked if we’re not really aware. That’s exactly what happened to me! When I was finally ready to climb out of a decades-long creative block and get back to creating FOR ME (rather than just for clients), I formulated a set of “rules” for myself, to get me into a state of playfulness, rather than pressure.

    I call it playing in the “Creative Sandbox,” and my 10 Rules for the Creative Sandbox echo a lot of what you’ve written here. You could say that ditching the grading system and getting back to experimentation saved my life. 🙂

    • Hi Melissa,

      Wow! Saved your life. I can easily believe that.

      I worked with people who have literally worked themselves into the emergency room – believing that in order to be valued or worthy, they had to throw themselves on the alter.

      I may be wrong in this but I don’t believe God created us to live – barely breathing.

      • Yeah, well, in my case it was a bit more metaphoric than ER material, but still. I agree — I don’t believe we were created to walk around, as Steven Pressfield would say, in a state of low-grade misery. I believe we are here for JOY!

    • Hi Melissa, I would like to learn about your “10 Rules”!

  • Tracy Stella

    Joel, loved your writing. Thanks for sharing Deby’s inspirational story. I hope to engrave the concepts of play and discovery you shared onto my heart.

    • Hi Tracy,

      So glad to know that this story touched you.

      If you were to ditch the grading system and go play right now – what would be the first two things you would run to?

      • Tracy Stella

        Funny that you said run to. It’s snowing outside, so I would go for a silent snow run (once I mustered the courage to bear the cold). In regard to writing, I’d finish my personal piece on a Christmas tradition that demonstrates God was reaching for me long before I knew Him.

        • Hello again Tracy,

          Get to it! The world needs to read your inspiring, heartfelt words.

          I could be wrong in this but it seems to me that the only way to make the difference that God put us here to make is to give full expression to our collective gifts, talents, and abilities.

          BTW – You know who else needs to read your carefully crafted words? You do. Get to it! 🙂