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How I Found My Voice In The Lost City Of Incas

Laura Cococcia

Laura Cococcia

This is a guest post from Laura Cococcia.  Laura write The Journal of Cultural Conversation.  She tells stories.  Good ones.  Today she’s got a message for writers, shy people, bloggers, and any wannabe. Enjoy!

by Laura Cococcia

Usually, when something is found, it means that it’s been lost.

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Machu Picchu, most often referred to as the “Lost City of the Incas,” a sanctuary for the Inca nobility. It was rediscovered on July 24, 1911 by Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham. Historical accounts debate if he really found it, but he spoke up first, so I guess he did.

I consider myself an adventurer too and tackle many personal goals head on. Yes, I’ve been to 40% of the countries I want to visit during my lifetime. Yes, I’ve created an Excel list of all my favorite restaurants in NYC, Chicago, London and other fabulous cities. I religiously check off each one after I’ve gone. Nerd alert.

But I’ve admittedly gotten lost along the adventure trail. Since I could read, I had a childhood dream to ‘be published,’ to write a book that changed the world. At the start of 2009, I made a resolution to do it. I researched the heck out of how to get my own book deal or even self-publish.

And then a trusted, wise teacher introduced me to blogging. I was shy at first. I talk a lot, was pretty Internet savvy and still I hesitated to write what I thought. And try to change the world as I was doing it. Lots of pressure.

Even more important, I hadn’t written more than a research report in five years. Sure, I had a journal, but that was it, and it was mostly me pining about dramatic breakups with men just to myself. One whole journal details my time with a guy who wore a fanny pack.

But, one cold January night in Chicago, I just did it. Started small. I wrote my first book review on my tiny personal blog that only my mom, my dad and my sister subscribed to.

And funny enough, as it grew, I found it to become one of the healthiest and strongest relationships I’ve ever had. I started telling bigger stories. I started asking well-known authors and artists if they’d be willing to do a short interview about how they found their voice. I partnered with a wonderful creative coach to keep my momentum going.

Fast forward to just a few weeks ago, and here I was – still excited about blogging, but feeling stale. I forgot metaphors. I started writing in a very serious tone, and I’m really not that serious. Except when it comes to my daily intake of Diet Coke.

It was good timing that my trip to the Lost City came when it did. I had the right amount of space and time to look into my laryngitis issue and figure out the best way to get loud again.

How I Got It Out of My Mouth

I still keep a journal (but now it’s less about men and more about me.) I penned some lessons I learned during my re-discovery –new things I’d never done to support my writing. More than, just ideas, these tips opened my eyes, ears and mouth to truly tell stories, not just make lists.

I’m psyched to share them with you.

1. Write how you talk. For work, I have to be a serious writer. But if you know me personally or could hear me talking now, you’d know that I like to inject a dash of humor and sarcasm into most of my conversations. Charlie Gilkey, my brilliant creative coach, once told me to record my insights and topics that came up in a voice recorder. While I had done it once before and forgot about it, I did it every day in Peru. Amazing. So different than what usually comes from my head to my computer and not one detail was spared.

2. Try to ask ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions. I spend so much time making sure I’m listening to others that I forget to ask questions. But when telling stories, it’s the “why” and “how” questions that count. Those are the type that bypass fact and get into opinion, thought and perspective. We can look up the rest of Wikipedia. In Peru, I asked a lot of people a lot of questions. And not just historical ones. To my tour guide: “Why did you choose this job and how do you see your career evolving?” To the children of Machu Picchu: “Why do you like math?” “Can I have some of your lunch?” (Yes, I did ask that. It’s not a why or a how question. It just slipped because I was hungry).

3. Take photographs. Before I started traveling a lot, I never took pictures. I always felt that if I was seeing sights, I might as well just buy a postcard. Yeah, not the same thing. It’s the nooks and crannies, the people, the setting around you that affects who you are, that helps you tell the story.

Next stop on my voice training tour? In January, I’ll be taking good friend Sage Cohen’s Poetry for the People class to tap into my imaginative side and create Walt Whitman-like verse. I’ve written one poem in my life: “An Ode to Cupcakes.” It stinks, but Sage says she’ll help.

How have you found your voice? Do you like to tell stories? Why? It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer, farmer or astronaut – we all have our opinions and the world can change, even with one idea. We can share that idea by writing, talking, sending a smoke signal – let’s just get it out there.

My guess is that if we combined our tales together, we’d have one heck of a loud story to tell.

About The Author: Laura Cococcia can be found telling stories and much more on The Journal of Cultural Conversation.  You can also follow her on Twitter.  I do!

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  • Ideas With A Kick December 8, 2009, 5:13 am

    I find it interesting how big of a growth experience traveling can be. It’s a lot more than just seeing new or exotic places. It’s a way to experience, to learn and to mature as a person. One thing I notice is the people around me who have traveled a lot, they seem to have this wisdom and maturity about them. Even if they are usually young.


  • Laura Cococcia December 8, 2009, 5:20 am

    Hi Eduard – it’s interesting you say that about maturity and travel. I used to be extremely homesick as a child and when I was 19, spent a summer abroad in Italy. I almost left because I was so homesick, but I stayed – and when I returned, I was a brand new person. I have no idea why, but I felt I had really had an experience that fundamentally changed me. Thanks for your comment!

  • Henri December 8, 2009, 5:47 am

    That’s funny Laura, because I left for Spain when I was 19 and it changed me as well. I grew and matured a lot as a person. Last year I went to Peru to hang out with the shamans and check out the jungle, it was awesome. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to check out Machu Picchu. Next time I guess 😉

  • Laura Cococcia December 8, 2009, 5:49 am

    Hey Henri! So you can relate – so nice to hear another person has had the same experience. I think the shamans and jungle sound like an amazing experience – we could combine both of our stories and make it into one big Peru blog post … or book 🙂

    • Henri December 8, 2009, 9:18 am

      Sure, let’s do it. We can throw together something on your blog as a hybrid-guest post. Hit me up on twitter if you’re interested 😉

  • Jenny December 8, 2009, 8:22 am

    “One whole journal details my time with a guy who wore a fanny pack.” – That’s amazing. I just started a personal journal last night. Dear God, I hope that doesn’t mean I’m doomed to deal with a fanny pack in the near future.

    • Josh Hanagarne December 8, 2009, 10:23 am

      Jenny, all of the fanny packs of the world are currently conducting ever-tightening concentric circles around your house. Soon they will have their noses at your window.

    • Laura Cococcia December 8, 2009, 12:44 pm

      I promise, Jenny, you will not have to date a guy with a fanny pack. That was pure karma for something I did in a past life, I know it.

      Josh – don’t scare her!

      • Jenny December 8, 2009, 6:31 pm

        Josh that is quite the scary thought. Except maybe I can make a YouTube video and retire if your fanny pack prophecy comes true tonight.

        Thanks Laura! Oh no.. if the fanny pack was karma, I’m afraid of what really IS coming my way.

  • Srinivas Rao December 8, 2009, 9:15 am

    Hi Laura,

    I think it’s interesting how bloggers usually find their voice sometime in about the 5th or 6th month of my blogging. For me it started to come as I became a more and more avid surfer. As more and more people commented on how they loved that angle, I realized that was my voice. Another thing I did was start writing stories that were a bit “off” and unfiltered. These stories were the kind where some might think I violated the “too much information” rule. Those posts really have resonated with my readers. So, I can definitely relate to everything you are talking about in this post.

    • Laura Cococcia December 8, 2009, 12:46 pm

      Srinivas! So glad to hear that you’ve had a similar experience…it’s funny that it takes other things, outside of just the pure motivation to write, to make our voice true to who we are and the message we want to send. As long as you have readers who connect with you and love what you’re writing, there can never be TMI, right? Thanks for commenting.

  • Heather December 8, 2009, 10:11 am


    This was a great post! My condolences on Fanny-Pack Man. I would love to read your “Ode to a Cupcake”. It’s probably better than you think. The poetry workshop sounds interesting and I hope you have fun! 🙂

    • Josh Hanagarne December 8, 2009, 10:22 am

      Even though I was raised in the era of MC Hammer, Girbaud pants, Stussi and Vanilla Ice, I never wore a fanny pack. By the way, the awesomest fanny pack of all time is worn by Vanilla Ice in the movie “Cool As Ice.” He also jumps a motorcycle over a fence off of completely flat ground.

    • Laura Cococcia December 8, 2009, 12:49 pm

      Oh Heather, fanny pack man was just a low point. Perhaps the lowest. Do you think I will recover? Thanks for your support on the poetry – actually, now that you say it, maybe I should put it up on the blog before I start the class?? Ooh, I’ll let you know for sure!

      Josh – I think you did wear a fanny pack, you just don’t want to admit it.

      • Josh Hanagarne December 8, 2009, 1:02 pm

        Laura, I honestly didn’t. I was susceptible to every single trend that came along. I was the willing target audience. But for some reason I never wanted a fanny pack. I don’t know why.

  • Larissa December 8, 2009, 12:37 pm

    Laura, I really appreciate this post, especially your advice to write how you talk. I don’t have any reason to write. . I’m not a big blogger, not writing a book, etc. But I used to love writing, and as I’ve gotten older, I have grown to be so self-conscientious that it’s difficult for me to even journal. Because of my training as a court reporter and a love of english, I am extremely critical of my sentence structure, grammar, and word choices. It really takes all the fun out of writing.
    Now, on the flip side, I can tell a story to a group of people with total ease. I would really love to be able to do that in written form, and I think that recording myself is an excellent idea. 🙂 I can’t wait to see if it will help!

    • Laura Cococcia December 8, 2009, 12:55 pm

      Hey Larissa! You are a writer – you’re writing here! I completely understand where you’re coming from – and while I do write a lot, I sometimes just don’t feel like it, so I take a bit of a break. One thing I do when I don’t feel like writing – I write one sentence a day about my day in my journal. Gretchen Rubin, who just wrote a book / has a blog “The Happiness Project,” shared that idea once and I loved it. Just one sentence!

  • Sage Cohen December 8, 2009, 2:29 pm

    Laura, I loved reading about your relationship with storytelling here — and learning more about you. I’m celebrating your courage to start telling your BIG stories to a big audience, and I can’t wait to hold that first (of many, I’m sure) book of yours in my hands. Looking forward to learning with you in January!

    • Laura Cococcia December 9, 2009, 12:18 pm

      @Sage Cohen Thanks so much, Sage! I can’t wait to take Ode to Cupcakes one step further 🙂

  • Fred Werkmeister December 8, 2009, 3:52 pm


    You make it sound so easy, “write how you talk,” but it takes a lot more than that to write a book. I’ve tried and even though I described many adventures in interesting places like Cusco and Machu Picchu, it turned out to be rather boring.
    Unlike Larissa, who can talk with total ease, if I tell a story to a group it sounds as if I’m preaching.

    What would you suggest?

    • Laura Cococcia December 9, 2009, 12:21 pm

      Hey Fred – great question. I have not yet written a book – have just been using the blog as my testing ground right now. One thing I’ve started to do, and Josh has helped me do this, is try to use more metaphors so folks can easily draw from their own experiences as you tell your tale. What do you think? I’m excited to hear your additional thoughts – that’s just my first “gut” response to your question.

  • Jared Yellin December 8, 2009, 7:44 pm

    I so enjoyed reading this message, especially one of the last questions, “How have you found your voice?” This is a profound question because far too many people struggle when it comes to listening to their own voice because they do not even know what their own voice sounds like. They have spent their life in an identity-less state where someone or something is in control of their thoughts and voice. This is such an empty feeling, one that truly compromises the quality of their life, but they are too afraid to take action because they do not even know any better. But what I have found through my research, seminars, and blog posting is that the first voice that MUST be heard is your INTERNAL VOICE which will guide you to a place that you have always deserved to go…this place is your IDENTITY! Great work and thank you so much for sharing!

    • Laura Cococcia December 10, 2009, 7:42 am

      Hey Jared! Thanks so much for your note, I’m glad you enjoyed it and I’m so glad you can relate. Our internal voices can get lost amidst all of the external noise sometimes. Thank you for sharing your story as well!

  • Kimberly December 8, 2009, 9:40 pm

    Oh Laura, I love your story about finding your voice! And it’s a pretty compelling one, your voice. : ) When I first started writing my blog, I was self-conscious about writing in a certain “style,” and wanted to write as beautifully as other food bloggers I admire, which hung me up. It still happens to me, but now I have an easier time of getting words on the screen, because I know that authenticity matters. And my voice is like no one else’s. I can’t try to be like this or that writer, because I’m not, but I CAN be me, and that is just as valid. Thank you for your lovely, lovely post.

    • Laura Cococcia December 10, 2009, 7:47 am

      Kimberly! So nice to read your comment. You CAN be you – and actually, I think people really want to hear our authentic voices! So glad to see you share your unique story!