How to Find Your Writing Voice

How to Find Your Writing Voice

When you’re a writer or a blogger, you’re putting your voice out there. It’s a lot like standing on stage singing your heart out for all the world to see.

But figuring out your writing voice isn’t easy. It’s especially hard for new writers to find their writing voice, because they already feel awkward having their work in the spotlight and subject to public approval. So they write in a voice that they feel they should use – but their writing voice usually comes off sounding stiff and generic.

Maybe you’ve struggled with finding your writing voice yourself. You feel uncertain about how you should “sound” when you write, and each voice you try feels a little awkward. You find a voice that seems to work for a while, but then you can’t maintain consistency – a blog post you wrote last week sounds completely different from one you wrote yesterday.

This doesn’t feel right. You’re not even sure if your writing reads properly, or whether it has any voice at all. What writing voice is appropriate? What is your writing voice, anyways? Do you even have one? You don’t know.

Let’s start at the beginning:

What is Writing Voice?

That’s a good question. Your actual voice has pitch and timbre and tone, and you speak in a certain way or with a particular accent. Your writing is much the same – it has a similar pitch and timber, it has a specific tone and style, and it stamps your words with a particular feel, beat or pattern.

People can “hear” your writing voice subconsciously as they read your text through a process called sub-vocalization. This means that as we read, we sort of “whisper” the words to ourselves, which helps us grasp more meaning, more understanding and retain the message longer in our memory.

Your writing voice is important, no doubt about it. So why is it so hard to pin down?

Why We Struggle to Find our Voice

Writers worry.

We worry people might think we don’t sound professional, or smart, or expert, or friendly. We worry we’re not “supposed” to write in a certain way, or that the way we write won’t be considered “good English”. We look to our writing heroes and try to mimic their voice, but it feels all wrong. We look at what we feel is great writing and test out that style in our own work, but it doesn’t work either.

One of the problems is that writers write in ways that fit our beliefs, not the reality. We believe that corporate people use big words and need to sound impressive to be taken seriously, or we believe that friendly people use a warm, nurturing tone, or that authoritative people write with Short. Impact. Statements. That. Kick. Ass.

Why Are We Writing in the First Place?

It’s important to remember that the goal of writing is to have the words read and get the message across. And the best way to get your message across – and have people feel that message as genuine and worth listening to – is to sound absolutely, completely natural.

In fact, you’ll write a lot better if you do. By being true to who you are every day in real life, you’ll write in a way that’s more comfortable and familiar than any other tone and style – and thus you develop your writing voice, the unique stamp of “sound” that’s all yours.

Because you simply are being you, and not trying to be anyone else.

Remember that you’re also not just you, but many people. You’re a parent or a friend or a lover or an employee or a speaker or a blogger or a stranger on the street or a patron at a restaurant or a person jogging in the park. You have many facets of personality, and each one is a part of you.

Each facet also carries a particular writing voice. I certainly don’t write in the same voice when I’m writing to a friend as I do when I’m writing to a client. You don’t either.

The beauty of having several writing voices at your disposal is that you enjoy a selection to choose from, with each voice useful in a different situation. Plus, they’re all the perfect fit – they’re all still you, and not voices you’ve chosen because you thought you should or because so-and-so writes in that style.

Here are some great exercises to help you become more comfortable with your writing voice. (Or voices, even.) By doing these writing exercises, you’ll discover your true voice and then learn how to develop flexibility. You’ll know your own writing voice and you’ll also be able to take on several different voices easily, which lets you take on more projects and jobs.

  1. Think of adjectives that define your personality. For example, mine might be bold, cocky, friendly, straightforward and witty. With those adjectives in mind, write 350 words on your favourite activity, and infuse those personality traits into your words.
  2. If your writing style was a drink, what kind of drink would it be? A casual beer? A pina colada? A glass of whisky? What about food? Would your writing be a Tuscan salad or a roast chicken dinner? Sounds a little crazy, but when you know your perfect writing voice is smooth like cognac or bright like strawberries, it opens up a whole new world of style.
  3. Try on vastly different roles or personas, and write 200 words in each one. Be a Hell’s Angels biker. A lawyer. A stripper. A little kid. A pirate. A scientist. A parent. Switch around and try on as many roles, occupations or personas as you can – and then pretend you’re you. Write the last 200 words in that voice. See the difference?
  4. Write a love letter. Pretend that you’ve been twelve days at sea (or in prison), and you think you might never see your loved one again. Let this one go and pour yourself onto the page – I guarantee your true writing voice will show up somewhere around word 437. (Either that or you’ll have started your first epic novel. Win either way.)
  5. Try on different moods. Everyone writes differently depending on the emotional state they’re in at the time of writing. So pen down 200 words for each mood you can think of, from happy to mad to wistful to wishful and everything in between. You’ll hit on a mood that’s you, in the moment, and you’ll notice your words suddenly start to flow more easily.
  6. Write to a friend. A good friend. Not a lover, not a mother, not an acquaintance, but someone you’d consider a solid best friend who knows you well and a person you’re 100% comfortable speaking with. Write 350 words to that person and tell him or her on what you did last week.
  7. Write like you talk. In fact, read your work aloud and see if that’s actually how you’d speak to someone sitting right there in front of you. Think of it like you’re having a conversation between you and just one other person (which eventually becomes the person sitting on the other side of your screen).
  8. Place yourself in an environment. Imagine you’re writing somehwere else. Sitting in the woods near a waterfall. Or at a hoppin’ burger joint. Or in a legal boardroom. You might find that various environments bring different writing voices to your work, and you’ll find one most comfortable for you.
  9. Write a letter to yourself. Talk to the person in you and let that person know something important. I won’t prompt you on what you might write to yourself, but I can guarantee that if you’re doing this exercise properly, you might find yourself penning some pretty powerful words.

Most of all, write FOR yourself. Don’t try to be Hemingway or Atwood or Gabaldon or Clark or Chartrand. Don’t worry about what your blog readers will think or whether they’ll like it or whether your work will catch the attention of this big name or that hot shot.

Forget that. You’re not here to impress anyone – and you shouldn’t be trying to either. That’s just a fast train to writer’s block.

Enjoy yourself. Write as if you’re the only person who’ll ever read your work. Take pleasure in what you’re doing and just be you. Your writing voice? It’ll come to you all on its own – naturally.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. Great advice and points James.

    “Write as if you’re the only person who’ll ever read your work.”

    I think this defines the whole post. So many people just worry about other people, and will not even consider their own style.

    In doing so, they make up a writing style, which can be easily seen as not being natural. So it is best to “Write as if you’re the only person who’ll ever read your work”. Readers will actually like this better.

    Nabeel

  2. Good advice – this is just the post I needed actually! Theres some great experimenting to be done with the tips you’ve shared, so I know that I’ll never be bored while I still have different styles to try out.

    I like numbers 3 & 8…. I might even combine them for maximum effect. Great post – thank you.

  3. These are all good steps to find your own voice. I am not a copywriter myself but I can imagine when you are constantly writing for your clients and adopting to the tone of theiar website, sometimes you may lose your natural voice when you are writing on your own blog.

  4. Hi James, great post!

    I think #2 is the only one I’ve never done, so I’m on it…

    I haven’t done some of the others in ages, though… Maybe it’s worth doing regularly. After all, our voices change with time and experience -the writing voice and the other kind- :)

    Thanks for this,

    Thorey

  5. This is excellent! I think I do a good job of writing in my voice already, but think these exercises would be really interesting. And everyone can always use extra practice!

  6. Another great technique is to say it out loud and then write down *exactly* what you hear. (Okay, you can drop the “um”s and “ah”s if you like.) This does two things:

    – it gets you speaking in your “natural” voice (assuming you’re talking the way you normally would)
    – you usually end up with something that’s very short, sharp and to the point because we don’t like talking any more than we have to.

    Bill.

  7. I love your fresh approach in finding my writing voice. The problem is that when you’re a freelance writer, you tend to lose your own voice since you have to adapt to the voice of the site/business you are writing for. I love your fun approach in finding my lost voice ( makes me think that it was sealed inside Pandora’s box ). I believe your tips will help me continue this personal writing project I have which I had left unfinished for three years in a row. Million thanks!

  8. I’m still trying to find my voice as a writer but I think it’s starting to show the more I write. It’s actually kind of difficult because the more I write, the more language I pick up which is later used in my writing.

    The problem is that I normally wouldn’t speak so proper with my friends. So I try to break it down. Like I normally would. As if I were talking quickly, like I needed to get the point across as I normally would talk.

    We’ll all keep trying, keep striving to find that voice. It may take time but as long as we work on it, we’ll get there :)

  9. @Nabeel – It’s tough not to worry about what others will think, especially in the world of blogging, and remembering to write for yourself first is crucial to removing that stress of performance pressure.

    @Peter – *grin* Thanks goes to you for the inspiration. Enjoy the cognac!

    @Sarah – Even if you’re not a copywriter, these exercises can help with simple things like client communication, emails, etc. There are all sorts of places to use them!

    @Thorey – Voice does change over time and with experience. Bounce around in my blog archives and you’ll see several different voices being used, all within certain time periods. Kind of neat, no? But then again, people change all the time, so it only makes sense.

    @Kerrie – As they say, practice makes perfect!

    @Bill – Oh, that is interesting. Talk first, write after. Good one!

    @Issa – Writing for others does mean you need to be firmly grounded in your own voice, and you need to revisit it from time to time to keep it there in mind. I’ve seen plenty of writers lose their voice over the years, and when they find it again, it’s awesome. (Finish the project!!!)

    @Murlu – It does take some time and practice to find your voice, you’re very right in that. This is why writing often, especially in the beginning, and trying on different voices to see which fits you best is crucial. And yup, you’ll get there!

  10. I love these tips! I never see writing exercises I like, but these are, for lack of a better word, cool! I am actually going to do some of them. I like the aspect of doing it for yourself.

  11. You are spot on with this post. As a speaker, the main reason I read your blog is to improve my writing voice, so that I can be a better speaker. I referenced this post in my blog today: http://robchristeson.com/writing-vs-speaking-is-there-a-difference.

    I specifically like the idea of writing to a friend. Sometimes I find myself writing to someone who has aggravated me, and it’s tough to keep a positive tone. Redirecting that advice toward a friend would be a beneficial way to get the point across.

  12. Some great advice here!

  13. I’m thinking of combining some of your writing prompts: writing like a pirate stripper, for instance, might produce some stimulating results, arrr! Thanks for some good exercises: I wrote an essay, that was essentially a love letter to my dead true love just recently, and it was a writing voice I hadn’t exercise in a while.

    I wrote a recent post http://www.tombentley.com/wordpress/writing-discipline/dont-muzzle-or-muffle-your-voice/ on this topic a bit back, which talks about the various writing voices you might have, and how not to suppress any of them.

    Thanks for helping this writer worry a little less.

  14. @Trina – Writing is *supposed* to be fun, so have fun with it! :)

    @Rob – Now that’s very cool. It never occured to me that these types of posts would be useful for your line of work (which comes with its own sets of challenges!) I’ll go check out that post now; you have me curious.

    (PS – You should send me a guest post on “how to be a speaker when you usually write” – we have a lot of bloggers who eventually hit the stage.)

    (PPS – Hotlinking to our photos sucks our bandwidth. It’s a better idea to right click on the pic, download and upload to your server… or grab it from iStock!)

    @Tom – If you write like a pirate stripper, I want to see that. (Also, I applaud your writing to your love. That had to have been touching.)

  15. I like this post a lot but I love what you said at the end even more. Write for yourself. I have always believed in this and maybe some would call me wrong but I do not think so.

    Write what you like to write and what you know something about and then make sure it’s something people want to read afterwords. Even then, make sure you like it before you figure out if someone else may like it.

    You’re doing this for yourself in the first place and last place so you might as well enjoy what you’re doing. Not saying that you’re not thinking of others but that if you absolutely can’t stand what you’re writing about how your writing style in general, you have to ask yourself a simple question: Is anyone else really going to like my writing either?

    Probably not.

  16. If we want to write better we have to like our own writing, Writing to please other people will lead to your writing not making your true point of view and if you are not making your real point of view you are not writing to your best potential.This will be more likable and natural writing that more people will enjoy.That is how I interpret this Article anyway.

  17. Thank you very much for this helpful article. I sure wont do ALL the excercises, but I’mm sure, I will reread it every time I’m struggeling with my writing voice and my doubts.

  18. Love this!

  19. Wow James, those are some great exercises.

    I have to admit, I write like a scientist on first draft – all cold hard facts. I try to retrofit personality in afterward and that can come across awkwardly.

    I find it much easier to write with personality in comments. It’s like I’m already stepping into a conversation as opposed to talking to a computer screen. Your Write to a Friend advice should be a big help.

    Your persona exercise sounds like fun. Reminds me of how I would read Treasure Island to my kids in a pirate’s voice. Tis’ the black spot!

  20. I have read many articles on how to find your writing voice, and this is by far the best one! Great pointers and kudos for listing several exercises for writers to try out.

    Carrie

  21. I really enjoyed this post and think your exercises are great.
    As a writer who blogs for several different audiences (moms, dog lovers, marketers, and – coming soon – people who want to live their best life), I used to feel a little schizophrenic – like I had to bounce in and out of personas: doting mama, buttoned-up professional, earthy-crunchy animal activist, etc. I’m learning to think of these different “personas” less as unique identities and more like facets of the “whole me.” I AM a mom, a dog lover, a marketer, and more. In the same way that I, as a person, have many different “sides,” so does my writing. What should remain consistent is, as you stated, the “voice” or personality. For me, I aim for approachable, likeable, relatable, and knowledgable.

    It’s like the old adage says, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”
    ;)

  22. Hmm, not certain I’ve considered writing for me. I like this idea.

  23. Wonderful! I just sent this link to my son who is about to embark on his college essay. I keep telling him that it’s more about the VOICE then the details about how great you are. Thanks for this.

  24. Now, I certainly believe there’s some taste, feelings, sound, temperature, etc in a voice that is written on my blog posts.

    Thanks for sharing such fantastic analysis into the written world.

  25. Matt Nicholls says:

    You know, its funny; Im a song writer, and I was having vocal problems, and typed about my voice not feeling right, and I got this. I didnt pay attention to the website or anything, just read it, and when i get to the comments I finally realize that these are excersises for journalist kind of writers… But it still really helped me. ALOT. Funny how that happened.

  26. @Matt – You’ll want to check out Lavonne Ellis from Speak Clearly (http://speakclearlyonline.com/voice-coach/), and Natalie Peluso from Sing your Truth (http://www.singyourtruth.com/voice-coach/) Both can help you with that, and I know them both personally to be exceptional professionals.

  27. ” the pen of a scholar is mightier than a sword”

  28. Thank you for this. I found it at the exact right time, and it really hit home. I was starting to wonder if I was the only one whose “voice” changed depending on environment, mood and company (leading me to question my sanity – multiple personality disorder?).
    Very Grateful,
    Nina

  29. Hi Dear , I found these tips quite helpful. In my view point a writer is a creator not a mercenary . Writing is a question of taking up responsibility. A great task indeed.

  30. evelyn eason says:

    I thought I had a voice. My creative writing teacher told me that when I write I don’t have one. I write exactly how I talk. If am happy you can tell in my writing, if I am sad you feel that too. I wrote a book and the people who have read it understood exactly what message I was sending. Can anybody explain to me what teachers are looking for, when they say what kind of writing voice do you have. This has made me afraid to start another book

  31. Berniece says:

    I am writing fiction and although I have lots of ideas and different plots going on in my book, I was finding it difficult with the character dialect.

    Point number 6 has helped me loads. I did this as a bit of an exercise and it made me just think about the scenes and what the character is doing and what they are seeing and feeling etc. I know this sounds like a pretty obvious thing that a fiction writer should do, but going back to basics is usually the best thing.

    Thanks a tonne, I think I am now able to move on from continuous ideas now and get more characters speaking in my book…watch this space :-)

Trackbacks

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Todd Rutherford, Tony Mack, Avonelle Lovhaug and others. Avonelle Lovhaug said: This is awesome. Now I just need to find time to try out some of the tips. How to find your writing voice: http://bit.ly/boQmVO […]

  2. Ten Great Post Over the Past Week | Wordzopolis - Marketing, Market Planning, Inbound Marketing , Content Creation, Social Media and Public Relations says:

    […] How to Find Your Writing Voice […]

  3. […] Are you copying someone else’s writing voice? Writing voice is unique. Every writer has his own writing voice. To test if your writing voice is unique, simply read it aloud and you will know if you compare it by reading aloud a different text. If you copy someone else’s voice, your story or work will not be as good as it will be if you used your very own writing voice. It takes time to develop… but it’s worth it. Just practise writing as you like it; don’t try to copy famous authors’ writing voices. (More resources about writing voice: here and here Have trouble finding your writing voice? Then read this post). […]

  4. […] updates on this topic.Powered by WP Greet Box WordPress Plugin I read another great post today on Men with Pens. This post, titled How to find your writing voice leads with the same picture as this post (yes, I […]

  5. […] Identifying your characters’ speech pattern is similar to finding your writing voice. I’d advise you to go dig into a few articles on the topic and see what exercises and tips they offer. My personal favorite is over at Men with Pens: “How to find your writing voice“. […]

  6. […] Last week I wrote about the importance of learning copywriting. This week Brian Clark at CopyBlogger wrote about the importance of  credibility and authority in your copywriting, and James at MenWithPens tells us how to find our writing voice. […]

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  9. […] read this great post yesterday at Men with Pens. I love that blog. If you like to write, want to write, want to learn more about writing or just […]

  10. […] pencil melodies, or inspire people with nonfiction prose, it’s essential for you to know the writing voice that is uniquely […]

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  12. […] review will be much more interesting if you can weave a bit of personality in there. I like to tell people how I discovered a band, or where I brought the album from, or what the […]

  13. […] How To Find Your Writing Voice Share this:FacebookTwitterLinkedInLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  14. […] If you weren’t familiar with the bloggers in question, maybe not. But at the very least you can see how different the styles are. You can hear each person’s voice in the way they write. […]

  15. […] aloud to me as I read to myself–like someone was reading with me. So I took note of that, and I actually happen to receive an e-mail from the Men With Pens blog about this the next occurring day, which was very satisfying to my […]

  16. […] have to say anything brilliant (though, once you get going, you might.) You just have to begin. You find your writing voice […]

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  21. […] his blog “Men with Pens”,  James writes “When you’re a writer or a blogger, you’re putting your voice out there. […]

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  23. […] you wondered about "How to Find Your Writing Voice?" Read and enjoy some helpful tips. menwithpens.ca/writing-voice/ […]

  24. […] for the first time in a long time, I am not being told what to write or how long it has to be. In “How to Find Your Inner Writing Voice”, I realized I am not the only one who struggles with this. I have found myself writing how I think […]

  25. […] for the internet, it is also very informative about writing in general. I loved this article about Finding your writing voice and making yourself […]

  26. […] Remember that you’re also not just you, but many people. You’re a parent or a friend or a lover or an employee or a speaker or a blogger or a stranger on the street or a patron at a restaurant or a person jogging in the park. You have many facets of personality, and each one is a part of you. (James Chartrand, Men with Pens) […]

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