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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.