Read my voice - Ten tips to develop your writing voice
Do you feel your writing just doesn’t ‘sound’ like you?
You’re not alone. It’s really flipping hard. You’ve no sound, volume or pitch. You can’t smile or grimace. You can’t use your body language or energy to silently communicate your mood. Not only that, but your ‘work’ voice takes over and everything ends up sounding vanilla and corporate. Like I say, hard. This is why there are gazillions of blogs, articles, books and courses on the subject.
So, I wanted to throw my hat into the ring in the hope that it’ll encourage you to jump in and feel more confident in your writing. So here are my top tips on developing your writing voice for blogging, writing letter, or any other personal writing. Most importantly of all, give yourself a break. As I may have mentioned, it’s hard and you’re not alone.
1. You have all the time in the world
Firstly, give yourself time. Developing your writing voice is essentially about developing yourself and is a life-long, evolving pursuit. So don’t expect to have it pinned down after a couple of hours, something I myself have a wonderful tendency to do.
Exercise: Give yourself five minutes and write from the following prompt: ‘I have all the time in the world…’
2. Ship it ugly
Don’t wait to start sharing your lovely you-ness until you have it ‘right.’ As I mentioned above, it takes time, so don’t let this be a blocker, just jump in! You can always edit it later – which I’ve done on occasion.
Exercise: Give yourself five minutes and write from the following prompt: ‘Shipping it ugly…’
Tune into yourself. This’ll help you to be more ‘you.’ Park your work writing voice if you have one and ask it politely to sit this one out. Start by doing a short meditation or whatever helps you bring yourself into the moment. I recommend the following exercise.
Exercise: Give yourself 5-10 minutes and then write about what you’re experiencing from each of your senses. Prompt: ‘Here I am…’
4. Embrace the good, bad, the ugly
Accept all that you are. I know, this one is a toughy and you may require professional help, as I did, but there may be hidden treasures in those parts of you that you lock in the cupboard when in polite society. You may know immediately what those parts are. If not, remember that we’re drawn to love/hate aspects of other people that are essentially like us. So, if you’re irritated by someone’s show-offy nature, then yes, you might have a tendency to be a bit show-offy (guilty.) If you’re impressed by someone’s courage, chances are you’re pretty courageous (yes, this too.) It’s all OK by the way, we are who we are, it’s what we do with it that counts.
Exercise: Make a list from the following prompt: ‘At my best I’m…’ and ‘At my worst I’m…’ Once you’ve made a list you can pick out one or more from both lists and write more about this aspect of yourself. Breathe. Accept it – I promise that you won’t be opening Pandora’s box, you’re just taking a peek and going, “Oh, that’s interesting.” You’ll remain the same lovely, grounded person you are today.
5. Enjoy yourself (it’s later than you think)
This is one of my favourite messages in a song, and one that I try and remember every day given my pre-disposition to take things a tad too seriously. Remember to enjoy your writing. Check back in with yourself that you’ve not made it into work (I must do it every day/produce stuff regularly etc.) – we’re awfully good at doing this, trust me. If you’re not enjoying the writing, you’re probably not being yourself and that’s really the only goal.
Exercise: Write about why you want to write, blog, whatever. Connect to it and hold onto it in whatever way works for you. Writing prompt: ‘I want to write about ‘x’ because…’
6. Who, what, why?
Who are you writing for? My blog ‘Dear Lucy’ (dearlucy.blog) is just for me. I just throw out into world for whoever wants to read it, I have no particular goal other than the enjoyment of writing it – at least for now. This blog on the other hand, is written especially for you. I want to help you to break through some of the barriers to writing more authentically, to feel good about your writing, to enjoy it and confident that you have something to say, even if that’s only to yourself. So, think about what it is you want to share, what message do you want to get across? Why do you want to help people and how? Do you want people to be entertained, educated, inspired? Whatever you want to share, I promise, it’s worthy. Make sure you’re truly connected to this and your passion and authenticity will burst out of that page.
Exercise: Write to your ideal reader explaining what your blog is about. A great way to get some perspective around this is to do the same exercise but with a child and or a parent. This will highlight places where you’re less confident, clear etc so you can work on those aspects. Prompt: ‘Dear x, I want to share…’
7. Ask a friend
Get feedback. Just ask people who know you, “Does this sound like me?” Be really specific that this is what you’re asking for otherwise you’ll end up with a load of well-meaning but highly subjective feedback. You can also read what you’ve written out loud. Is this how you would speak? Conversational writing is more engaging so think about what you’d say and tweak it. I’ve done this several times during writing this blog. A really simple example is changing ‘I have’ to ‘I’ve’ – when I read it out loud, I realised I don’t say ‘I have.’
Exercise: Read aloud what you wrote in the previous exercise. Make edits as you're talking.
8. Play about with style and tone
Be intentional about your style (construction, language etc.) and tone (“what the dog hears” as Adair Lara puts it). For example, I might be witty, sweary and abrupt with lots of exclamation marks if I’m writing about something that irks me for entertainment purposes. If I’m writing about writing, I’m – hopefully – more encouraging, playful, and sincere. How do you sound when you’re annoyed, excited, sad, playful, professional? Think about this for your writing based on what it’s about and who it’s for.
Exercise: Write about something that annoyed you recently. Then write about something that happened that made you very happy (both can be very small and simple things). Do the same thing again using conflicting tones, e.g., write about the thing that annoyed you with a cheery tone. Finding what doesn’t work will help you get to what does.
9. Practice, practice, practice
As the old saying goes, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” (famous concert hall in New York.) Answer, “Practice.” So, write, write, write and read, read, read. The more you do it, the better you’ll get and the more you’ll enjoy it and, as I keep banging on about, enjoying it should be the priority, otherwise, why are you doing it?
Exercise: It can be tempting to fit in with the crowd and follow unwritten conventions if you stick to that which you are writing about, so read widely and get inspiration from other types of content and styles.
10. ‘Inspired by’… not ‘copied from’
Try on the things you like in other people’s writing. Everything is a mishmash of other things so don’t worry about using other people’s work to inspire you. You’ve probably already been influenced by other people without realising it, so it’s no different to do it consciously. What is it you like? Do they use certain kinds of words, short and/or long sentences? Are they descriptive or to the point? Do they share their thoughts and feelings or just talk about facts?
Exercise: When you read, highlight bits you like and then go back and analyse what it was you liked. Apply these things to something you’ve written, see how it fits.
I hope that helps you get started. I’d love to hear how you get on! Of course, you can do this work on your own and hopefully these tips help, but I created a course to help people explore this topic together with support and fun. It’s called ‘Blog your Voice’ and the next session takes place on 18 September 2021. Give me a shout if you’d like more information. firstname.lastname@example.org
Image by Alan King on Unsplash