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March 21, 2012 (Updated: February 3, 2023)
Vincent Price. James Earl Jones. Gilbert Gottfried.
If you heard audio clips of those three men speaking, you’d be able to identify them in an instant. These actors all have signature voices– and good writers work in the same way.
Edgar Allan Poe. Emily Dickinson. Ernest Hemingway. You’d be able to easily pick these writers out of a lineup– can you say the same about your own voice?
Why care how you sound on paper? Your readers aren’t reading you out loud, are they?
In fact, a writer’s voice is the most important part of establishing a readership. Here’s why:
All writers use the same things: words, grammar, sentence structure, etc. What makes us unique? Our voice– it’s one-of-a-kind and it’s solely yours.
Your voice gives you a personality. It breathes a little humanity into your otherwise lifeless words.
Writing for the Web is all about capturing a distracted audience’s attention. Give your readers a strong, likable voice from the first paragraph and they’ll have a good reason to keep reading.
Your readers don’t want to read a robot. Give them a strong, likable, knowledgable presence– because we all know that no one likes a know-it-all writer.
No one else writes like you. Your voice is the epitome of your brand– it’s your logo. It’s the one thing you can offer clients and readers that they can’t find anywhere else.Your voice is paramount to how you market yourself– don’t take it lightly.
The ultimate sin in finding your own voice? Sounding forced, stiff, and unnatural. It’s like trying to be a stand-up comedian when you don’t have a sense of humor: everyone else finds you awkward and painful to watch.
Don’t stress over your voice. Don’t fret. Don’t copy other writers. People despise fakeness, both in real life and in writing. Your voice should come naturally– if you’re trying to become someone else, your readers will notice.
Guess what, folks? You already have your own writing style.
You come pre-equipped with one: your brain assembles language in a different way than anyone else on the planet. You have a distinct way of speaking, laughing, joking, and yes– writing.
Fortunately and unfortunately, we go to school to learn a unified way of speaking and writing. There’s nothing wrong with this– if we all made up our own words and assembled them in whatever way we wanted, we’d have a hard time understanding anyone.
But your voice should work like your handwriting. You painstakingly copied letters out of books and your goal was to make everything look exactly like the textbook. After school, however, you developed your own unique way of writing. Chances are, you’ve thrown out some of the more unpractical penmanship rules– I mean, who actually uses a cursive letter ‘Q’ in everyday life?
Your writing style works the same way. You learned by the book. Now it’s time to loosen up and find which rules to follow and which rules to break.
Writing for online audiences is all about being conversational. I don’t know about you, but I don’t converse in American academic English. I start my sentences with conjunctions like “and” and “but.” I use contractions. And sometimes– when I’m feeling bold– I actually end my sentences with prepositions.
Horror, I know.
On the Internet, you want readers to be able to read you, skim you, scan you, and still walk away with a working knowledge of your perspective and your personality. How can you accomplish this? Write to them like you’d talk to them over dinner or in a coffee shop. Inject humor. Include your go-to expressions. Write like you speak and no one else will sound like you.
The hands-down easiest method for seeing if your writing sounds natural? Read it out loud. If you’re writing how you naturally speak, you should read it with ease– it’s why authors so often read their own work for audiobooks. They have the closest connection to the text.
If you can read your writing 100% smoothly with no stumbles or verbal mishaps, congratulations! You’ve nailed it. If you trip over phrasing or struggle with your writing’s flow, it’s time to do a little revising. Get in there and smooth it over as best you can. If it flows smoothly to you out loud, it won’t trip up any of your silent readers.
I’m passionate about a lot of things. Old zombie movies, pubs in Boston, my mom’s apple pie– get me started on one of those topics and the words flow so quickly and easily you’ll wish I never started.
Writing works the same way. If I write a piece on investment banking, it’ll probably be empty and heartless (and I pity anyone who has to read it). Ask me to write a piece about my mom’s apple pie and I will give you a full-blown manifesto on cinnamon-crusted, apple-y godliness. Readers can sense when you really care about something– it gives them a reason to become invested in the same way.
Find your passion and you’ll find your voice. It’s as simple– and as incredibly difficult– as that.
Nicki Porter is a working writer, fledgling foodie, and admitted alliteration addict currently living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter for musings on writing, blogging, and the Muppet Show. And don’t forget to come hang out with CopyPress on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Tumblr!
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