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What is your writing “VOICE”?

mermaid“I don’t know how to find my voice…”

No, it’s not Little Mermaid syndrome, it’s something I hear from bloggers pretty regularly.

Writers of all stripes are often advised to “develop their voice,” but it’s a lot easier said than done.

So what is this elusive “voice” everyone wants to find so badly?  Here’s how literary agent Donald Masse describes it in his book, Writing the Breakout Novel:

What the heck is “voice”? By this, do editors mean “style”? I do not think so. By voice, I think they mean not only a unique way of putting words together, but a unique sensibility, a distinctive way of looking at the world, an outlook that enriches an author’s oeuvre. They want to read an author who is like no other. An original. A standout. A voice.

The same definition applies to blogging as to novels.

Think about some of your favorite bloggers; chances are they have a strong voice.  Ash Ambirge of The Middle Finger Project, Danielle LaPorte, The Blogess,  — they all have strong, distinctive voices.

But what makes it their voice?

Well, Ash swears a lot.  Danielle LaPorte reminds me of reading poetry.  And The Blogess—if you’ve never read her site, please clear your calendar for the rest of the afternoon and go read some of it because you will laugh so hard you will ugly cry. Especially if you like taxidermy.

But, back to the point, I think that “voice” in writing is really probably a synonym for “personality.”

Because as Mr. Masse says above, it’s not style.  It’s not about whether you use a cute + sign instead of an ampersand (or, God forbid, typing out the word and) or whether you use txt speek or proper grammar. I met this one blogger once (NOT A CLIENT) who didn’t capitalize any of her sentences or put any space between her paragraphs, which I think she thought made her look cool, but really just made her blog impossible to read.

Voice is about personality.  It’s about conversationality.  It’s about feeling like you’re getting to know the person through their words.

One of my God-given talents as a writer (I’m not bragging—it’s just something I’ve always been able to do, not something I learned) is emulating other people’s “voices” in writing.

Which actually comes in remarkably handy as a ghostblogger.

A client recently commented that I’m a little like an actress, because I put on a different persona every time I sit down to write.  And it’s true.

I have six VIP clients right now, and each one of them is different.  S. is sassy and couture and a little bit edgy. Very editorial. She’s acrylic and gold and diamonds and isn’t afraid of making a wedgie joke.  J. is much softer, a little warmer, and very, very loving; orange and gold and honey tones.  L1. is West Coast cool, beachy, a little hippy crunchy, but also very elegant. L2. is almost off the deep end silly, soulful, watercolors and crayons and glitter—LOTS of verbal glitter.

And what am I? Where is my voice in all of this?

I would say that I’m very conversational, fun, witty, a little bit erudite, a lot geeky and definitely not above bad puns and silly pop-culture references. I don’t swear a lot, but every once in a while for good measure. And occasionally my Texan starts showing.

I am the sum of my parts.

How to find your OWN writing voice.

And here is the rub: I found my voice through years of emulating others.  I have wanted to be a writer since before I could read. When I was a kid, I routinely wrote novellas in the style of my favorite book at the time.  It wasn’t all out plagiarism, but homage in its purest form. I once, out of sheer boredom and bloody-mindedness wrote an entire Harry Potter novel while waiting for the next actual Harry Potter novel to come out—complete with British slang and spelling. Forty chapters, 110,000 words of someone else’s voice.

But the upshot of all of that was that I got comfortable figuring out what made people/authors/books sound like themselves. And that made it easier to figure out what sounded like me.

It’s not something I consciously do, nor should it be.  Danielle LaPorte does not sit down and think, “How can I make this post sound more like Danielle LaPorte?”  She doesn’t have to.

Because she’s being authentic on the page.

So how do you find your authentic self and your voice?

I would suggest trying that little exercise I was doing above for my clients on yourself; how do you sound when you’re talking? Are you edgy and cool, or soft and mossy? If you’re not sure, ask some close friends or family members to describe you.  The more poetic the better.  😉

Read your own writing.  Find your most authentic vulnerable stuff — your journals, or your bottom-drawer novel that no one will ever see, or the love letters you wrote in college.  Even your personal Facebook statuses might give you a clue.  What do you sound like when you’re being your most authentic self?

Now ask yourself, do you sound like that on your blog?  And if not, why not?

I’m not saying you have to spill your guts and be crazy vulnerable on your business blog, and I’m not saying you can’t have a professional veneer to your business communications.  All I’m saying is that those things you say when you’re most like yourself?

That’s your voice.

And if you want more voice in your blogging, that’s what you need to cultivate.

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19 Responses to What is your writing “VOICE”?

  1. I really liked this post. I also have been writing “since before i could read” (love that!) and in grade school the teachers were always telling me to stop writing like I talked, be more formal, think like an adult, blah, blah, blah. And now when people tell me I write just like I talk, I take it as a compliment.

  2. Really love this post. As a television writer, I’ve had to write in other voices for years. Now that I’m taking a break from the biz, I’m trying to get to know my own voice a bit better. I’ll be trying what you suggested. First step, poll my peeps!

  3. All great food for thought. When I first started blogging I was trying too hard; trying to sound more professional, more polished. But once I let go of that alter ego, my true voice came through.

    My greatest compliment is from friends and family who say I write exactly as I talk. Or, new clients who tell me they feel like they already know me or that I’m just like they would have expected. It took a while to get there, but the more I write, the more effortless it is. It’s not a show. It’s just you!

    • I think you nailed it on the head; so many people try to sound like something — more professional, or funnier or whatever. But you really just need to sound like you!

  4. This is great! I know for me, it was hard to find my voice for a while because it felt too easy. Like I should be working a little harder when I wrote things for th public. Once I let that go, I started having so much more fun! (Also, I completely agree about The Blogess- tears from laughter every time I visit that site.)

  5. Lacy, I love this – you’re a word mimic! How great that you put that talent to work for you.

    I love writing and the biggest complement I get is when people tell me my writing sounds like I’m sitting there talking to them.

    Sometimes I find myself writing whole stories in my head and then when I go to put them on paper…it’s not the same. Maybe I should try talking into a recorder.

  6. Great advice. For most of my life I was told that I couldn’t write, which made me beyond terrified when I started blogging. However, my desire to share my woven scarves with the world was stronger than my fear of writing.

    It’s a journey that is still ongoing. But I started to discover my voice by journaling and creating my post from my journal.

    • I hate it when I hear people saying they’ve been told they can’t write!! HATE IT. Anybody who wants to can write, and just like any other skill, you can learn and improve.

      I’m proud of you that you’re doing it anyway, Amber!!

    • Luyi, I’ve heard that starting a business is the deepest, most important “self-discovery” work you can do, and I believe it!!

  7. Ack. Finding our voice – it’s so vague. I love that you shared your own journey!

    A whole Harry Potter book!!! That is something I want to read!!! It also shows me how much you like writing. I thought “Thats a true artist there!”

    Sometimes it helps me to write when I’m feeling pretty confident – then if I make myself laugh I know I did something right!

    Thanks for the great post!

    • You have a fabulous voice, Farideh! Your videos crack me up. 🙂

      And no, I will not be sharing a link to my fanfiction on my business site… That just seems super wrong somehow… LOL!

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