Q: How do I find my writer’s voice?
A: Start talking.
Of course the term “writer’s voice” doesn’t mean your literal speaking voice. But I’m serious when I say that the best way to find your voice is to start talking.
Speak your ideas as if you were talking to a friend. Better yet—actually talk to a friend.
When you write—especially at first—you may have a tendency to be stilted or too formal. But I’m willing to bet you have never had a conversation that included words like “henceforth” or “whereas.”
Those words may be appropriate if you’re writing for a law journal or academia. If that’s your audience, then feel free to click over to another blog—I got nothin’ for you today.
But most of my readers write in a business environment. Whether you’re writing emails or newsletters or the elusive White Paper, you want to draw your readers in. You want them to understand what you’re saying. And you want them to trust you.
The best way to accomplish those things is to be yourself. And sound like yourself. Yes: I’m talking about authenticity.
So talk through your message. Have a conversation with your friend (real or imaginary) and record it. Or talk out loud while you type. I do this a lot—it’s especially important when you’re writing a speech, because you need to make sure that what you’re writing is not, in the literal sense of the word, unspeakable.
At the end of a good day of speechwriting, my voice might be hoarse and my dog thoroughly confused—especially if it’s a passionate speech. But I know that my words will resonate with an audience hearing, rather than reading, them.
Your writer’s voice = You + writing
Remember that scene at the end of The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy realizes she’s had the power to return to Kansas all along? That’s kind of what it’s like when you discover your “writer’s voice.”
It’s in there. It’s always been in there. You just need to use it. So write: 15 minutes a day. And read—lots of different things.
Another great way to find your own voice is to consciously try to adopt another writer’s voice. Write your piece in the style of Jane Austen or Dashiell Hammett—someone with a very distinct voice. And then the next day, re-write the same story as yourself. You can play this game with as many writers as you like. See how different each story sounds, even though you created it from the same basic building blocks.
Surprise your friends or relatives by writing them a letter—yes, on paper. First, the act of writing with a pen or pencil (or crayon) in your hands is different than writing on a computer. You engage different parts of your brain, so you come at the material from a fresh perspective. And second, because chances are you won’t be talking to friends or family about business issues. Writing about a range of subjects builds stronger writing muscles. When you return to the business topics, you’ll likely approach them more loosely, even perhaps playfully.
The more you write, the closer you’ll get to writing like yourself. So what are you waiting for? Open up the timer on your phone and get your 15 minutes done.