Every writer searches for a unique writing voice. Literary influences, favourite bloggers and the memorable quirks of indie writers can make it difficult to identify where you are in your writing. This isn’t plagiarism; integrating what we love about certain works is only one level of a writing evolution. It is totally normal to draw inspiration from those you believe represent the ideal in word-smithing.
Don’t shy away from defining your own ideal as a creative and word artist. It can be trying, disheartening and maybe counter-intuitive; professional content writers are often asked to forget their style completely and adopt the tone, voice and context of a client. It can feel frustrating to constantly shelve your skills on demand, but it also an opportunity to take your work and their outcomes to the next level – don’t use future failure as a reason not to find yourself.
Re-Invent Your Wheel
You don’t need to re-invent the wheel. Agency veterans love this phrase, distancing themselves from risk-taking or out-of-the-box thinking, opting for good, reliable work over great, challenging pieces… unless they’re gunning for their own ideas. Being a writer is more than an idea, function or career choice - it’s a fluid identity, it doesn’t have an off-switch or a static state.
As a written creative, you should always be re-inventing your own wheel or producing something superior, like a spaceship. Think about it, you wouldn’t use a wheel to launch an Apollo mission, but thrusters could be adapted to suit ground vehicles given the right insight. Don’t let others dictate your excellence – the “wheels” of others are not the pinnacles of what is possible or exciting.
Writers Toolkit: Finding Your Writing Voice
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.
Step 1: Drop into your consciousness
When we first start writing, we’re often told to write what we know before digging deeper into worlds we don’t… it sounds like boring but reasonably sound advice to an outsider. Many writers wrongly misinterpret this direction as a ban on any subject that feels foreign on their fingertips.
Writing what you know is an exercise in discovering your voice as it naturally occurs – you know that snappy, socially savvy part of yourself that hands you one-liners after the fact? Or the reflective monologues you occasionally indulge in? How about the three-way conversation you’re having, between you, your brain and somebody you can’t immediately challenge without upsetting the social balance? Take five minutes each day and let them have their say – this technique is called free writing or stream of consciousness. Open up a webpage and write anything and everything as it comes to your head. There is no right way or wrong way to free write, don’t stop to edit or change something. You have one mission, and that is to express yourself completely and utterly, without limit or restriction.
How often? Every day.
When to do it? A spare five minutes when you won’t be disturbed.
Where to do it? In a place free from distractions. Use pen and paper if the internet is too tempting.
Stay accountable: Join an online writing community or start a writing meetup group in your local area.
Step 2: Identify any patterns
After a week or so of committed free writing, bring all of your work together and study your execution. Look for similarities or crutches in sentence structure, favourite phrases or sequences you use to express ideas, are there tones you felt more comfortable with and where did your writing become sloppy? What did the writing reveal about you as a creative? Do you think in images, ordered lists, characterised voices or impossible scenes? How did it translate onto the page? We can’t answer these questions for you.
We can let you know why free writing is so essential though. Patterns often reveal hang-ups, hidden talents and raw voices that only come from one place – you. It’s these raw voices you’ll come to know a little better as this toolkit progresses. Through free writing, you’ll also have the opportunity to address any weaknesses you have, using the power of reflection and self-criticism to grow as a writer.
How often? Every week.
When to do it? On a Sunday or free day, when your mind is reasonably clear of work.
Where to do it? A quiet spot at home, somewhere you like to think or read.
Stay accountable: Other writers can be a blessing. If you’re lucky enough to have the friendship of a writer you trust, share your findings with them and discuss at will.
Step 3: Write for your…
We made a stab at this in the introductory paragraphs, but a professional writer rarely writes for their own pleasure. Here are a few home truths to kick off this section:
- Clients rarely see your work through the same lens – they want what they want, and it’s your job to deliver.
- Criticism is inevitable, qualified or not. Accept it, digest it and move on.
- You will have your fan base that loves everything you do, automatically.
Every few weeks, take what you’ve learned from your free writing exercises and create three separate documents. Using the same subject/title, target the following audiences:
This one may seem a little self-indulgent, but targeting a piece toward your own sensibilities allows you to shake out all of the cleverness, so to speak. Go nuts, go crazy, test those metaphors, play with complex compound sentences and stretch your vocabulary. Cover the subject according to the details you would want to read, let your inner word freak fly to the point of content exhaustion.
In part one, we mentioned the subject of personas. Again, we’re not referring to marketing models – we’re all about advocating for the humanity in writing. Let’s take a look.
Sense of Humour:
Personality Traits (Positive):
Personality Traits (Negative):
Bio/History (100 – 200 words):
We know what you’re thinking… a writing persona looks like a rudimentary character description. You’d be 100% accurate. To understand your audience, you need to personify them in order to deliver what they need. Shape your second exercise around the target you’ve created, factoring in your discovered voice so far – how can it be adapted to suit others? Is your style too fixed? Keep practising.
Next level? Create a profile around a good friend and shape another exercise around their preferences. Ask them to give you an honest reading – how well did they connect with the piece? Did it hold their attention? Was it interesting? Did you use the right language? Did they detect your voice as you see it or know it? Consider their response.
*Ask a friend who you know will give you a decent response – 'it was okay' isn’t helpful to anyone.
You’ve probably met criticism before – all writers have. Even the “best” are battered by the opinions and interpretations of others. Writing and reading, even in a commercial environment, can be very vulnerable and personal practices if a creative can’t deal with criticism. Take every shred of feedback you’ve ever received – the useful, the horrible and the glowing – and try to target a piece of writing toward taking on what they’ve said.
It’s impossible to please every single reader, including employers and clients. Instead, consider their feedback with fresh eyes and reflect on the pieces you’ve written for yourself and your ideal reader… does any of their feedback ring true? Have you made the same observations of your free writing? Instead of letting it cut you down (which may be their intention), let it guide your discovery process. Turn uncertainty into confidence.
Step 4: Interrogate your creativity
Far from tying yourself to a chair, interrogating your creativity simply means taking a closer look at the media you like to read, watch and analyse. Considering the books, blogs, podcasts, television shows, articles and such that you regularly pick up, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do they share anything? The same subject? Certain qualities? Tone? Approach?
- What are their differences? Do you appreciate the variation or is it accidental?
- Why do you like them? Why did you add them to your life?
- What value do you get from each text?
- Is there anything that frustrates you about them?
- How do they make you feel?
Do you identify similar qualities in your own writing? Has your free writing been influenced by certain features to the point where you’ve integrated those elements into your own style? Understanding how the media you love informs your writing style will help you locate and further define your voice.
How often? Every three months.
When to do it? Whenever you have a free thirty minutes.
Where to do it? Anywhere. Go to a café or library and soak up the atmosphere.
Start a conversation: Jump online and start a conversation in the comments section of your favourite blog or start a GoodReads account – start engaging with a range of communities to get a better understanding of their experience across the text you love (or love to hate)
Step 5: Write Badly
Writing badly can be so liberating, many writers and writing teachers underestimate its worth in developing authentic writing voices.
We’re not endorsing the overuse of horrible clichés and tired metaphors; we’re not suggesting telling over showing, and we’re definitely not insisting that you talk down to your audience. Instead, we’re encouraging you to take your bad writing with the good and celebrate it for what it is. Read back over old work, from last month to last year, and pick out those parts that make you blush and groan. There will be a few examples, if not entire pieces. This is true for every writer, at any stage.
How has your voice changed? Have you matured as a writer? What are you doing differently? What have you learned along the way? Although the previous four steps are highly important in developing the eye-catching voice your readers will love, being brave enough to write badly and fail often is the single greatest tool you have in your kit.
How often? Never stop trying… and failing.
A writing voice develops constantly and inconsistently, coming along in leaps, starts and revelations. Practice often, question everything and don’t be afraid to apply what you learn through your own reflective exercises to your commercial or online work. You have a voice. Use it.
Ready for the next chapter? We can’t wait to give it to you. Stay tuned for Research Tools and Tips for Content Writers - you’ll never look at Google the same way again.
Did you miss Part 1? Catch up here: How to Become a Content Writer