Saturday, May 14, 2011

Finding Your Voice

There are ten definitions for the word “voice” in Webster’s college dictionary, but none of them explains the word in terms of writers. If your spoken voice is your distinctive sound, your writer’s voice is your singular written style. This is particularly important for nonfiction writers. When people read something you have written—a book, an article, and essay, or a letter—they will recognize you as the writer. Since your voice is so much a part of you, one would think it would be easy to identify. In fact, it takes work to find your voice. Here are seven guidelines to help you find yours.

  1. Be real, natural. Let your individuality shine through. If possible, write the way you speak, even if the grammar is a little shaky on the first couple of drafts.
  2. Start a conversation with your readers. Connect with them; engage them; answer their potential questions.
  3. Concentrate on content, not style. What you say is more important than how you say it. You can’t cover up lack of knowledge with words, words, and more words.
  4. Think with your fingers. Put them on the keys, and keep them there. Let the thoughts pour out, even if they seem jumbled.
  5. Avoid jargon—business, technical, political, academic, medical, any kind. Jargon is like speaking in code; it excludes the reader.
  6. Don’t change your voice for different audiences. All you have to be is clear, conversational, and concise. Don’t pretend to be a CEO to write to business people or a medical expert to write to doctors. Don’t pretend, period.
  7. Don’t try too hard. Some things develop in their own time. Your writer’s voice is one of them.