The term “writing voice” is bandied about but rarely defined. Your voice, though, will make you stand out from the crowd of other writers. So, how are you supposed to hone your writing voice if you’re not sure what–or where–it is?
For starters, I like to think of my writing voice as the sound of my work. If you were having a conversation about your article/book/post, think about what you would say and how you would say it. You want to capture the sound of that discussion in your written work.
I admit: It’s often easier said than done, especially while you’re still refining your craft. Why? We all want to sound funny, witty, intelligent, wry, whatever, and if you’re trying to force that to emerge in your work, you lose your natural voice. But you don’t have to! It took me a long time to get comfortable with my voice, and here’s what’s helped.
3 steps to hone your writing voice
- Think out loud. It drives my husband crazy, but it works. When you are in the early stages of a project, you’re brainstorming an idea, or you’re stuck for the right phrase to round out a paragraph, start thinking out loud. Talk to yourself or to your dog or to your spirit guide or to whomever you want to imagine. When you think out loud, you will hear what sounds truly like you and what sounds forced. Delete the forced stuff.
- Knock out that shitty first draft. I’m sure you’re familiar with the “Shitty First Drafts” chapter in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. If not, or if it’s been a while, the concept is simple. Just get words down on paper (well, word processor), and deal with the mess later. If you second guess every word you type, not only will you slow yourself down, but you’ll also interrupt your natural thought process, your stream-of-consciousness. Sure, it won’t be polished, but it’ll be finished – and, most likely, it’ll be a pretty darn accurate representation of what you really wanted to say. It just needs to be gussied up a bit.
- Proofread out loud. Your neighbors might start to think you’re losing it if you’re talking through all your pre-writing (point #1) and then again in the editing phase, but trust me. This is the single most effective thing you can do to refine your voice. When you read your work out loud, not only will you catch all your little glitchy errors and grammar mistakes, but you will hear–actually hear–when your work doesn’t sound like you. Then, you can focus your editing efforts on those places to generate a far more solid second draft.
I recommend proofing everything out loud. It makes a huge difference in the quality of your writing, and it will help you refine your writing voice until it really, truly sounds like you.
I hope your 2015 is off to a wonderful start!
Mine sure is. I love all the freshness, the newness of January 1: a new calendar, a new blog planner, new goals and dreams and aspirations, a new journal, and a renewed commitment to working hard.
At the beginning of the year, I always set a single word as my intention for the year ahead. For 2015, I was torn between “authenticity” and “inspired.” Ultimately, I chose “inspired” because I think being/working/feeling inspired informs authenticity.
I may be the only person to say this, but I’m so ready for the holiday break to be over so I can hit the ground running next week!
How about you? Do you set a word for the year? If so, tweet with me! I’d love to exchange ideas and, of course, inspiration!
You’re looking for a mechanic. You call around and find one who is nearby, highly recommended, and has an opening in his schedule. So, you give him a call.
“I need a mechanic,” you say. “It’s sort of urgent because my car is making a funny noise, and I need the tires rotated and oil changed.” He schedules you an appointment.
You drive to the mechanic and he presents you with an estimate of what the work will cost. “Oh, no,” you say. “I don’t pay in cash. I pay in exposure! I’ll tell all my friends on Facebook about how awesome you are, and I’ll live tweet my appointment!”
Does the mechanic work on your car?
Of course not. And, truthfully, no one would ever consider even making that offer to a mechanic! Or a dentist. Or a cashier or personal trainer or stylist.
Because that’s how those people earn their living, of course! They need to pay their rent, buy groceries, heat their homes, feed their pets, and so on. So, obviously, you wouldn’t offer to pay them in exposure, and obviously they would never accept to be paid in exposure.
Yet, creative professionals receive that offer frequently.
In fact, there are tons of splashy articles and videos online of writers spectacularly declining said offers… and publications’ reactions of shock and horror.
Just a few weeks ago I received a pitch to contribute articles to a popular website in exchange for said website sharing my work across their vibrant Twitter channel. As soon as Twitter followers pay my rent, sure!
Until then, I’ll work for money. Just like everyone else.
Have you heard of Coursera.org?
Oh, man. It’s fantastic. You can take college-level courses from universities around the world… for free!
As soon as I discovered it, I signed up for two classes right away: Animal Behavior (of course!) and Creativity, Innovation, and Change.
The classes overlap with each other, so in addition to my regular workload, the blog, and the dogs, things have been a little busy. But oh-so-worthwhile!
In the first week of the Creativity course, the instructors linked to a YouTube video that I knew was worth sharing. Take a few minutes to watch – and think about – the question: Can you teach creativity?
I love finding new articles and blog posts on topics like creativity and time management.
However, I tend to seek them out when I’m already in procrastination mode or feeling stuck! The irony there, of course, is that clicking around the internet doesn’t help me make progress on my tasks. Here are a few I found this morning:
- How to Get Yourself Unstuck: 3 Tips for Climbing out of a Rut by J. Maureen Henderson.
A helpful shift in thinking.
- Sarcasm boosts creativity at the office (like that’s gonna happen) by Elizabeth Haggarty.
Interesting, funny stuff!
- And related to that last one, Want to Boost Creativity? Try Clever Put Downs by Jessica Stillman.
I’m not sure I can get behind the negativity-to-boost-creativity idea. It doesn’t feel right to me, but not every technique works for every person.
Next time I’m stuck, I will focus on searching for positive studies on creativity. I’ll post what I find!
It happens. We all get stuck. It doesn’t matter the task, either. You could be painting scenery for your child’s class play, arranging columns and rows in your department’s budget spreadsheet, or writing the next great American novel.
It happens to me once a week. I’m plowing through client projects, updating social media campaigns, crossing tasks off my to-do list. Then suddenly I realize I’ve been watching bees buzz around the flowerbed outside my window for the last 20 minutes.
How do you know you’re in a rut? It’s hard to maintain focus. It’s easy to get distracted. It’s hard to keep your butt in your chair. It’s easy to find lots of other things to do (“That’s right! I’ve been meaning to rotate my mattresses!”) that have nothing to do with work.
Okay, so you’re in a rut. Now what?
- Allow yourself to set the project aside. Even if you’re on deadline. Even if your kids will be home from school soon. You’re not getting anything done staring at it. So allow yourself to put it down. I can’t tell you how often I used to force myself to work (“You WILL sit here and write this copy!”) even though I wasn’t actually getting any work down. Put it down. Walk away.
- Stroll around the block. Don’t think about your project. Focus on the sights and sounds of your neighborhood. Somewhere in the back of your mind, when you’re moving instead of thinking, your mind is working on a solution to whatever got you stuck in the first place.
- Snooze. Set your alarm for 30 minutes to recharge. If you wake up and still can’t focus, pull those covers back over your head.
- Call that family member who loves to talk. You need to call your mom/uncle/grandma/sister anyway, so do it while you’re already prepared to procrastinate. Bonus: If your mind starts to wander, you may just hit on the next big idea to propel your project forward!
- Visit Cute Things Falling Asleep.
- Do the opposite of what you’re trying to do. If you’re trying to paint, pick up a crossword puzzle. If you’re trying to write, pay some bills. Exercise a different part of your brain to give your worn-out side a much-needed break.
- Tap into your inner child: blow bubbles, color with crayons, cartwheel across your backyard, braid your hair, ride bikes.
- That kid from high school you were jealous of/in love with/afraid of? I bet that kid has a Facebook page. You have permission to scroll through all 652 of his/her pictures.
- Write a love letter to your significant other or your cat or yourself.
- Eat a snack full of protein (or chocolate).
And if none of those work? Take the rest of the day off! You need a break!