I didn't want to be a writer.
I loved reading and had read four digits worth of books by the time I was 10. I loved making stuff up and writing it down, especially if it would make people happy. But I didn’t believe I could actually be a writer. Not because I couldn’t express myself, but because I’d end up with my commas in the wrong place.
I was wrong.
I have language and can speak. Because I can speak I can write. The same is true for you.
Unfortunately, many writers struggle to find their voice because they mistakenly believe people are looking for professional, intelligent, or authoritative, when what they really want is friendly and informative. Writers worry that if they write in their own voice, it will somehow minimize the strength of what they have to say. Nothing’s further from the truth. The more you write in your natural voice, the more you will write like you speak. Your language will be clear and your message easier to understand. There are some exceptions in the technical writing field where jargon trumps style and you need to be very specific. This book isn't for technical writers.
So how do you find your voice?
First, let me say that when you first start out, you'll probably unintentionally ape some of your favorite writers. This is perfectly natural and so long as you don't do it intentionally, or try to sound like someone you're not, don’t worry or fight it. In time, after you've written a lot, you will find your own voice. You'll find confidence in your style and your voice will become as unique as you are.
Your voice is the aggregate of all the minutes of your life that have made you who you are. It's all you've ingested, from other writers' words to your own experiences. It is the verbal framework for how you see life. It's what makes you interesting to your audience. Your voice will help you reach first-time readers, turn them into lifelong fans, and give you the base you need to become a full-time writer with a catalog of completed projects.
First you must find it. Which means you need to get writing. And it's not just writing in your chosen niche, which will help, you find your voice. All writing helps you move forward, no matter the job.
Being a ghostwriter is one of the best things that could have happened to my writing. I’ve been commissioned to write everything from SEO keyword copy, to long sales letters, to fiction, to heartfelt and powerful letters, to autobiographies. I’ve learned and loved it all, and am a better writer because of it. I can write poetry, emails, or blog copy, all in a way that connects with readers because I pour my voice into everything I do.
I write fast because I know it’s the best way to capture my voice, but I always put more “me” into the edit. That’s the magic of writing as you speak, and doing it fast — not giving your brain time to question what your heart is saying. If you write like lightning, your voice is forced to the surface.
Teach yourself to write like you speak and you’ll wield the secret weapon of prolific writers and million-dollar copywriters the world over.
So how do you actually learn to develop an engaging voice? Here’s are my top 5 tips.
1. Write Like You Speak
Writing fast is the best way to capture your most natural voice. Done well, it also leaves you with copy that’s easy to edit. Manipulating your thoughts into elegant prose takes a long time. Capturing unedited thoughts as they fly through your mind, however, can yield clean, concise copy, with clarity and voice.
Imagine you’re having a conversation with someone you love. You probably wouldn’t use big words to try and impress or stop to think of the best way to say things, right? That’s the same immediacy you want to harness in your rough draft. The important thing is to get your copy down as quickly and naturally as possible. You'll use your editing phase to trim away run-on sentences, unnecessary words, or anything else that will dim your delivery.
If you think it will be hard to capture your natural speaking voice, or have no idea what you sound like, record yourself in conversation. You may feel silly speaking into a microphone for five minutes, but it’s worth it. Take your cell phone (or any recording device) and record a conversation between yourself, and a spouse, good friend, or anyone willing to hear you yammer for a few minutes.
Listen to the recording. What do you sound like? Are your words big, small, or medium? Is it easy to understand your point? Is your tone warm, friendly, conversational?
Do this exercise a few times, trying to balance the way you speak with how you write. Once you can make this second nature, communicating with your audience will be as simple as sitting down and letting your fingers fly.
If you’re still unsure, pretend you’re writing an email to a friend. You don’t get self-conscious when returning an email, right? For most people, emailing a friend is as easy as thinking. That’s the immediacy you want to capture.
Try taking a topic you’d like to write about. Turn your topic into a question and send yourself an email. Answer the email thoroughly, then copy and paste your reply into a doc. Chances are, you’ll have a solid rough draft requiring little editing.
The best part is, if you write the way you speak, it will be easier to get to know your audience.
2. Know Your Audience
You’ve heard it before: Know your audience. This is true no matter what you’re writing, but it’s especially true when your purpose is to drive behavior, influence thought, or convert your fans into buyers and lifelong customers.
To enter the conversation-taking place in your customer’s mind, you must be fluent in the story they’re telling themselves. In other words, don't see your audience as an outsider. Try to see them as they see themselves. For instance, if anyone looked at my friend David a decade ago, they would have seen this loser guy wasting his years behind the counter in a gas station. However, if you were to get inside David's head, you would see him as he saw himself — a talented guy who just needed a chance to prove himself. If you were going to market to David back then, you wouldn't pitch to him as you saw him, but rather, how he saw himself.
Getting to know how your readers see themselves takes some time, experience, and observation.
Some questions you should consider:
- What are the roadblocks standing in the way of their successes?
- How can you move those roadblocks and pull them closer to the results they want?
- What are their biggest fears?
- What strangles them in the moment and keeps their heels in the dirt?
Never be afraid to ask your audience questions to get to know them better. They want to be heard and many will be happy to answer. Create a simple survey for your readers using a service like Survey Monkey, then post it to your site or send it to your subscriber list.
If you don’t yet have an audience, that’s okay. Look for another blog in your niche with a large audience, then head to their comment section and read what people are saying. What questions are they asking? What are their concerns? What do they want? Once you have some basic information, you can start building a buyer profile — a specific description of your ideal buyer that will help you speak directly to her.
I’ve opted into more lists than I can count over the last three years. Some are worth my attention because the information is valuable. Sometimes, I want to see what other writers and marketers are doing. It’s amazing, the difference between a good marketer and a great one. Great marketers know how to put their prose into an engaging story. Most of all, great marketers know who they’re speaking to.
A marginal marketer will send an email telling you to “check something out,” that’s little more than an excuse for them to make a quick buck, with little value to reader. There’s a huge disconnect and the subscriber can feel it. Those writers have no idea what their buyers want, or worse, they don’t care. That’s churn and burn business, and the wrong way to do it.
Do your homework. Find out what your audience wants. Know their hopes, dreams and desires; know what they hope to achieve so you can give it to them in a way no one else can.