Find your voice.
That’s a piece of advice writers are given too often, and frankly, it’s poppycock (pardon my British). Why? Because you already have a voice. You’ve been talking since your toddler years, developing speech patterns, favorite words, and maybe even your own catch phrases.
Chances are, while driving, you’ve had to ask a friend to send a text for you and suddenly found yourself taking the role of the back seat driver. You had to tell your friend exactly what to say and demanded they read the text back to you before sending. Part of that may be because you have prankster friends who will try to send embarrassing texts in your name, but the main reason is that your friend doesn’t sound like you because you both have unique voices. You already have a voice, so you don’t need to try and find it; you should focus on getting the voice you already have onto the page.
Unfortunately, there are many roadblocks to writing in your voice. Also, unfortunately, almost all of them are rooted in insecurity. Many writers feel they need to write in a voice that’s not their own. They mistakenly believe people are looking for professional, intelligent, or authoritative, when what they really want is just something that makes sense and flows together well. Writers can also think they need to sound like other authors. On my part, after reading a lot of prestigious literature, I spent far too much time trying to force my voice to be eloquent and heavy when it all it wanted was to be lighthearted, simple, and silly.
But how do you get passed these insecurities?
Don’t give your inner critic time to tell you that you should be writing in your favorite author’s voice, or that you need to sound funnier or smarter. Imagine you’re having a conversation with someone you love. You probably wouldn’t use big words to try and impress them or stop to think of the best way to say things, right? That’s the same immediacy you want to bag 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, a 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.
“Well that’s all well and good,” you say. “But what if I want to write a dystopian novel, and my happy, humorous voice just won’t do?”
That’s where knowing your audience comes in. We all talk differently depending on who we’re conversing with. Almost everyone speaks more formally to their supervisors, simpler to children, and warmer to friends. If you clearly picture your audience in your mind and imagine you’re having a conversation with them, your voice will adjust to your writing needs.
To enter the conversation-taking place in your audience’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 talk to David back then, you wouldn't speak 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.
Once you know your audience, you can imagine you’re writing your story to them, and your voice will adjust accordingly. Writing a children’s book? Pretend you’re telling your story to your daughter or little brother. Writing a sci-fi novel aimed at die-hard Star Trek fans who think the movies are a disgrace and live solely off of energy drinks and tacos? Well, you may need the surveys for that one…
Just remember that you have a voice unique to you, and don’t be afraid to let your authentic self onto the page. Your target audience will love you for it, and your writing will shine.