Many writers struggle to find their “authentic” writing voice. It’s a challenge: How do you write in a way that seems natural and authentic while serving your purpose?
Authenticity is important, but in searching for a single, authentic writing voice, people can tie themselves up into knots. That pressure makes it harder to find their voice.
A writing voice is like a pair of shoes; you need more than one.
You need options for different occasions: sturdy hiking shoes for rough terrain, dress shoes for formal occasions, and your favorite comfy shoes to wear doing errands.
Likewise, you need to align the words you use and the way you put them together with the occasion. Create a “voice” that resonates with your audience, matching both their needs and your personality.
Does the Shoe Fit?
If you write in your professional life, you’ve probably developed habits based on how people in your industry write and speak.
Academics, for example, tend to write for their colleagues and students, using plenty of abstractions and research citations. The resulting voice is expert, careful, measured, and professorial. That style doesn’t work well when you are trying to reach people outside the academic environment.
Perhaps you always write exactly as you speak. That’s great if you want a conversational style—and it plays very well on social media posts. However, informal speech patterns and phrasing, interpreted literally, can work against you in the business environment. (Right? I’m not gonna lie, but … Whatever.)
Being too “casual” can undermine your authority in a professional setting.
In both cases, these writing styles fit you, but not necessarily the audience. That’s why it helps to get comfortable with multiple voices.
Try On Another Pair of Shoes
Consider the way that you speak. You automatically adopt a different tone and style of speaking based on the situation: explaining something to a two-year-old, having a conversation about salary with your employer, or chatting with friends. You automatically choose the right “tone of voice” and style of conversation based on the setting, but each of those voices is authentic.
You can cultivate and activate writing voices In the same way—by focusing on the needs of the audience. Tinker with your tone and style by picturing a different audience than your usual one.
For example, if you’re an academic type and want to write for a business reader who is pressed for time, search your friends and colleagues for someone who fits that role, and picture them in a hurry on the way to work. How would you catch and hold their attention for a few minutes with your topic?
If you’re trying to make your blogs or emails more lively, envision a smart high school student with only a vague interest in your topic as you write. How would you communicate your idea to them?
If possible, picture someone real that you actually like. That personal warmth often shows up subtly in the tone.
If you cannot hold the image of the audience in your head while writing, try using dictation software to record yourself speaking to them. See what comes up.
How Does Your Writing Change?
When you do this, notice what’s different about the way you write for this other audience.
- Does your vocabulary shift?
- Are your sentences shorter? Longer?
- What about paragraph length? Does that change?
- Do you search out analogies or metaphors to earn attention?
Once you see the changes that happen, you’ve got something to work with going forward when switching between styles.
Spend some time writing in this new perspective and see if you can find a comfortable, yet authentic, writing voice for this situation. Use it enough and, like that pair of shoes, it’s likely to get more and more comfortable.
More Like This
Find advice on tone and style in Writing to Be Understood
Read the blog post How to Talk about Tone, Style, and Voice in Writing