What voice do you like to use when you write? What voice do you want to use?
There’s a good chance that at different points you have had to write in a range of different voices. My many voices include the scientist, the journalist, the PR, the corporate marketer, and of course, the blogger.
I like to think of these voices like filters. We run our thoughts through them and out on to the page, and what appears is a scientific paper, or a news article, or an annual report. We can switch these filters in and out as we need to, depending on what we need to write and who we’re writing for. Of all of my voices my blogging voice is the most natural, the most unfiltered version of how I think and speak. Well, a marginally less rambling and more tightly edited version of how I speak anyway.
When I attended Write Yourself Home back in February, I fell into a conversation with my neighbour about voices, and most importantly how you identify your personal voice. We discussed how, when you are accustomed to writing a certain way, passing your thoughts through a specific filter before putting them down on the page, it can be really hard to strip that away and get back to something more natural for a personal blog. This buzzword is done to death, but dare I say it, something more authentic? After years of working through a professional, more corporate filter, how could someone rediscover a way of writing that was a better representation of how they think and feel?
This conversation set my brain on fire in no small way. Over the past month I’ve been thinking about the simple exercises that help me to step around those mental filters and get my words out. Whether you have been writing for years, are just getting started, or are looking to start on something new, I hope that these ideas will be helpful for you.
Find your comfortable creative place
I cannot write in my own voice in a normal office. I tried many times to covertly work on pieces for my blog at previous jobs (sorry not sorry!), and it just doesn’t work. I’m not in the right place. But right now, sitting at my kitchen table with a mug of coffee and the baby monitor humming gentle in the background, I’m having no difficulty finding the words I need. This is my comfortable, creative place.
Your place might be on the sofa, or in bed. It might be in a local cafe, or even in your office (props to you if this is the case!). Wherever you feel most comfortable and most like yourself, that’s the place to be.
Practice practice practice
I know, I know. This step is boring AF right? But it’s true. Think about all the time you spend exercising your other writing voices, whether it be the regular emails to your colleagues or the thesis you’re writing. Making a little time to write just for yourself makes all the difference to how easily you can switch between filters.
How many words could you commit to a day? Maybe a hundred to begin with, in the Notes app on your phone while you’re commuting to work. Or in a notepad at the end of the day. Write about something that amused you, something that made you sad, an event that really stuck with you. Just write it down, and don’t worry about how it sounds. No one is going to read this unless you want them to. This is purely for you, so be as indulgent as you like.
Say it out loud
Many people out there are going to hate me for this one, but it’s actually quite effective. If someone asked me to briefly sum up what appeals to me about a blog post, I would have to say the feeling that the author is speaking directly to me. As though we were sitting across from each other in a cafe, having a natter about our lives. That feeling of personality and immediacy that hooks you by the collar and makes you sit down for coffee and cake.
But it’s one thing to tell someone to write how they speak, and quite another to actually do it. So why not cut out the middle person and simply record yourself speaking instead? If you have an idea for a blog post, record yourself speaking about the idea before writing down a word. Then listen back to the recording and write it all down. You’ll be amazed how much more natural and personal the writing will sound. So grab a dictaphone, or download one of the zillions of free recording apps on to your phone, and give it a whirl.
If you absolutely hate the idea of listening back to your own voice, then use a speech to text system instead. I believe that most MacBooks have a speech to text input, and I’m sure there are apps aplenty out there that can do the same thing on a phone or for a Windows computer. Just be aware that they do tend to have some, er, interesting interpretations sometimes! So be sure to cast an editing eye over what you have ‘written’ afterwards.
Don’t be afraid to play
Once you get more comfortable getting your own voice down on the page, you can start to get creative. While my blogging voice is my most natural writing style, it is still an edited version of how I speak. An elevated version, if I’m being generous. If you and I were closeted in a cafe somewhere having this conversation, we would still be somewhere near the beginning, I would still be trying to think of the word ‘filter’, and I would probably have gotten sidetracked discussing the art on the walls or the novelty pepper pots on the table.
In short, there’s a reason why stories need to be edited. But editing isn’t just about cutting things down, it’s about smartening up. The editing process is a great time to play with language, to play with the order of your paragraphs, and to tweak the style of your sentences.
As well as being great for honing in on your perfect voice for writing, these suggestions can also help you get around other tricky issues that come up during the writing process. I know that when I’ve been stuck on a tricky article or when a thesis chapter just wouldn’t line up how I wanted, I would spent hours pacing around the room talking through my work out loud.
If you give any of these a try I’d love to hear about it, and whether they were able to make a difference for you! Good luck and happy storytelling.