How to develop your writing voice
Using tone to create voice
Authentic writing has a unique voice and tone to it.
Tone of voice is to writing as time is to the universe.
It’s like a river that flows through everything and infuses your words with life. You can’t point to it and say “here it is” or “there it is,” but you know that it affects everything.
Your own voice and tone are what make your piece of writing unique from someone else’s. It’s what gives it “personality” and separates it from everyone else’s writing. There are many correct ways to say the same thing. For example, consider the following sentences as different examples of voice:
- I picked up an extra shift, so I only got to the store around 8 o’clock.
- It was a little before 8 when I finally got to the store.
- On my way to the store, I enjoyed a beautiful sunset.
All 3 of those sentences express the same idea, but each one uses a different writing voice.
In each sentence, the reader understands that the subject walked to the store and arrived approximately 8 p.m. The qualitative voice of the writer expresses the quantitative details a little differently in each example.
The word choice and sentence structure differ based on what the writer wants the reader to feel or focus on.
The reality is that you will most likely not say anything new or put forth any profound ideas in your writing. What is said is far less important than how it’s said or who says it. It is your distinctive voice and particular diction that determine how the engagement level of your writing.
Tone of voice is composed of a few things. Improving these areas will allow your writing to take on a more unique and engaging angle.
Write like you’re talking to your best friend
When people talk to me in person, they remark that I sound like I do in my tweets or writing. This is not a coincidence.
I’ve learned to write how I speak and speak how I write. Granted, there is always an editing process that removes things from my speech that don’t translate well to the written word, but my communication style converges to a point.
You have a unique way of communicating. This is a combination of your choice of diction, syntax, literal and figurative language, and pacing. These are elements that are elements that are present in both your written and spoken style of communication. Your goal is to for all these elements to converge to the same point of expression.
When I say that your goal is to have your communication styles converge, there should be as little difference between your writing style and your speaking style as possible. This not only forces you to improve your overall communication skills, but it will also make it easier for you to think about problems and express the solution to them.
This is important because this is all you’re doing when you write; delivering value.
My speaking style is unique to me and the way I think and interact with the world. Yours will be unique to you. It’s useless to try and imitate my style of writing. You’d need to copy my style of thinking as well. While that’s certainly not impossible, your writing will be more impactful if it’s delivered in your own thought style and filtered through your own experiences and point of view.
Speaking is a communication tool that is almost identical to writing. The only difference is the medium of consumption. You read with your eyes and listen with your ears.
You can do things with speech that you can’t do with the written word and vice-versa. You have to write how you speak, but you also must remember that people read differently than they listen.
Edit like you’re writing a high school paper
When it comes to writing how you speak, you can correct differences during the editing process.
Think about the editing process as the converter from spoken speech to written speech. The essence of your style, flow, and wording is maintained, but the transformation makes your spoken word readable.
Remember, the first draft of your writing isn’t supposed to have perfect grammar, punctuation, and usage. It’s merely to get the ideas out in your most authentic and natural voice.
You’ll make edits to your writing in later drafts to make your speaking more readable, but for now, the goal is to create in your natural voice. Remember the iconic words of Ernest Hemingway: “The first draft of anything is shit.”
Different writing goals require different types of voice
Writing to sell. Imagine that you’re telling someone about the product and what excites you most. Write these things down.
If you don’t believe in the power of something, it’s difficult for you to write to sell it. However, a satisfied customer is the best testimonial. Translate that energy into your writing. Don’t think about sentence structure or word choice; just express yourself authentically with the power of the words.
Arguing a point. Write down all the points you’d make in an argument the way you’d do if you were actually arguing. Challenge your own points and try to argue back against them the best way you know how to.
The trick to coming up with a persuasive voice is to know where the holes in your argument are so that you can avoid them. You can come back to clarify and support later, but for now, you want the points to come out in your own voice.
Writing to teach. Take the Albert Einstein approach to explanation. Einstein is famous for saying, “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Aside from the commentary on the mastery of the subject required to do this, Einstein also implies that you need to speak in the most simple and engaging method possible.
Think about trying to capture and maintain the attention of your typical six-year-old with just the power of words. Do that in your natural voice, write like that, and you’ll produce instructive content that is also loved and shared.
Imagine that you’re having coffee with a friend. Imagine that they ask how you’ve been or you’re explaining something you know well enough to simplify. This is how you should write.
[Read: The Problem Solving Process]
Writing to entertain. Entertaining writing is a natural channel for your author’s voice. What I mean by this is that entertainment is the realm of fiction and creative writing. It’s the area that many of us think of when it comes to writing.
There isn’t much to add here but a cliche: stay true to yourself and entertain the way you want to. Write what you want to write the way you want to write. Yes, you still have to be a good writer, but beyond that, it doesn’t matter if you want to write a science fiction short story or the next great 400-page novel.
Too many people pursue a genre because it’s profitable, or stay away from one because it’s not. Do what you believe will allow you to be the most expressive. In this way, you’ll make the most money that you possibly can without sacrificing your love of writing.
Forget whatever commercial environment exists around the medium you want to write in. Your writing will be better and more popular if you write what you want to write.
A consistent voice is a strong voice
Once you start creating first drafts as conversations, your writing will drastically improve.
This will make you a much better writer because you’ll be able to write easier. We don’t find ourselves at a loss for words to speak nearly as often as we find ourselves staring at a blank page, wondering what to write next.
Writing how you speak simultaneously overcomes writer’s block and allows you to write in your most authentic voice. Developing this authenticity is why writing is important.
Authenticity is engaging, and engagement is how you build a fanbase as a writer. If you follow these steps, you’ll develop a unique writing voice that enables you to stand out as an exceptional writer.
The rest is up to you.