As I was reading Mitch Joel’s insightful book Six Pixels of Separation, I was struck by his advice to bloggers to find their voice by continuing to write.
Mitch, that’s only part of the story. Yes, practice will give many the confidence to write in their own voice. But it’s not a question of finding your voice. It’s not lost, just buried under loads of conditioning.
Your voice has been there ever since you uttered “Da-da,” as your parents beamed. The trouble is your voice did not follow your mind when you learned to write.
Our elementary school teachers insisted that writing is different than talking. True. To go from spoken to written words is a major leap. Most of our parents were just as proud when we read our first words as they were when we started to talk.
What works in conversation
But your mistake was to feel you probably had to abandon what’s good about talking when you learned to write. With the possible exception of your secret diary, you were taught to be impersonal and objective, to sacrifice opinions and personality to objective analysis and facts. You were prohibited from dangling your prepositions and other intuitive conversational practices.
Fortunately, many bloggers and other social media participants have reclaimed their voices. They write in a relaxed conversational style. They state their opinions. They share parts of their personal life. They encourage their readers, friends and followers to join the conversation. They let us peek inside their heads, much as great novelists do when they develop their characters.
Yes, writing relies on more rules and conventions, which enable us to communicate with each other. More thinking is often required.
What sounds right: the top rule
But unless you come froma home where your parents “don’t got no idea” or you joined a gang or a profession that required you to adopt its dialect, you already speak well. You had grasped most of the linguistic protocols before you started to write. That’s why, when you’re stumped about a rule, your natural reaction is to refer back to what sounds right.
My voice isn’t lost. I use it in conversation all the time. It has matured with practice, the acquisition of knowledge and emotional growth.
As a blogger, my challenge is to take that speaking voice, and the personality that goes with it, and use it in written words.
That goes against much of what was taught in school and reinforced in the work world.
After many years’ writing for the corporate world, finding my voice has meant no longer writing in the formal tone that reflects the image clients think they should project.
Let your light shine
Finding my voice means sharing my opinions. I don’t parrot other people’s views for the sake of popularity.
Sometimes I inject humor, which I wouldn’t try to do if I weren’t sometimes funny in person.
Occasionally, I throw in some personal tidbits, so you can relate to me-–like that fact I go to the gym, talk fast, have a nearly-blind father, hormone-crazed teenagers, aqua bathroom fixtures… Okay, enough. I’m chatty.
I agree with Mitch that practice is helping me get more comfortable writing in my voice. The more I blog, the easier it is to shed the expectations and constraints that became second nature as a corporate writer.
I still write for clients, preferably in their voices, almost like an actor would portray her character. But when I’m blogging, I write in my own voice. It’s way more fun.
Although many bloggers aren’t saddled with my professional conditioning, most still hear their inner English teacher and other censors telling them how to write. Without training and experience, some lack the confidence to raise their own voice.
Practice to increase comfort
With writing, practice does not make perfect, just better.
I’d advise bloggers who are learning the craft of writing to listen more to how they speak in personal conversation. That is you.
So, Mitch, in your next edition, I think you should tell bloggers to write like they talk. Share their opinions. Tell their own stories. Use their unique sense of humor.
Be yourself. You are right here. No voice finding required.
Photo credit: Beppie K, Flickr Creative Commons