It’s like a rite of passage for a writer—
The day when you’re finally recognized by your writing alone.
Unfortunately, you won’t be there to experience it. You probably won’t even know it happened. But one day, someone somewhere will be reading an article on the internet and think, “Hey, this sounds lot like [your name]…”
And whaddya know, they’ll be right.
Developing your writing voice is about developing into a confident writer. Having a voice means you’ve written long enough to know how you want to sound, and you’re comfortable enough to express it. That confidence allows you to maintain consistency throughout a piece, which is an important ingredient in keeping trust with the reader.
So, how do you find your own writing voice? Here are 6 tips.
1. Find a place where you can write as yourself
Before we get to the meat of things, we have to start out with a basic assumption: That you’re able to write as yourself.
For those of you who write for clients, it can be tough to develop a writing voice of your own. Especially if you’re ghost writing, in which case you’re expected to sound like the client 100% of the time.
If you want to explore your own voice, you have to write for a publication that values it. That could be a client that allows a by-line and lets you shine as an individual. But more often, this is possible only in writing for your own blog or social following, or writing guest blog posts.
So if you are a content writer for an employer or for clients, it might be time to start a blog—or at least start posting on Medium.
2. Write a lot of crap
Your writing voice is little more than the sentence structures, words, and linguistic tools you tend to use on the regular. Over time, your writing pattern becomes recognizable.
Of course, you can’t just choose what patterns come naturally to you. It’s all about getting comfortable with writing itself. And that comfort can only come through lots of practice.
The first step to uncovering your writing voice is to accept that you’re going to have to write a lot of crap before you start figuring things out. Your first 50-100 articles or so are probably not going to be stellar.
Write them anyway.
And who knows? Maybe some will turn out as less-than-crap. Great. But don’t beat yourself up they don’t. All writers have to go through their shitty writing phase. That’s just how this works. 🤷♀️
3. Picture the reader—but also yourself
It’s common advice to “picture the reader” when you write. Imagine who you’re talking to, and write to them.
That can be helpful, sure. But make sure you’re picturing yourself, too.
Who are you to them? If you were talking in-person, how would your body be positioned? Are you on a stage, focusing on them in the crowd? Or are you sitting cross-legged on the floor in an intimate heart-to-heart?
Imagine the real-life scenario that would make you feel most comfortable for whatever content you’re going to share. Think back to past interactions where you felt you were expressing yourself well, and focus on revisiting that same feeling.
Personally, I usually think of my imaginary reader as a coaching client. And since my coaching work is all virtual, I imagine you, the reader, as someone on the other side of a Zoom call. Weirdly specific? Maybe. But it works for me.
But that’s just for blog content. When I’m writing a personal essay that’s a lot more vulnerable, I might imagine sharing a cup of coffee with you at my kitchen table. And if I’m trying to write poetry, I’m probably imagining myself calling to you in a billowing white dress while wandering the moors.
(That’s probably why my poetry sucks.)
4. Give yourself permission to break some rules
If the majority of your writing experience has been either from high school or the corporate world, chances are you’re carrying around a lot of writing baggage. Your brain defaults to writing rules that don’t reflect the way you actually speak. Rules like:
- Never use contractions (don’t, can’t, aren’t, etc.)
- Never end a sentence with a preposition
- Never start a sentence with a conjunction (and, but, if)
Those are all B.S.
Your goal is to write like you speak—at least, on the days when you’re speaking really well. And to get to that point, you need to drop some of the rules that have been drilled into you for so long.
So let yourself take risks. Challenge yourself to be a little looser, even a little sillier, with your approach to your writing. You can always tone it down during the revision phase.
But honestly? When you’re reading it with fresh eyes a day or two later, you’ll probably find that you haven’t broken the rules enough.
5. Try dictating instead of writing
If the advice to “just let loose” isn’t enough to get you writing the way you speak, here’s a bit more of a science-y approach.
Open up a Google Doc. In the toolbar at the top, go to Tools > Voice Typing. It’ll ask to connect to your computer mic (assuming you have one). Then, you can talk, and Google Docs will type your words as you speak.
Once you get over the initial awkwardness (it might help to close your eyes), you’ll end up with a running transcript that shows you how you naturally speak.
Alternatively, you can record yourself on your phone, and then send the audio file off to be transcribed. It’s pretty affordable with sites like rev.com and many others. Or, you could transcribe it yourself for free (or even just listen closely to get more familiar with your own vocal patterns).
Of course, turning a transcription into a final piece will take some editing to remove the um’s, add punctuation, and streamline the meandering thoughts. But it can be a solid way to help you visually see what it might look like to write in a much more natural way.
6. Write and revise in different moods
Common writing advice that’s (mistakenly) attributed to Ernest Hemingway is “Write drunk, edit sober.”
It’s fun advice. And while writing while actually drunk probably isn’t a good idea (personally, I’m useless after one glass of wine), it’s a great concept to hold onto.
Meaning, it can be helpful to write your draft in a looser frame of mind, and then revise it a day or two after when your brain is fresh and ready to smooth out the draft into something presentable.
Alternatively, if you write a draft that feels dry, you can go into the revision with a focus on sounding looser.
This is typically what I have to do. I tend to write drafts in the morning, when my brain is robotic and boring. I’m most concerned with getting words on the page that make sense. Then, when I revise a day or two later, I’m typically doing it in the afternoon. And for me, that’s when my brain is active and ready to have a bit more fun with the wording.
Paying attention to your brain’s natural rhythms throughout the day can help you schedule your writing tasks at the right times. But if that’s not possible, even simply setting an intention of the kind of revisions you want to make can result in a more balanced piece.
Your writing voice is about being comfortable with yourself
Over time, you’ll get to know what it sounds like to write like you. In the meantime, keep experimenting. Keep pushing. And enjoy the failures—they mean you’re on the way to success.