Professional writer or not, you likely rely on words to cast a portrait of who you are to the world. Behind the design and logo, behind the cover and title, a string of letters performs your fancy dancing for you.
Somehow a voice emerges that people recognize as yours. Or it doesn’t.
That fact paralyzes some otherwise brilliant web-preneurs. Even if they can write a decent sentence and sustain a train of thought for 500 words without their writing derailing, they’re still mystified by that fleeting and strange thing we call “voice.”
Voice charges written words with personality and verve, or with reservation and gravitas. It is a writer’s near-invisible signature on a page like a watermark. But if you hold a novel’s page up to the light, you still won’t find the secret traces of a writer’s voice.
So, how do writers and web-preneurs and creatives who rely upon words create distinct and authentic voices? Since writers can’t whisper directly on the page like Marlene Dietrich or belt like Ani di Franco, how do we sound “natural” with the written word?
These three principles will get us started.
#1: Stop hiding your best self.
Some clients tell me, “I don’t want my voice to get in the way of the message. I want to be invisible.” I get this. Some novice writers and web-preneurs do get carried away with fancy winged metaphors. Or they think that salting in words like “bad-ass,” “awesome,” and “ass-kickin'” equals voice. But the other extreme – “invisibility” – stems from an old business face.
Your people – whether readers or customers – want intimacy from a business or from a memoirist. They don’t want to be pals or have a beer with their consultants and freelancers. But they do want to know there is a human being with personal desires in that business or book. That personable voice distinguishes you from an impersonal corporate front or from a data-wonk.
Your writing voice can offer your tribe a human being. Not a professionalized automaton well-steeped in business-ese or an academic stifled by what one writing teacher calls “Engfish,” that smelly obscure language we learn in college.
Note: Contrast the voice in creativity speaker Sir Ken Robinson’s first book Out of Our Minds with the voice in his new book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. In the first book, Robinson offers great information and ideas, but the stifled voice gets in the way. The Element offers even more great ideas and stories, and Robinson creates a clear, personable voice to carry them. (Robinson, by the way, gives generous acknowledgment to his editor at HarperCollins.) Most people haven’t heard of Out of Our Minds. The Element is a best-seller.
#2: Be influenced. You’re not original. Alone.
“I don’t want to be influenced by anyone,” some aspiring writers tell me. “I want to be original and write in my unique voice.”
Aspiring web-preneurs who rely upon words but are unwilling to study the craft of writing – or hire an exceptional copywriter – might set themselves up for disaster, disappointment, or just embarrassment. (Aspiring writers who refuse to read other writers in the name of originality…well, do they deserve to be read?)
Your creativity doesn’t come only from your mind’s special chemistry set.
A whole new field of social psychology as well as the work of Steven Johnson (Where Ideas Come From) and that of Frans Johannson (The Medici Effect) corroborate the fact that most great “ideas” come out of collaboration, combination, and influence. Synthesis more than insight is the heart of creativity.
So, choose your influences. Otherwise, they’ll choose you, and your “originality” will be unconscious voice theft. (More on that in a later post.)
#3: Create your voice. Don’t try to “find” it.
“Find your true voice!” That’s the mantra of some writing classes and workshops. I get the sentiment. But it’s misleading. A true voice is not found. It’s created. The former is passive & stagnant; the latter, active & dynamic.
And most artists don’t have just one true voice. They’re not schizophrenic. They’re versatile. Like Daniel Day Lewis or David Bowie or Kate Moss, they can draw upon many personas and many voices – as the occasion, the impulse, and the latest transformation demands. Writers who flourish don’t let one voice ensnare them into one way of creating.
In a future article, we’ll take up how you can “create” a voice that both sounds right and true as well as works for your project – whether that project is your business, a creative project, a personal essay, a memoir, a blog, or your business’s collateral.
Drop in the Hut:
How have you created your writing voice, the voice of your business or books, your songs or poems? When can you tell if you’re writing in your voice (or one of your voices) or just trying on another mask? Share your comments and stories here.