Write in Your Own Voice (But Don't Sweat it)
Do you ever feel like your writing voice blends into everyone else's and that it seems so darn hard to sound like yourself?
It reminds me of the late 1990s movie Little Voice that stars Jane Horrocks and follows the story of a young girl who only expresses herself through singing songs by legendary performers like Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, and Billie Holliday.
Yet what does writing in your own voice mean exactly? Sometimes your own voice might get pushed aside by the desire to sell stuff and make a living. You might think you need to sound a certain way to be plausible or that being yourself couldn't possibly be an advantage. Yet if you want to find that voice buried deep inside, then money can't be the focus. At least not at the start.
How many successful entrepreneurs say they're in it for the money and that's why they do what they do? Most I know of say they'd do their business for free, and that making money was never their reason for launching. Steven Pressfied, author of The War of Art, says, “We must do our work for its own sake, not for fortune or attention or applause.”
So where does that leave us when there are bills to pay? Rent or mortgage? Kids to feed? There's no staight route. My life has taken a series of twists and turns since I started my business four years ago, the big one being when I sold my home to live out of a suitcase. There's no road map. You just have to find your way. And the more you listen to that voice, the more that voice inside you grows louder, until finally you can't ignore it. That's when you'll know you're on your way.
I actually think writing in your own voice starts with the desire to connect.
Think of a particular love poem that reduced you to a puddle on the floor. Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning didn't start writing "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways" (Sonnet 43) while thinking, oh I will become sooo famous. No, she wrote it with her beloved Robert Browning in mind.
If you really want to be yourself and find your writing voice, then reach out to your ideal customers through writing, creating videos, telling stories, speaking at conferences. Like the Victorian poet, be sincere and head over heels in love with your audience.
Hildegard von Bingen, eleventh century Christian mystic, poetic, philosopher said,
“We cannot live in a world that is not our own, in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a home. Part of the terror is to take back our own listening, to use our own voice, to see our own light.”
Knowing your own voice, is not separate from knowing your audience. Listen to what your customer has to say. The more you listen, the more you'll hear yourself, too.
Here are some tips for honing your voice:
- Ask four or five good friends to describe you using three words.
- Write down five of your favourite daily expressions or words. Why do these ring true to you?
- What do you consume in terms of content (i.e., Pop culture, hard or soft news, reality TV, documentaries, poems by Christian mystics)? Write these down!
- If you run a small business, what are some things people have said about you and your offerings (i.e., that you're smashing, highly approachable, your content is engaging, funny, practical...)?
- Stop obsessively looking at what others are doing in your industry. You will never be these people because, well, you're YOU.
- Check out people in other industries that are killing it at being themselves.
- Practice being great at what you do and creating amazing value for your customers. Focus on the prize, instead of the wrapping.
- Write a letter to yourself that describes what you like about who you are and what you're putting out there. Think of it as a love letter.
- Just as Rome wasn't built in a day, so solidifying your writing voice is sometimes a long game. Be patient and know that everything you create is contributing to your knowledge of what you'd like your business to express.
- When someone gives you a compliment, such as, wow you're a good listener, or I really like the way you explain things, let it sink in. This is part of you connecting and understanding who you are (and your contribution).
And, above all, don't sweat writing in your own voice. The more you practice, focus on delivering value, and fulfil your desire to connect, the easier it will be for your authenticity to shine through.