Finding and Establishing Your Voice

My guest post today contains important insight from Cheryl, author of the blog Mommy Pants. Cheryl also happens to be the brain child behind The Red Dress Club, an amazing community of writers. So if there is any blogging ‘expert’ to write a post about finding your voice, it’s definitely her.

I was beyond excited. My editor had just told me he wanted me to write a column off a game I was covering.

This was big stuff. A column. With my picture next to it in the paper. And I got to write from my perspective. Put my own spin on what I saw.

Then he said, “Make sure your voice is really strong.”

Wha? I mean, I write. So aren’t I using my voice? Isn’t it coming through?

Not necessarily.

One of the most elusive concepts in writing is voice. It’s tough to define, to explain.

As I got more confident and more experienced, my true voice emerged.

Yours can, too.

Think of it this way: you’re upstairs and you hear your kids talking – arguing, playing, whatever – downstairs. You can’t see them, but you know exactly who’s saying what.

By their voice.

It’s the same with writing.

You can read someone and know who it is without looking at who the author or blogger is. If she or he has a distinctive voice, that is.

Consider these two examples from very well-known bloggers:

“And there it was: my nail bed. Bare, naked and alone in the wilderness of this cold, cruel world. I wrapped it in the comfort of four flexible BandAids, and the tip of my middle finger has been throbbing ever since.

I understand if your hiney is cringing right now. Mine is cringing, too.

Hold me.”

And..

“If you missed it, I’ll just sum up by saying that if you ask twitter if it’s legal to carry a smallish sort of taxidermied alligator onto a plane with you, most people will say ‘Um, no.  You aren’t even allowed to bring breast milk on a plane.’  Then you’ll point out that the alligator is at least 50 years old, is wearing clothes and is missing a hand and some of them will change their mind but most will still insist he’ll be considered a weapon.  Then you’ll say ‘I can’t imagine anyone seriously thinking I’d try to take over a plane using only a tiny, clothed alligator as a weapon’ and everyone on twitter will like “Really? Have you even met you?  Because that sounds exactly like something you’d do.’ ”

Two completely different writers who are both very distinct in their voice. The first example is from Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman. She’s homey and comforting and seems like just one of the girls. And the second is from Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, who is silly and pointed at the same time.

But how do you get there? How do you find YOUR voice?

The most important first step is to read a ton of blogs, books, magazines, newspapers – anything. What writers speak to you? Why?

Then try on different voices. Write like Ree or Jenny or any other blogger or writer you admire – but don’t hit publish, please!

Does it feel kinda weird to write like someone else? It should. Because it’s not you.

It’s not YOU.

That’s what voice is. It’s the unique way you put words together. It’s how you think, how you feel, how you sound.

Why is it so hard, then?

It takes time for all those thoughts in your head and in your heart to translate into writing. It does. It takes practice. It takes trying new things.

It can mean stepping out of your comfort zone. Taking a risk. Pushing yourself.

Here are some ideas for how you can find your voice:

Write about stuff that matters to you. Be passionate. If you’re interested and feel strongly about what you’re writing, it’ll shine through.

Consider your audience. For most of us, our readers are other moms. You don’t want your writing to be like a tech manual. Not because mothers are not smart, but because we want to relate to you. We want to connect. We want to know you.

Write like you speak. Pretend you’re telling your story to your friend. Write the same way. Then read it aloud. Does it still sound like you?

Experiment. Use descriptive language, or shorter sentences. Really think about each word.

Be confident in you. Don’t try to be someone else because it won’t seem authentic. Your readers are coming to your blog because of you and what you have to say.

Most important, remember there is no one else like you. Bring THAT to your pages and everyone will know who you are – without even looking at your name.

They’ll simply recognize your voice.

Comments

  1. says

    This is a great post and one I have been thinking a lot about lately. I have never been a good writer but I love to talk and help people with my experiences. As I blog I try to make sure, after editing, that my voice is still coming through because I feel that is one of the important aspects of blogging. That is how people come to know and trust you not to mention bring them back for more. I started to read some books on writing and honestly that has helped me so much.

  2. says

    Thanks so much for the tips Cheryl! I totally agree with your points and love love love hearing you say that I can write like I speak. I think I do, and I never realy knew if that was right or not. I’m still trying to gety up the nerve for The Red Dress Club. One day…

  3. says

    Cheryl, this is fabulous advice. The good stuff to print out and take with me. I adore the way *you* use what you know to teach and push others (Selfishly, me!) to do better. You, my darlin’, are amazing! XO

  4. says

    These are wonderful tips, especially for bloggers out there (me, selfishly, ha ha) trying to move from pictures-for-family types of blogs to blogs that are extensions of our hearts and our thoughts! Thank you :)

  5. says

    Great stuff here, Cheryl! Sometimes I worry I don’t have a voice. Although I don’t try to sound like anyone else, so that’s something, I suppose. And I do write about what matters to me, and I write like I speak….must mean I’m on the “right/write” track, eh?

    xoxo

  6. says

    I love this post, especially the part about strong word choice. When I taught
    Writing we spent a lot of the year on finding your voice. It is such a vital piece and I think it’s often ignored because people either think you have it or you don’t. I think it can be developed in anyone who does the work. Now, I need to go work on developing mine! Thanks so much.

  7. says

    Cheryl is awesome and these are some great tips. It can be hard to find your voice. I think I have mine, but honestly, I’m not sure. I really do think confidence plays a big role.

  8. says

    This is a great post! I have always read that it is important to be authentic in your writing. If you do that I believe that writing from your *voice* will come more naturally. I remember when I was prewriting posts for my 2nd blog before I launched it in Novemebr. I realized I had changed my *voice* and sounded like magazine how-to articles! I changed that real quick and put myself back in the middle of my posts!
    I have to be careful because I can tend to ramble, so I try to limit that in my blog, especially since I don’t write on a particularly humorous topic!
    Bernice
    3 ways to reduce stress in your life today

    • says

      There is a fine line between writing like you speak and writing like you speak! By this I mean you still have to edit, you still have to fine-tune words, while, like you say, staying authentic. Thanks so much for your comment!

  9. says

    You nailed it.

    Umm…as much as this is a nailable subject. This is such a tough one!

    Also, I think we find ourselves chameleons. In the same way that you’ll adopt the accent of someone you listen to talking a lot, we tend do adopt the voice of people we read a lot.

    But it’s still not us, and not ever what people will read us for.

    But this is lovely, you!

  10. says

    As always, great stuff, Cheryl.

    Also? I preferred it when people didn’t know about your wisdom, because that meant I had you all to myself.

    Hrmph. Now I have to share. ;)

  11. says

    Love this. I think voice is so important. If you stay true to your voice, I think you can write about all sorts of different topics and people will still say, oh yes, that’s her- it’s the same voice.

  12. says

    Staying true to one’s voice is one of the most essential keys to a successful sermon too! As a new rabbi, I was fearful of trying new sermon styles because I was afraid of losing my voice at the expense of going outside of my comfort zone. With experience, and the prodding of a writing teacher, I’ve learned how to maintain my style while writing in new ways.

    And, most recently, I’ve learned the value of writing to the prompt, thanks to The Red Dress Club. The prompt for this Friday is so challenging that I toyed with skipping it, realizing in the wee hours of the night that it will be one of the more important exercises BECAUSE it will require me to maintain my voice as I venture into a completely new genre.

    Cheryl, thanks so much!

    • says

      You are so right: you can experiment in writing different styles while still maintaining your voice. This takes practice for sure!

      I’m so glad you’re pushing yourself via our prompts – good for you!!

  13. says

    Great post, Cheryl! But, you made me miss writing/blogging! I’ve been itching to get back at it & work on my own voice, so thanks for the inspiration. xoxo

  14. says

    I love this. thank you. I am trying so hard right now to work toward being intentional and organic with my writing voice. Each post is now a challenge to make it scream MOLLY!

  15. says

    GREAT post! I think that the most important thing is to not try to imitate someone else. Since blogging became such a “big” thing and people started making money from it, there are more and more women who try to write like other bloggers. And it’s never genuine. Loved the tip about writing like you talk and reading it back to yourself.

  16. says

    I have been really been struggling with my voice, because you want to sound like someone worth reading. However, I am learning that 1. I am worth reading and 2. No one sounds like me. I am not going to work on trying to be anyone else anyone, I am going to write because I want to, about what I want to and hope there are people that want to read it. :)

    ( I Printed this and put it up in my cubicle…it is really going to help em remember who and what I am…THANK YOU)

  17. Jessica says

    This is so true. I blogged for two years before finding my voice. Once I discovered it I launched a new site so I had a new forum for my authentic voice – and it feels like home.

  18. says

    What a great post. While I am new as a writer to the blogging world I have been so concerned at finding my space and getting comfortable with it. I has a “typical” blog but do to hubby’s work and their concerns over it I had to start over and while I was bummed it has totally allowed me to be creative and original. This is all great advice. thanks!

    http://thatsawrapconfessions.blogspot.com

  19. says

    Great tips! I feel like I’m still searching for my voice and I am printing this post out as we speak. Thanks, Cheryl! (great choice for a guest spot!)

  20. says

    Great post! It’s not at all easy to tangibly describe how to find your voice, but these tips do go a long way. I find it to be something that gets easier with time but I still don’t have it quite right. But it’s one of my favorite things to work on when it comes to blogging.

  21. says

    This is great advice, Cheryl, and something we should all re-read every once in a while! I actually read my posts quietly to myself before publishing, just to make sure they sound like “me”. Because when you read lots of other blogger’s posts, you start to experiment a bit, maybe try something you liked elsewhere.

    But that doesn’t always work. And you’ve made some valid points here.

  22. says

    It took me a few years, and two discarded blogs to find my voice.

    I had tried to be nice all the time and to curb my cursing.

    It didn’t work.

    When I finally liked my voice enough to show my husband my blog, his only comment was;

    “You write just like you talk”

    Dingdingdingdingding!! We have a winner.

  23. Globetrotter says

    What an excellent post!
    Initially, I was torn between writing things i felt people might want to read or things I am really passionate about. Now I just write about whatever I’m passionate about. It’s authentic, true and me!
    Thank you for articulating ‘the voice’ so succinctly!

    • says

      Thank you! It’s tough not to get caught up in what we think the reader wants. But the reader is there to read YOU, so what you are passionate about, often the reader will be, too – or at least get caught up in your emotion.

  24. says

    This is so good. I’m still working on honing my voice, but there are times when I see it peeking through (and it does sound like me talking!) and that is encouraging.

  25. says

    I can always tell when I am reading someone’s ‘voice’. Makes it so much better. You feel as if you are talking with them, having a conversation. When I first started blogging my posts were sort of robot like. What a difference once I realized this whole concept. Great tips!

  26. says

    Finding the elusive “voice” is difficult; trying to help someone else do it is even more challenging.

    But this is great advice, Cheryl – just great!

    You are so encouraging and supportive. Thanks for everything you do to help other writers become the best they can be.

  27. says

    These are great tips! Thank you! Confidence is a big one. When I first stared blogging, I was so worried about what others would think and I lacked the confidence. I’ve found (and I’m still finding) that when I write from within, have fun with it and I am sure in what I’m saying because, “hey, that’s just who I am”, then others are able to connect. Not many people are good at imitating voices (me being one of them). I suspose this translates into writing as well. Using my own voice is going to sound more natural, be easier to communicate and all-around just be better. Thanks again for sharing these tips, Cheryl!

  28. says

    This is great advice. I just started a writing course and this is one of the first points they address! I definitely struggle with this on my blog. I write well, review over and over, add details, metaphor, and dialogue. But sometimes I don’t feel my voice is there and hit delete. Part of the problem is that I am very candid, raw, and use dirty words in real life. But vowed to never put bad language on my blog. But I guess the rest of me can shine through more without those words! I just need to experiment and work more at it.

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