3 rules for finding your writing voice

Recently, in The Content Secret for Closing More Clients Masterclass Q&A session, PR Dream Team member Ed Mayuga asked about writing voice.

He said he loves Gini Dietrich’s writing and the voice she uses in her posts, but acknowledges he isn’t comfortable adopting that style.

Does the voice and tone of our blog posts matter?

In a word: yes.

More importantly, there are guidelines to finding your writing voice.

As with SEO, keyword research, building an editorial calendar, and all things related to content strategy, there are rules we should follow to ensure our content is found, read, and engaged with (by zombies).

That’s my fun, conversational way of segueing to the next clarifying point: we’re not talking about active or passive voice.

Instead, we are talking about the personality (voice) and mood (tone) which culminate in what you can call your writing style.

Mine is what I would call colloquial. Conversational. I have fun with my writing and my messaging.

Many of us on the Spin Sucks team sit on the more casual end of the writing voice spectrum.

Depending on your industry and background, you may lean toward the formal end.

Why Writing Voice is Important

Think of it this way: there’s one subject.

Let’s say the PESO Model.

Two people with the same references, resources, and context stand a strong chance of writing like-minded posts, but their unique voice and style will set them apart from each other.

Which one will be more successful?

We won’t know until we read them, but usually, it’s a particular voice that grabs reader attention.

Just like a good novel, a unique and compelling authorial voice will draw us in.

In the case of blog posts, authenticity and authority tend to cut through the clutter.

Sometimes it’s humor that does the trick.

All to say your voice isn’t set in stone.

It will grow as you do, and it will adapt based on what you’re writing.

My casual voice and comedic tone aren’t always appropriate.

Sometimes I have to wear some serious pants (are slacks or trousers more serious than pants?).

Luckily, I have a pair of those! But they weren’t always comfortable (just like this clothing metaphor).

I can now adopt many different styles and voices, but only because I read and write a lot.

More on this later.

Finding Your Writing Voice Rule #1: Be Authentic; Be You

Your audience will pick up on an affected voice-something which doesn’t reflect who you are or what you do.

Like your messaging, your writing voice needs to be authentic and true to you.

Jeff Goins, a prolific blogger and writing instructor, says the voice of your blog should tie-in with your goals:

  • If you’re selling real estate online, your blog voice might be personal, attentive to customers, and professional.
  • Writing technology reviews, your voice might be snarky, clever, and terse.
  • Penning a personal blog, your voice might be sincere, passionate, and vulnerable.

A caveat: don’t become so locked into a particular writing voice that you lose sight of what engages your audience.

Finding Your Writing Voice Rule #2: Know Your Audience

Knowing your audience isn’t just about knowing what interests them. It includes being mindful of their expectations and limits.

Perhaps your “PR/Marketing” voice incorporates an abundance of industry acronyms and insider terminology.

Does that fit with who you’re writing for? Maybe, but does it serve them well? Would you enjoy a post chock full of terms you have to Google?

Note: Insider or not, I do not like acronyms. Or at least, too many of them. If I have to look up what you’re writing about to follow along, you’re going to lose me.

If you pen a lot of research papers or teach courses, maybe your voice tends towards the more formal and educational.

A well-researched post that teaches us something new is compelling.

But a lecture can sometimes be condescending. Make sure you’re mindful of the [fine] line between thought leadership and preachiness.

How can we be mindful of what our audience can manage?

You can’t always know what your audience is thinking, so it helps to know yourself.

Asking the following questions can help:

  • Who is my ideal reader?
  • Will they find what I’m talking about valuable?
  • Would I read this?
  • What are some of my favorite blogs to read?

Answering these questions will provide a barometer for the kind of voice needed, measured against the voice you are comfortable using.

Finding Your Writing Voice Rule #3: Read and Write!

Here we are, full-circle. How do you ultimately find your voice? By reading and writing.

Your voice is the culmination of every word you write, and every word you read. It will emerge and evolve just as you will do as a writer.

As. A. Writer.

You have to write—a lot—to find, develop, and hone your writing voice.

Which means that out of the gate you really shouldn’t worry too much about voice.

Yes. After all that we’re telling you to not worry about it. Your writing voice will come—if you write.

Ultimately, a good rule of thumb is to write something you would want to read. While you’re doing this:

  • Pay attention to it (your voice)
  • Take note of what works
  • Take note of what doesn’t

Which is what we are doing anyway, right?

You’ve done your keyword research and developed a content map. You’ve crafted some amazing, SEO-optimized and reader-centric headlines. And next?

Make the content *behind* your headline amazing. Put some love (and work) into it, to make it compelling and genuinely useful. Bring your own unique writing voice and sincere care for the topic into your written, audio, and video content. ~  Sonia Simone (via Orbit Media)

But, don’t forget the reading!

If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: Read a lot and write a lot. ~ Stephen King

We are required to read a lot in this industry. So here’s an assignment: Start taking notes on what you read.

  • What is it you like about your favorite blogs and podcasts?
  • What makes you want to share a particular post?
  • How would you have done it differently?

Because whether you know it or not, you do have a voice. A unique way of telling your story.

And it’s coming from the material you read-how it makes you feel and how it sticks with you.

Finding Your Writing Voice: Pro Tip

Ed Mayuga tells us he isn’t comfortable with a casual writing voice.

His corporate background and years of writing news releases make it hard for him to break out of a more formal style.

To which we say: embrace it. Trust in your voice and your style.

Formal doesn’t mean boring. It can mean bullet points, and structured, well-informed prose.

You’re not always going to nail writing voice, and we can’t all be Gini Dietrich.

But, if you focus on writing what you want to read, in a manner you would want to read it, you’ll do just fine.

Mike Connell

Mike Connell is the director of client services at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. He is also a contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks, the leading source for modern PR training, trends, and insights. Find more of Mike's musings on his blog, Communative. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

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