Finding your voice is probably one of the most elusive aspects of writing.
You can spend hours toiling on refining your style and technique, editing down to the essential gems and making sure it does the job it should, but it still needs that magic dust sprinkled over it – your voice.
But what exactly is ‘your voice?’
Perhaps the very reason it’s so elusive is because it’s an intangible thing – like taste – and therefore difficult to define.
Let’s try this – think of how many different types of food we each enjoy (individually and collectively). Some like spicy, hot, simple, meat-based, vegetarian or organic to name a few, let alone all the culturally based options such as Italian, Greek, Japanese, French, Thai or Lebanese.
Now translate those different food tastes into writing voices; and you can see why finding and defining your own voice is such a challenge. Your voice can be similarly fractured and ultimately comes down to a matter of taste.
Every reader will enjoy a different voice, because their individual taste is just that, individual. You can’t write to satisfy everyone and you shouldn’t try to be anyone but yourself in your writing.
Be true to yourself, and those that enjoy it will gravitate to you. You cannot force readers to like your work any more than you can force-feed a child and expect them to enjoy it!
I’ve read many explanations for exactly what voice is – personality in print, the language used, knowing what not to include, the cadence of the sentences and their connections, the sound of the piece when you read it aloud, the word pictures painted – all great answers, but no less confusing.
The one thing I know for sure is that voice is difficult to pin down. One person’s object d’art is another’s kitsch. Taste is invisible, and so too is voice. But it runs through writing like threads in a tapestry; it’s the anchors of the fabric and without it the writing becomes a mere collection of coloured strands mixed together without any pattern or design.
At this point I want to throw in a small caveat about being true to your own voice. As a professional writer (a ghost writer in some cases) who often writes on behalf of another, I cannot always write exactly the way or in the voice that I would personally prefer.
If you are writing for another (a client or employer) then you do need to adopt certain aspects or attitudes that are specific to whom they wish to appeal to, not solely to your own desires.
That’s where professional business writing differs from personal writing. It does affect the voice (or rather the strength of the voice) that can be used on some occasions.
Let’s define what voice is not to help with this sticky point in giving your voice a hearing, while still delivering what your client or employer requires.
There are two other terms that are often confused with voice, so let’s define them:
1. Tone – is what the author (brand/company) feels or wishes to convey about the subject.
The tone should be consistent with a brand strategy, and any piece written should consistently reflect that tone. The tone could be defined as authoritative, professional, serious, hip, personal, friendly, funny, academic, conversational, controversial or homely and approachable.
2. Mood – is what the reader feels about the subject upon reading the piece.
Are they persuaded, motivated to change or take action, inspired or enrolled in your brand ideals and direction?
These two terms are the aspects or attitudes that you need to adopt or incorporate in your voice (AKA personality in print) to ensure that your piece will deliver what you have been asked for by your client or employer.
Although these can direct or sign-post your writing, that is what you’ve been hired to do and is the road traveled by a commercial writer.
With time, effort and practice you can still let your own true voice shine through without losing the soul of our work.