Adapt Your Voice to Expand Your Writing Opportunities

Adapt your Writer's VoiceMany beginning writers hear the term “voice,” as in, “finding your writer’s voice” but aren’t sure what it means. “Voice” is the words we choose, as well as our sentence structure, the cadence of how the words fit together.

When people speak, we may have an accent or speak in a particular dialect of our native language. We also have speech patterns, slang phrases we use, and favorite expressions. These are often influenced by the area we live, our age/generation, our socioeconomic status, and possibly even what we do for a living. (Language directly influenced by our industry is sometimes called “jargon.”)

In writing, all of these things together form a “writer’s voice.” Many of us write the way we talk. But some writers are adept at adopting different voices. If you can write in a variety of voices, you can expand your writing opportunities to include:

  • Writing in a variety of fields and industries
  • Writing for the web, print, television or radio
  • Ghostwriting
  • Making $1/word or more writing for glossy national publications or trade journal

How to Recognize Other Voices

The first step to learning how to write in different voices, is learning how to recognize different voices — and what creates them — when you read. For instance, corporate writing adopts a more formal style. Blogs can be casual, fun or newsy, depending on the audience. Sales and marketing copy has a conversational style designed to draw in — and convince — readers.

To begin to pick up the cadence of different writing voices, read widely. Read everything. (Where have you heard that writing advice before? Everywhere, I’m guessing!) After you read something in a unique, distinctive voice, sit down and write something using that voice.

“Finding Someone Else’s Voice”

Writing in a different voice often requires more extensive rewriting. The first words that come out of our minds and onto our computer screen are usually our “natural” writing voice. In many cases, this is also the way we speak. (If you ever hear me give a webinar, you’ll recognize that I write these blog posts in my “teaching voice,” and I speak pretty much the same way when I’m teaching someone about writing.)

To write in a different voice, consider all the different ways you can say the same thing. Use words not in your normal lexicon. Vary your techniques and your sentence structure.

If you are ghostwriting, the best thing to do is to read everything you can that person has written. The same goes for submitting queries or articles to major magazines. You want to make that “voice” part of your mind, so you can hear it in your own thought patterns. You should begin thinking like your client, or like the writers of the magazine you want to write for. When you start to think like your client or your magazine’s market, you’ll start to write in a way they can relate to, naturally.

Take the Writing Voice Challenge

Here’s an exercise for you. Take a recent article or blog post you have written and rewrite it:

  • In the voice of your favorite author
  • As sales copy
  • As a corporate communication
  • As an email to a friend

After you do this a few times, you’ll be close to an expert at adopting other voices, and then you don’t have to worry if you land an assignment that forces you to write in a voice different from your own writer’s voice. You can do it!

Feel free to share your examples below in the comments or tell us other ways you experiment with “voice” when you’re writing.

Book Review: Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing

Mignon Fogarty the Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.How much do you really know about language usage? Are you sure you use “they’re“, “there“, and “their” correctly? When is it appropriate to use “whom“, “whome“, or just “who“? Confused about whether to “lay” or “lie“? Grammar Girl has the answers and she gives them in a way that makes it simple to understand.

I can’t think of any book that covers so many language quirks within its pages. To be honest, I found it a little draining to read. I read Grammar Girl’s book, several pages an hour, one tip after another without pause, but it is a book better suited to reflective browsing. In the same way that reading a dictionary will do wonders for your vocabulary but can be exhausting if attempted in a single sitting, Grammar Girls’ Quick and Dirty Tips for Betting Writing will do wonders for your writing but can be overwhelming if rushed. It is the kind of book one needs to savor, allowing each tip to simmer in your mind before sampling the next.

Having failed ninth grade English, and dropped out of school soon after, I never learned the ‘rules’ in a formal setting. I am amazed at what my nine-year-old daughter brings home from school about phonics and usage. She is learning things in grade four that I had never learned before; she teaches me! Twelve years removed from school I’m beginning to understand the difference between nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. I’m still working on understanding objects, subjects, and participles. I write instinctively, having read extensively, but am beginning to learn WHY a sentence works one way better than another and WHY this word differs depending on tense.

Feeling a little out of my element with grammatical context I found every page was a learning experience. There was so much to absorb in this plethora of information and insight that I had never truly comprehended before. Every tip offers an opportunity to learn about language from regional distinctions to popular adaptations. Not only does Grammar Girl, Mignon Fogarty, share simple tricks to help us remember ‘the rules’, she also explains the grammatical reason, the ‘proof’, that they are, in fact, the grammatically correct.

I found Grammar Girl’s book intense. I am learning so much! I LOVE IT!

Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing is a book I know will sit upon my desk for years to come. It is not the kind I might read once then allow to gather dust on the shelf of the formerly loved. Despite it’s cheery cover and warm voice this is definitely a writers reference, and it includes a detailed index to make it even more effective as a reference guide.

If you’re looking for an addition to your desk, particularly a comprehensive guide to modern word usage and grammar, then this is the book you need. I want to give a big shout out, “THANK YOU!” to Michele Tune. I had never heard of Grammar Girl, or her book before Michele shared both on her blog and had I not won my copy of Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing it might still be sitting on my Amazon wish list! Thank you, Michele.

Do you have a particular usage stumbling block? Want to know if Mignon Fogarty covers it in Quick and Dirty Tips? Drop a comment below and I’ll look it up for you!

Critiquing Your Critics

Critiques and reviews are an important part of every writer’s success. There are many helpful responses readers, writers, editors and agents will give you but along with these you’ll often find much of the feedback you receive will be of no use to you. Some suggestions, if followed, could actually prove problematic for your writing’s success. This occurs for many reasons, so what should you look for when you critique your critics?

1. Accuracy – Firstly of course it’s important to make sure your critic is accurate in his or her comments.

When it comes to suggestions on alternate spelling and grammar, various dialects and locations can differ in opinion. For example, some words when read by an English audience should be spelled differently then they would be if written for American readers. This is important to remember when you are writing for a specific audience but the real rule in this case is to be consistent. You are not incorrect if you use one spelling over the other since both are correct but it is important to maintain the same regional choices throughout your piece.

Some corrections and suggestions readers may make will simply be incorrect. If you’re not sure, always double check in a reliable dictionary or style guide. Check your resources and confirm your facts and your source. It’s better to be sure than to be mistaken.

2. Style and Voice – Some critics will comment on points that are purely personal choice.

Style and Voice are two things that are uniquely you. It’s important when revising the comments of your reviewers that anything relating to areas where opinions will differ greatly should remain true to your own opinion, or the opinion of your primary audience. There is nothing worse than a writer adhering to suggestions in bits and parts of a piece that alter his personal voice. A fluid line of language will quickly become a jumble of multiple personalities that confuse and frustrate readers.

It’s also important to remember that the “you” factor is what makes your writing your own. There is no point listening to the comments of an acclaimed author if your story begins to sound more like their story than your own. Maintain your personal integrity and make changes with your own voice and not the authority of someone else.

3. Motion, Plot and Character – It is important that any suggestions maintain the whole rather than destroy it.

You know your story, plot and characters better than any reader. If you’ve done your job you’ll have given your readers the information they need to fill in all the plot blanks and by the end of your piece you should have answered those pressing questions (and left a few hanging if there will be sequels).

Some critics will pick at points in your story, plot or characters. Much of the time these will be valid and you should pay particular attention to verifying their comments. Decide if you agree with their suggestions and if you make changes ensure they are rounded; follow through with every fact throughout the piece. Consistency is the key to keeping your readers enthralled. Any changes you make need to be maintained by every corroborative scene.

Give Thanks!

Regardless of the value of each critique and review it is important to thank your critic. They have taken the time to read and respond to your writing. Time is a valuable commodity. All feedback enriches your future work. Every review offers you significant insight into the minds of your readers and what they like or dislike. Even if their comments cannot be used with this particular piece you can carry the thoughts into your next story or article. It’s important to acknowledge the efforts of your critics. Besides, you may want them to offer their comments on your next piece.