Nobody likes being sold to. Even less so when it’s being done disingenuously. As much as I’m loathe to sound like a 90s rap song, “keeping it real” is tremendously good advice when it comes to writing. Authenticity and sincerity are essential to the craft of creating a good piece of copy and you should never be afraid to write in your own voice.
That sounds simple, and conceptually it is, but in practice, cultivating a casual, conversational tone can be difficult without sounding contrived or forced. Here are some strategies you can use to try and capture your own voice — with practice, you’ll wonder how you ever wrote differently.
It’s important to note for the purposes of this article that I’m assuming that whatever you’re writing is from your personal perspective. For those of us that write professionally, it’s generally a daily requirement to write in different styles and voices for different situations, making it impossible to be authentic all the time. That said, especially for us who spend most of our writing lives, inhabiting the grey spaces between “us, the person” and “us, the faceless writer”, getting the chance to communicate with an audience in a sincere manner is a pleasure great enough to be worth taking seriously.
Don’t be afraid to be you when you write
Perhaps the best advice I can give you, but also the hardest to follow, is that you should never be afraid to write as yourself. When I first started writing professionally, and academically at university, I often attempted to adopt a more authoritative, erudite and even arrogant persona because I thought my opinions, those that I held dearest to me and those that I truly wanted to write about, weren’t worthy of being read. Instead, I thought if I pretended to be someone else through my writing, it might make people take me more seriously. What I actually ended up doing was making my copy sound contrived, pompous and abstract. In trying too hard to be something I wasn’t, I was abandoning what made me a good writer as an individual in exchange for being a passable writer with the same style as a million others.
Since then I have learned that everyone has a different voice and it pays to be authentic. When you try to write as someone who you aren’t, particularly when you use flowery and overly verbose language, you’re more likely to sound boring and weak than articulate and authoritative. In fact, it’s only when you start leveraging what makes you and your perspective different and fresh, personal even, that you can make your writing come alive.
An easy way to inject some personality into your writing is by including references specifically to you. Humourous or interesting anecdotes from your work and home life, asides about personal interests and other touches help to remind your readers that you’re a real person, make you more identifiable, and hopefully, endear you to people with similar personalities and passions; after all, what more could you hope for than an audience that doesn’t just respect your opinion but agrees with it.
Write the way you talk
This is a classic piece of advice and one well worth remembering. When writing, particularly in a professional context, it can be very tempting to dress up your language and use words that you might not in normal conversation. Unless it’s a technical term or your audience expects it, jamming in a multisyllabic whopper where a more commonplace word would do is a surefire way to alienate your readers.
A perennial example of this is “utilise” instead of “use”; except in specific areas of scientific communication, these two words mean the same thing and there is rarely an excuse to “utilise” anything except in the interest of verbosity. Flowery language is the enemy of brevity and clarity, and if your voice isn’t either of those things it’s a fair bet that you’re running short on authenticity too.
One of the easiest ways to get into the right headspace for authentic writing is by imagining you’re talking to a close friend or a family member. Think of how you’d explain to them what you’re writing about using normal, everyday language. You wouldn’t want to intimidate them or confuse them with complex concepts or unnecessary words, so why would you want to do that to an unknown reader?
An easy way to vet your own work for creeping verbosity is to read it aloud to yourself, or even record yourself reading it so you can make notes later. If something sounds unnatural to you, chances are it will to anyone else who reads it as well. Sentences that you stumble over should be broken down or reconsidered, clumsy expressions should be culled, and anything that doesn’t immediately make sense should go — these infelicities may seem minor to you, but they may well be glaring to a fresh reader.
What’s in it for me?
Well, for a start, you’ll be in good company. Richard Branson proudly declared in September this year that he writes all of his own blogposts to ensure authenticity. He makes the argument, and I agree, that if he wasn’t writing his own blog posts there wouldn’t be much point to him having a blog at all. People are good at spotting inauthentic writing; while it might be hard to define what makes something inauthentic, it’s not hard to pick out, and it’s a risky proposition farming out your own voice to someone else. Your audience might not complain vocally, but they will notice.
On the other hand, readers invariably respond more actively to authentic writing, even if they don’t necessarily agree. Think about your own experiences; whatever you’re reading, whether it’s inspiring or inflammatory, if you can get just a glimpse of the author through their words, it’s much easier to get invested, think about the content and want to write back. An opinion is always much more powerful when it comes from a person, not from a faceless publication.
Writing in your own voice is also a useful way to build up an authorial persona. Write like everyone else and nobody will notice your name; write interestingly, engagingly and personally, make a genuine connection with your readers, and they may well want to know who you are and maybe even read whatever else you’ve written.
So don’t be afraid to be authentic. Don’t be afraid that your voice isn’t interesting or erudite or witty enough. Just write as who you are. You’ll be surprised at the number of people who keep reading.
If you need help finding your authentic tone of voice, get in touch.