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Perfect Pitch: Developing Your Blogging Voice

Kurt Cobain, Whitney Houston, Luciano Pavarotti: think what you might of the music they each performed, there is one thing…

Kurt Cobain, Whitney Houston, Luciano Pavarotti: think what you might of the music they each performed, there is one thing that unites these (late) great singers. The moment they opened their mouths, you knew it was them. Their voice had that specific, unmistakable timbre that — above all else — said “it’s me.”

It might be trickier for writers to achieve such a level of immediate recognizability, but not impossible. The astringent wit of Dorothy Parker, the mad exuberance of a Vladimir Nabokov line, or even the winning simplicity of recent Nobel laureate Alice Munro all bear an invisible trademark — they each have a voice all their own.

While we can’t guarantee any fancy literary awards for all of you just yet, bloggers can, and should, have a distinct voice, too. And we’re here to help you develop it, whether you’re visiting from Zero to Hero or are a blogging old-timer.

For all of you who occasionally feel like you haven’t yet found your voice: the good news is that you already have one. Blogging might be the most verbal-friendly writing genre that ever existed. Nobody frowns at colloquialisms, you’re allowed to swear (if you wish), and the grammar police, while not disbanded, is clearly more lenient here than in your composition classes. Using your speaking voice should be every blogger’s starting point.

Amplify what you have

  • If you listen to the way you tell stories, gossip, and share your opinion in spoken conversations, you’re bound to discover what makes your voice unique. Try to zone in on those words and phrases you find yourself using frequently, and try to recreate a similar tone in your writing. Trace the outlines of your speaking rhythm: do you talk in fully punctuated paragraphs, or in ever-shifting word clouds? Do you ask a lot of questions, or tend to suspend your sentences in ellipses? Let your style be guided by whatever it is that already defines the way you express yourself.

Let your style be guided by whatever it is that already defines the way you express yourself.

  • When you know what makes you tick as a speaker (record yourself if you must), you’ll instinctively know when your writing is off — whether a word is too thesaurus-y, a phrase too slang-y, or an entire post too jargon-y. None of your readers visit your blog because of your acrobatic command of arcane grammar rules. They’re there to hear you at your most natural and unadorned — if that means fancy conditional sentences, then sure. Exclamation marks? Go for it! An occasional ALL CAPS? SO. BE. IT.

Don’t shy away from being an echo

    • Staying true to our own voices doesn’t mean we should seal our ears to those around us. While it’s tempting to think that we express ourselves in entirely unique ways, we all borrow, intentionally or not, from those whose writing (or singing, or acting, or speaking) inspires us. Instead of trying to erase all these foreign elements in your voice, embrace them. Analyze them. Is your aunt the best joke-teller you know? Try and crack the secret to her timing. Did your history professor grab your attention every single class? Think of the way he structured his narratives.

If there’s a novelist, an essayist, or a blogger you really respect, spend some time reading his or her work before sitting down to write your own post.

  • Have you ever spoken to someone whose accent or vocabulary was significantly different than yours, only to find yourself emulating it by the end of the conversation? We do this all the time without even noticing — it’s our way of finding common ground with our conversation partners. Something similar can happen to us when we write.

If there’s a novelist, an essayist, or a blogger you really respect, spend some time reading his or her work before sitting down to write your own post. It’s a great way to tune your brain to the rhythms and tics you love, without the counterproductive step of copying someone else’s style intentionally.

Help your readers listen — with their eyes

Every analogy has its limits. In this case, while we may speak about voice and tone, the end product — a blog post — is still written. Your audience will consume it visually via a screen. You can still help your readers hear that authentic ring of your voice by making your posts easy on their eyes.

  • Don’t forget punctuation, even if it’s as little as periods and commas.
  • You may speak in torrents, but should avoid huge blocks of text: start a new paragraph every once in a while.
  • Find ways to create emphasis subtly: an unexpected word in italics, or a single sentence in its own line.
  • Use white space productively: it can act as the equivalent of a meaningful silence.

Ensure that you’re heard by making your words as clear and visible as they possibly can be.

Do you use a consistent tone on your blog, or vary it depending on the post at hand? What tricks have you used to channel your voice into your blog? Your words of wisdom are very welcome!

78 Comments

  1. I especially appreciate these tips. I find that blogging now requires a certain style that is different than the old 5 paragraphs—first intro, three are the body of the subject, and then a concluding paragraph. It also goes against the traditional 5 sentence per paragraph rule. It’s been fun for me to experiment with the tips you give. Of particular, I’ve used the white space concept, the single sentence, and the italics or bold. I’ve also kept paragraphs intentionally shorter.
    Of note: I took a writing class a couple years ago and my teacher was a traditionalist. She was horrified when she read my blog. I tried to tell her blog writing followed a different format. She is one of those who used red marks lavishly. Had it not been on the computer my words would have been slashed and dashed everywhere. About a year later, she contacted me for more information on WordPress. I’m not sure where she went with that information. I was too afraid to ask! But hopefully, she was more open to it. :-)

      1. I will catch up with her some time. She referred me to a blogspot blog she liked and felt was done the correct way. I have another blog (pre-WordPress) at blogspot and the support and community aspect is nil. Hopefully she is converted.

  2. I’m a shy quiet person but I’ve inadvertently caught attention when I’ve muttered something under my breath, usually sarcastic or related to an “inside” joke. To try to catch that in my writing, I put those side mutterings in brackets, and it seems to work. I’ve been told I’m funny even when I am not trying to be. :-)

    1. I like your brackets idea — in general, punctuation and typography can convey a lot more than we often give them credit for (though I admit to sometimes abusing colons and dashes).

  3. I love these tips, even now after a year or two of blogging I’m still trying to learn new things, in the way I compose my poems and in general writing. Thank you for this :)

  4. I like to use line breaks to give the reader a break from heavy reading, posts where the scroll bar is less than an inch long. I use font size to emphasize little “catch phrases” that stick with them and make reading longer text easier. I also used color in my “manifesto” http://sacredhereandnow.wordpress.com/manifesto/ to try and bring energy to the topic. What do you think? Is it still too much text for a web page? I have a fairly articulate and descriptive writing style that isn’t as concise as some. I usually go through a lot of editing before I post something. Feel free to leave comments on my blog if you find unhelpful info in a post!

  5. I express myself infinitely better when typing so I love seeing my personality come out on the screen. As far as I can tell, I am a sarcastic person with a wide vocabulary that enjoys an awkward simile from time to time just because. I have a butt-ton of phrases that I use on the regular in my speech as well and these worm their way in my writing.
    One this I’m working on is the aesthetics of my writing. Do I make everything a new paragraph? Should I bold and Italicize more often? Is my excessive use of punctuation and good thing or a bad thing??
    So that’s what’s up with me currently.

  6. I have a bad habit of either detaching myself when writing a more casual post or finessing it till it could be in a museum. I have to tell myself I’m not writing for a newspaper. After I write, I read it out loud. If it sounds like I’m talking to a friend of family member then I know my voice came cross.

    1. Reading out loud might be a very low-tech tool, but it’s really one of the most useful ones there is.

  7. Having just started my own blog, these tips are great. I love reading articles with tips on how to promote your voice and what makes or breaks an article. Thanks for the tips.
    MLV

  8. When I started my blog a year and a half ago I had to work hard to find my blogging voice. I had done a lot of technical, academic writing plus had kept a journal. Neither seemed right, but I soon found ways to combine them. I have also taken note of posts by others where I leave half way through because the writing is driving my nuts. Although this is obviously a personal preference kind of thing, it helps me understand what I want my blogging voice to sound like. I now can go back in my archives and find those posts that I still enjoy reading. It feels great to enjoy my own writing, both content and style. I guess I have found my voice.

  9. Loving these tips. I wouldn’t necessarily say I’ve been concerned about not finding my voice, so much as curious about solidifying it. I know that I am quite distinctive in how I speak, and have had no internal resistance in converting this to my written work. These tips are very helpful in suggesting way to strengthen my voice as a learn and grow as a writer. As always, I love the reminders to read, read, read!

  10. I completely resonate with the concept of emulating the voice of others. When I read old English literature, I wind up talking like that. I once spent a year with a British roommate and picked up the accent. There are a few bloggers that I follow that have a beautiful voice, and if I read them first, I do wind up writing like that. But if I don’t read them beforehand, I don’t. So, I feel as if each post sounds different from the other depending on who I’ve been reading lately. I’m unsure how to avoid that…

  11. Thank you for the tips, I found it really interesting as it’s something I hadn’t thought of too much . I suppose I try not to over-think my posts and write naturally, with everything as an extension of the way I talk and the stupid things I discuss with the people closest to me.

  12. It hadn’t really occurred to me that I write in a similar voice to my speaking voice. Intriguing to think this through. I do use a lot of dashes when I write – I know it’s partly laziness (did I need a colon or semi-colon?), but maybe it’s also because it reflects how I talk, making links as I jump from topic to topic. I shall be trying to notice dashes in my speech now.

    I also know I over-use brackets. Hmm. I suspect that I do that when I talk too, and confuse people… (I love ellipses too.) Thank you for some good food for thought.

    1. Glad to know I’m not the only one who’s addicted to the dashes and brackets. So many side thoughts so little time to organize them so pop them in where they happen.

  13. I love the help you give to bloggers. I suspect the thing that ties my blogs together is the fact that my photographs are just amateur snaps. I know I can’t compete with the professionals so I don’t try…and I try to keep my posts short. From experience I know people aren’t too keen on reading long posts

  14. An exceptional article Ben! My intent as a writer/blogger is to speak authentically, and as naturally as possible. I use a personable tone as I write, hopefully – welcoming as well. It varies per post. It has taken time and numerous lessons – learning to trust/respect my writing voice. I believe as I continue to express the “heart” of my offerings (holistic wellness), it can only get better. The switch to “wordpress” is nice…welcoming.

    Best,

    Storm

  15. Fabulous post. I had someone tell me once that I wrote just like I talked and they meant it as a compliment. I think you just have to find a rhythm of what works. Definitely sharing your post today with others! Thanks!

    1. Oops! A wee button failure there! Thank you for the post. I have just started my journey on this website and was wondering (not worrying) how my prose would be perceived. It’s encouraging to know that transferring the style of my vocal delivery onto the screen is a good way to go. Stick with what I know, so to speak!

  16. Ben, I meant to add – my post today is in sinc with your post (some variations) . Its emphasis is on the importance of respecting our personal rhythm…a mere observation. ~Storm

  17. The problem is : when I talk, I move a lot and I’m doing face and things like that, it’s hard to reproduce it with words haha! And I sincerly use in real life long words that nobody ever heared about

  18. I like the idea of finding my voice. I, too, use facial and hand gestures that would have to be clearly explained in text, which is not unusual, but not something I considered prior to this Perfect Pitch post. Thanks for bringing much to light re: blogs – I’m learning more than I have in a long time!

  19. Great article, thank you! I’ve been doing this unconsciously on FB for a long time, and before that in e-mails — it could be that we’re developing written language in a whole new way here… yes, even the people who use “u” for you. People are writing more than every before, whether well or badly, because that is how you communicate on the internet. It’s almost a form of poetry, to make your visual language match your spoken rhythms.

  20. I have been reading and writing my whole life,almost the only form of communication I used .I never really thought about finding my voice and I write what I think and feel.I am new to blogging and the English language and its more of an creative outlet for me than having the perfect blog.It is foremost meant to share about our life with friends and relatives all over the world.Maybe the sharing with just anyone will come later and I will decide on having one blog just for that and keep to a few topics only.Thanks for the helpful post though.

  21. Great ideas and tips. I’m always at a loss on how to create original content. I wonder whether my ideas are worthy, if my writing style is interesting and proper, and so forth. Eventually, I just end up letting another day pass without a word typed onto the screen. Thanks for the inspiration to attack the drawing board again!

  22. Very good suggestion to record yourself to get an idea of your normal speaking style! Going to try this.
    I think my writing voice has a unique style but I know I occasionally drop some thesaurus-y words.

  23. Just started my blog, and I am, indeed, trying to write in what feels to me like my “voice.” I wonder, though, if it is too colloquial, too informal… if the linguistic patterns too distinct, would that make it “speak” to others less? Maybe mine only “speaks” to people who “speak” like me…

  24. Very helpful tips. I, for one, was doubtful when I started blogging. Afraid that grammar police might find me! English is not my first language, but after 2 months of harnessing my writing skills, I think I found my little voice. :-)

  25. I’m technically something of a grammar nazi (don’t even get me started on the whole your/you’re thing) but I’ll admit the rules cop some abuse when I write. I use punctuation to make my writing sound like my voice and hang the rules. So I might start a sentence with ‘But’ or put in a wayward full stop. Because I can. I was reading a book by Neil Gaiman recently and noticed he did the same, so that’s all right then.

    Now, spelling, that’s a whole other thing. I can’t read a blog post filled with spelling errors without getting a headache.

    1. I like your policy of being lenient enough to achieve a desired effect, while still holding on to some uncrossable lines. Balance is everything!

  26. What if I want to vary my voice slightly over depending on the kind of post I’m writing? Are there any hacks to manipulating your blogging voice? Like a combination of articles and pronouns to watch out for and analyse etc etc?

    1. I think we automatically tweak our tone — in writing and in speaking — depending on the circumstances. For example, commenting on a deadly typhoon in South East Asia will most definitely inspire a different vocabulary and mood than writing a satirical post about memes.

      As long as this spectrum is still comfortably and convincingly your own, there’s really no issue with variation.

  27. The reason I love blogging is because I can write how I speak (for the most part). I don’t think I would connect as well with people if I didn’t. I’m learning new ways to express my sarcasm and timing “on paper” and I love that. I’ve been consistently writing since October and I am starting to recognize my own flavors when writing about the different topics I cover. My “Momma has lost her mind” and “Don’t take life too serious” posts have a different visual tone than my “Sometimes life can be serious business” posts.

    These tips make me want to pay more attention to the idea of recognizing my voice. Thanks for that.

  28. Good stuff. Thanks! One thing that helps me is to listen to myself and write from where I am (emotionally, spiritually, etc) rather than where I want to be. For instance, a couple of days ago I sat down to write a gentle, encouraging post but what kept pouring out of me was rough and raw. Then I realized that’s how I was feeling. All my attempts to persevere against the tide, so to speak, proved futile and so I gave in to my true voice. The result was a raw but far more genuine post. The other post will wait for another day.

  29. I think my voice is expressed more in my writing. I don’t really express myself when I talk as I do when I write. Something more comes out when I write. My Lifestyle writing is beautiful to my soul because I get to express it.

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