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!