Looking back at some of the posts I’ve written so far, one of the biggest things that stands out is the inconsistency of the written voice.
Duke University’s Creative Writing Primer explains voice as:
An author’s unique style and way of saying things. You should be able to recognize an author’s written voice the way you recognize a person’s spoken voice. In creative writing, one goal is to develop your written voice. Your voice should come across as natural, clear, and consistent, as unique to you as a fingerprint. Wordiness, awkward use of language, awkward sentence structure, and lack of clarity all serve to muffle the voice of the author.
The last time I remember thinking about voice was in high school English class, but it’s been on my mind more recently.
Business Writing is Constraining
A lot of business writing - proposals, statements-of-work, project plans, or emails - places constraints on the writer. You tend to have to be very careful about what you say and how you say it. In some cases, you need to make sure nothing is left to the imagination (SOW) but in others, it’s much more important to leave things implied (some of the nastier corporate email CC chains).
Even the more creative applications of business writing, such as sales and marketing materials, are similar in constraint. While this kind of writing often does carry more of a distinct tone than other types of business writing, that tone is intentionally manufactured and definitely not personal. In this case, you’d write as the ‘company persona’ would write. It brings to mind Winston Smith’s job at the Ministry of Truth in 1984.
Winston thought for a moment, then pulled the speakwrite towards him and began dictating in Big Brother’s familiar style: a style at once military and pedantic, and, because of a trick of asking questions and then promptly answering them, … easy to imitate.
After years of this kind of writing, you tend get good at writing safely according to a set of business constraints. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; incidental skills such as structured writing flow and projecting a certain image are valuable in any kind of writing you might do. But it doesn’t necessarily do much for your written personality.
Writing for Yourself
When turned loose to write something like a personal blog post, it’s both liberating and terrifying at the same time. Audience is (currently) unknown, neutrality is completely optional, and topic is self-determined.
The net-net of all of this freedom is a decidedly undecided voice. Examining the few posts I’ve written so far, there are some glimmers of what I’d consider ‘personality’ but there are also more than just traces of the bland, overly-diplomatic language as well.
How do you cultivate voice? One of the best pieces of advice I’ve encountered is to start by writing down what you’d say if you were having a regular spoken conversation (er, maybe monologue). If you’re a storyteller with interesting anecdotes, this will embellish any points you are trying to make. If you’ve got a great sense of humour, it’s likely this will come across in your writing. Your typical conversation translates into a natural written tone reflecting your personality.
As for me? I think it will come down to time and practice - letting my inner voice speak instead of working backwards from a set of constraints.