“Find your voice,” writers are often admonished. We think we know what voice is, yet somehow it can be elusive. So let’s consider voice as it concerns your business book.
Voice and its value
Voice is the unique blend of elements—style, syntax, diction—that gives your writing a certain sensibility. It makes your writing distinct, individual, and recognizable. Voice makes your writing yours.
You know how you can recognize a new song by a favorite artist, even the first time you hear it? Or you recognize a painter’s work even before looking at the placard next to it? That’s voice.
Jane Austen’s voice is distinct from Stephen King’s, whose is distinct from Sheryl Sandberg’s, whose is distinct from Dale Carnegie’s. You would not mistake one for another.
Voice conveys personality, and personality is what attracts humans to each other. In this case, your writing personality attracts and engages your readers. Voice helps you create a relationship with your readers.
Voice in business writing
While a literary author strives to create an individual voice, voice does not have to be that of an individual. A magazine editor sets a voice for the entire publication and hires writers who can match that voice. A business may have a consistent voice throughout its newsletters, blog posts, books, ads, and videos.
In the context of business, voice is closely linked to brand. While they’re not identical, they need to be in alignment. For example:
- A CPA firm wants a brand that says trust, stability, and confidence, so it develops a voice that demonstrates those values—professional and proper, clear and understandable.
- A life coach has a brand of intuition, exploration, and safety, so she develops a voice that is nonjudgmental, inquisitive, and nurturing.
- A fashion editor wants to be known for bleeding-edge trendiness, so he develops a snarky, over-the-top voice.
Each of these brands has a distinct voice to attract a distinct audience. The three voices would not be mistaken for one another.
My business voice
For Clear Sight Books, my intended branding encompasses clarity, high quality, and insight. I want to go beyond what is found on many writing websites to offer strategy and perspective for entrepreneurs, speakers, and other professionals whose primary focus may not be writing. As a result, I want a clear, smart, yet conversational voice.
I also want to be authentic and approachable, because working with an editor, coach, or ghostwriter is an intimate process. I want clients to feel comfortable with me and trust me. So I try to write about my own business and writing experience in a transparent fashion (nervous as it sometimes makes me…hello).
When I started writing for my business, all I wanted to do was find topics and generate something. I had to start writing consistently to find my focus and my voice. If you were to compare some of my earlier blog posts with later ones, I think you’d see a stronger and more consistent voice evolve over time.
Finding & developing your voice
If you’re writing in a business context, define the brand attributes you want and how you want your writing to sound as a result. If you’re writing as an individual, you have more leeway to explore, but still consider how you want readers to perceive you and what that means for your writing.
Thinking about brand alone doesn’t get you a strong voice—that takes time and experience. When you talk to notable authors and writing instructors, their advice is remarkably consistent:
- Read – Whatever your genre, read a lot of it—and read the good stuff. Notice what the authors do, what you like, what you don’t like. Identify commonalities and differences with your own writing. (Tip: When you’re actually writing your book, stop reading.)
- Write – To develop any skill, you have to practice. This includes generative writing (creating new material) as well as revising and editing.
- Imitate – One method of practice is imitating the authors you like: literally copy someone else’s work word for word to understand how they construct language. This is a common learning approach in poetry, but it can be used with prose as well. Try a few pages or a chapter. Or, take a strong sentence and copy the structure using your own topic.
- Critique and be critiqued – Critique other writers and get feedback on your own work. Possibilities: take a writing class (I’ve taken more classes than I can count), find a writing coach/editor (I have an editor), join a critique group (I have a poetry critique group). Critiquing others helps you develop a better eye and see your own work more objectively; critique from others gives you information about your strengths and weaknesses. Eventually you’ll learn not only your own patterns, but when to listen and when to ignore feedback.
A side note for those who struggle with writing
Not all of us write for a living or write easily, but if you write, you must draft content. If typing at a keyboard results in stilted, unnatural language for you, consider speaking your content. Jot notes about your topic, record a discussion of it on your smartphone or laptop, and have it transcribed.
The transcript will need significant editorial work (effective spoken and written language are quite different), but the natural flow of the spoken words will ring true and allow you to find your voice.
Trusting your voice
A client asked me recently how we learn to trust our voice. I believe she meant, “How do I trust what I have to say enough to let it be heard?” Uff-da! Not a simple question.
Many issues stop us not only from writing, but from letting our words make their way into the world. These issues almost always boil down to fear: fear of visibility, fear of imperfection, fear of what we don’t know, fear of not having anything worthwhile to say.
In my experience, this is an individual journey we must make through the swamps of our respective minds. Beyond suggesting “Practice!” to grow skill and confidence, I can only share what has helped me learn to trust my own voice:
- Reframe – There’s nothing new under the sun, and yet people keep writing books. Why? Because we all need to hear the right words at the right time in the right situation—even if they’re not brand new. If you don’t put your words out there, the message someone needs—the message that resonates for them at that moment—is lost.
- Get angry – Have you ever read a book and thought, “What a hack! I can write a book better than that!” Yup. Now deploy that energy in a useful way (write!).
- Lower your expectations – You don’t have to write THE book, just A book.
- Force yourself to ship – When I decided to get serious about writing, I knew my biggest mental block was putting my writing out into the world—becoming visible. I made a pact with two friends: for an entire month, I would do a blog post every day. You know what happens when you commit to publishing something every day? You can’t be perfect—you just have to be done. Freaking scary! But it got easier.
- Use affirmations – If you know what your particular hang-up is, it can help to repeat a mantra that counters it. For me, the affirmation that worked was “I have a voice that others need to hear.” Over and over…written and aloud.
We all have a voice that others need to hear.
To summarize: a prose poem…
We start unaware of correctness. And good god, aren’t we brilliant? Then we learn the rules; self-consciousness sets in. To learn it right, we study, mimic, impersonate those we admire. We listen, we learn, we improve, and eventually we overflow. Weary of icon-experts, we begin to shut them out. But they are not really gone; they are already inside us. So we sift through the pieces, keeping those that serve us and perhaps a few that don’t. The amalgamation is inchoate, cacophonous, until we begin to shape it like clay—no, like a hymn—molding a new shape, a new song. What emerges but our own distinct voice? Then we are not afraid to share our words, and suddenly we are back where we started…
And good god, aren’t we brilliant?
If you’d like feedback on how well developed your voice is, I offer manuscript critiques. If you’d like help developing your voice, coaching may be beneficial. When you’re ready, get in touch and we’ll set up a conversation to see what fits your situation.