My education was full of “Aha!” moments that helped me acquire the skills necessary to eventually become a decent writer.
“Your essay needs more examples.”
This is how it typically went. Question: what sets you on the path of success to writing? Your answer is probably one of four:
3. Natural ability
4. A mixture of the above
Sounds about right. Education helps you know the proper mechanics of grammar and composition, experience helps you construct a flow that is easy to read, and natural talent essentially dictates how much work and practice you have to commit to writing.
Is that it? Nope. You know how I know? Because I read. Because I know that there are countless writers out there who have the education, experience, and natural ability to captivate the people around them, but they still fall short.
Now we have a problem. What’s the solution? Mine is simple (and relates to the title of this page that drew you in): Hold on, that colon looks weird to me. Try this-
My solution is simple: Know and apply your Writer Voice.
If you’ve been reading my work long enough, you’ve probably caught on to my love for coining terms. Sure, they don’t usually take off, but I like to think it bolsters my personal brand. Anyway, what is Writer Voice?
Your Writer Voice is the silent rumination that shapes the content you are crafting, and everyone has/does this.
When you write, your approach to which words make it on the screen or paper varies. This is why your writing style naturally shifts a bit when you are typing, as opposed to handwriting. Handwriting takes more time, while typing is virtually instantaneous.
Because handwriting takes more time, you hear your inner voice before you actually put the words on paper. In contrast, you type your words alongside what your inner voice is saying. Instead of listening, you’re doing.
This is why the best writers will tell you to write by hand as practice. It helps get you into the mindset of a listener who thinks through every word.
If this seems confusing, let me do what my English professor demanded of me and provide examples:
You have a student, a blogger, and a journalist. Each one has their own Writer Voice (I know the capitalization looks weird, but I have to be consistent).
The Writer Voice of the student is very informational. Because their work will be graded and scrutinized mechanically, their incentive is to cater their words to the expectations of their grader. This thought dominates their writing process.
The Writer Voice of the blogger is informal, and a popular type of writing. Bloggers insert themselves into their work by using first-person and a tone of levity and/or humor. Have you ever wondered why bloggers are so social and love to share each others’ work? It’s because they can relate well to writing that mimics their own.
The Writer Voice of the journalist is objective, the opposite of the informal blogger. In an attempt to achieve this objectivity, the journalist has to remove himself/herself from what they’re writing. That is their job.
Of course, there are lots of roles and functions in between these examples (bloggers who write news as journalists, for example), but these are the primary colors of the rainbow of Writer Voice.
Now, here’s that tip I promised you. If you want to be a better writer, don’t emulate the examples above. Each one has a major downfall.
A Writer Voice that is informational is the first type of writing we practice while in school. The tendency to write like you’re feeling graded carries on to future endeavors (unless you’re a journalist).
This is why novice bloggers usually have a hard time writing good, consistent content when they first start out, but it’s not that they’re bad at writing. It’s just difficult to write honestly when they feel like they’re going to be scrutinized. They don’t have an audience yet, so they’re unsure of how to launch themselves, so to speak.
It won’t be long before the blogs and short stories they were once ecstatic about become forgotten after a few posts (or paragraphs).
Your first instinct to the above point may be, “Well Jon! You have to write for your audience; they’re grading you in a sense!”
First of all, I hate semicolons. Second, your reaction actually proves my point. We dwell on that idea of bending over backwards for our audience because that is embedded into our writing process through decades of writing papers and essays.
Yes, you should keep your audience in mind, but they’re smart. They know how to tell when someone is pandering to them, which makes the message bland and boring. People want to be influenced by you, not the way other way around.
As we get older, we transition into the stage of informal and creative writing. We become bloggers and storytellers. Some of us will even write books. Of course, there are a lot of us, and there’s a simple reason: writing informally is really easy.
It’s also fun. We’re basically writing the way we would speak, and who loves talking more than writers? We like it so much that we can get addicted to it, choosing an informal tone almost exclusively.
You may think that there is no problem with this. “I like writing the way I would talk. I’m a meat and potatoes kind of guy/gal,” is a possible, yet weird, thought.
The truth is that there is always a tradeoff. The more personal we make our writing, the more it becomes exclusive. You’ll start to narrow in on one Writer Voice that will alienate anyone outside of your small niche.
Additionally, your grammar will suffer if you always write conversationally.
This brings us to the journalist. Their situation is unique because they’ve been taught how to remove themselves from their work (yay liberal arts!) Yes, their work will be “graded” by readers, but the intent is always the same. They’re distributing information in a clear, concise way.
And for some journalists, this is enough. Their writing skill ultimately comes down to reporting the story, not inventing it.
But if the journalist wants to be a well-rounded writer, then obvious problems arise. Stories written by journalists can be extremely boring.
When writing a story, a journalist with an objective Writer Voice will have a hard to composing a narrative flow. Their vocabulary and grammar is solid, but their ability to use transitions and an informal tone will be lost in translation.
You’ll find that the best writers, whether they be students, bloggers or journalists, are able to control their Writer Voice at will.
They can choose when, where and how to write something that is easy to read, objective and toned down. This sounds easy, but it takes a lot more than willpower to develop a Writer Voice that serves you quickly and efficiently.
Building this type of voice takes experience. You have to read (absorbing the experiences of others), and you have to write.
For me, I’ll even change my inner voice to that of a British man who talks way too quickly. It seems silly, and it is, but doing this helps me listen to my Writer Voice objectively and informally at the same time. I’m basically listening to myself telling a story, and it’s fantastic.
Mastering your Writer Voice starts with listening, as I mentioned earlier. You have to be able to read a sentence aloud in your head while writing it at the same time. As long as you proofread your work extensively, this method of writing will help grow your skills at a significantly faster rate.
“Jon, I have no idea what’s going on.” No problem! Let’s review!
Everyone has a Writer Voice. It’s the voice you hear as you develop the words and sentences you’re writing. Most people have an informational voice that they learn in school, but bloggers have to teach themselves how to be more informal.
The best writers can shape their Writer Voice according to the situation, allowing them to develop work of a high-quality that is captivating, correct and reflective of their own personality. Achieving this takes a lot of reading, listening (to your inner voice) and practice (applying/cementing what you’ve learned).
And that is the one writing tip that they didn’t teach you in school…because they probably didn’t have the time.
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7 thoughts on “The Writing Tip They Didn’t Teach You In School”
Reblogged this on live free or die trying and commented:
Every word counts.
Just when I think I’ve found my voice, it takes off on a wild goose chase! Thanks for the tips!
You’ve hit the ball out the park! Inidlrcbee!
I thank you one hundred million times for this brilliantly written post!
Nice one, Jon! Definitely doing the British voice for my next article. Should come easily enough considering I was in 2 Jane Austen plays in high school and I’m obsessed with BBC shows 🙂 btw you have a grammatical error halfway through your article 😛