At the beginning of 2011 I said to myself, "I am now a writer". The easy part was over. I now set about finding my writing voice. I had to understand how to use my experience and learning.
I entered the third third of my life and started my third career. I have previously been a theatre lighting designer and an architectural lighting designer. These are both creative professions, so I thought it would be easy to become a writer.
In lighting design I developed the ability to use words, rather pictures, to describe my ideas to clients. I found a skill of creating images in their minds with my words.
I was a writer already, I thought.
I discovered that there is more to writing than that.
This is the platform for my writing. I know what I want to say but I have to write in a way that is attractive to my readers, as well as informative.
Having the right message is not enough.
When starting as a writer you need to create a writing style that is your voice and that appeals to your readers.
I believe that every writer has a writing voice just as they have a physical voice and that when they listen to their voice they can refine it.
There are techniques that will help your voice, but where do you start in learning them. Here are eight simple starting points I learned in creating my writing voice.
Creating your writing voice
This is the essential first step, one where you go into yourself and find your true voice.
My writing, over many years, was as a lighting designer. I wrote reports outlining creative ideas and detailing technical issues. People would pay a great deal of money for these, not for the writing but for the content.
I realised that, although I was an expert at creating visual pictures in my writing, I did not have a great writing style. The two are different.
Earlier I wrote essays on philosophy, literature, art and other creative areas. I enjoyed this writing but this was about following a train of thought. This was useful but was not a key to my voice.
It may be that when you start writing creatively you need to let go of the writing style you know and start again.
In writing for blogs, personality is a key issue. At first I missed this, I did not bring myself into my writing. I focused on what I used to do in my writing, I focused on content.
Content is what people are looking for online, but they also want something else. The internet is crowded with information, there is too much to fully absorb. People want to understand the information through the filter of someone they trust and respect. That comes through your personality as the writer.
It is not about opinion so much as the way of expressing it.
Readers want to experience the personality you have inside, whatever it is. They have a way of seeing whether it is authentic or not.
Beware of putting on a mask to hide yourself, they will sense it very quickly and depart never to return.
Once you have your idea and you know what you want to write about, then you can start exploring your voice.
I prefer to absorb the ideas and information I want to communicate and then focus on one reader. I write continuously as if I am having a conversation. I like the writing to have speed and vibrancy, I want it to jump off the page.
I then go back and edit, dealing with technical issues, such as passive voice and the consistency in use of first, second or third person.
I read it out loud to myself and feel the flow of words. Are the juxtapositions easy? Are there any awkward sequences. Does the sound have a musicality to it?
When it flows easily to your ear, you are finding your voice.
Readers want to connect to you, they want to feel you are talking directly to them. They want you to be in the room with them. This is one reason why videos and podcasts are so successful.
When you know a subject and start to teach it through your writing you can often step back and use the third person. This may be appropriate when lecturing on literature but is not when you want to influence or inspire people.
Which sounds better, “Men are afraid of vulnerability and they tend to hide behind a mask of action.” or, “Are you, as a man, afraid of vulnerability? Do you hide behind a mask? Do you find that you jump into action rather than feel your emotions?”
First person is crucial. People will connect with you through your stories. When you want to move into making points go into second person, connect with your readers directly.
Creating an Attractive Style
When you are connected to your readers through your personality you may find that your writing style will interfere. There are some simple techniques that will clear the block and enhance your voice.
I have struggled with this and I now think I have defeated it. Passive voice works well, sometimes, in technical reports, but is a killer in personal writing. It puts a barrier between you and the reader and it can confuse him.
Active voice is clear, moves the piece on and engages the reader.
Strunk and White in ‘The Elements Of Style’ say,
The habitual use of of the active voice makes for forcible writing. This is true not only in narrative concerned principally with action but in writing of any kind.
Which has a stronger force and connection, “I’m sorry that the article was poorly written,” or “I’m sorry I wrote a bad article“?
To get rid of the passive you have to write and write and look carefully at everything you write.
Stephen King is not satisfied unless he cuts out 10% of his words when editing it. He slices out adverbs and cuts any unnecessary words. His writing style is sparse and enjoyable.
Do you feel that you need to explain what you are saying? Do you find yourself embellishing your prose? Stop it.
What is the least you can say and still inspire?
Leave the reader to create the picture in his imagination, do not do all the work.
Raymond Chandler is my favourite crime writer. He writes very short books. His style is sparse. Look at these sentences from his book ‘The High Window’ and see their clarity,
She threw her head back and opened her mouth wide and roared with laughter. In the middle of the laughter I opened the door and went out and shut the door on the mannish sound.
Every word has a purpose focus on that purpose and cut the excess.
Many writers bore their readers and lose them. Bring all of your energy to your writing.
When I write I like to create energy in myself before I start. I might exercise or listen to inspiring music. I want to feel excited about my writing and I want the readers to know that.
Let your writing move along at a strong pace. Do not stop to think, just keep going and feel what is going on inside.
When writing online it is essential to make the text visually appealing. Look at it the way a poet might look at his work.
You are drawn into a piece or driven away. Densely packed paragraphs crowded together can be difficult to read online, especially with bad screens.
Break the text up with sub-headings, bullets and short paragraphs. Highlight sentences and guide people through the work.
With short paragraphs your voice becomes active, dynamic and attractive. The energy takes readers through to the end and inspires them.
Make your writing an extension of yourself, put your whole personality into it. Make it clear and uncluttered. Inspire with your writing rather than inform. If you don’t feel excited when you have finished writing, you need to go back and find that excitement.