You’ve probably been told at some point to trust your “voice” in writing. But what is your “voice”? Simply put, it’s the sound of your personality in writing.
Many elements combine to create the sound of your voice in writing: sentence structure, sentence length, word choice, punctuation, and tone (to name a few). Also, the voice of your writing can vary depending on the context of your writing. So, for example, when I’m writing to you in the context of a casual blog like this one, I use a conversational voice. But I also want to establish myself as an authority on writing, which means I tend to elevate my tone, diction, and style a bit. I don’t want to sound too formal or stiff, but I want you to hear “expert” in my voice (which is why I used the word “diction,” rather than simply saying “word choice”).
Some writers’ voice gets heard (meaning “gains credibility”) by adopting a playful, funny, or even outrageous voice in their writing. Here’s a quick example from Henneke, a writer with Enchanting Marketing:
“A strong voice helps us stand out in a snot-green ocean of boring content. A unique voice helps us bond with our readers, enticing them to come back to ‘hear’ our voice again. “
Out of all thirty-four words of these two sentences, what most distinguishes Henneke’s voice is the hyphenated adjectives “snot-green.” That single bold word choice makes him sound like he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to a writer’s voice. And he does.
As far as the voice that I, myself, use most often in my own public writing, I’d describe it as “approachable, semi-formal expert.” With a Ph.D. in English, I’ve always been a serious person, but also someone with a sense of humor that’s so dry people don’t always detect it. You’ll often hear the “semi-formal expert” voice in my word choice, punctuation, and the length or complexity of my sentences.
However, when I’m posting messages to a private, eight-member Facebook group that I’m in, I often use a less formal voice that can be funny or outraged, frustrated or sad, and sometimes deeply ironic, which is more about “tone” than “voice,” but that’s a conversation for another blog.
In general, I would encourage you to use a voice that feels natural to you, but that doesn’t mean to write exactly the way you talk. In writing, your voice shouldn’t ramble on or use “um’s” and “ah’s,” or repeat itself for no good reason.
When I’m coaching writers to trust their voice, this is some of what you might hear me say:
“Yes, you can use contractions.”
“Give yourself permission to be more conversational when you write.”
“Be yourself. Don’t try to write or sound like you think you should.”
A final analogy: Human beings prefer hearing real human voices. Think of how you get turned off hearing a mechanically produced voice on an answering service. As a human being, it’s more appealing when a real person with a real voice answers the phone—unless that person is impatient or curt with you. And in that case, you should just say, “I’m sorry you’re having a bad day.” Then hang up.