I recently came across a fun writing toy and I’ve just spent the last hour playing around on it. It’s not earth-shattering, nor is it going to change the world, but it does illustrate a point rather nicely. Your voice is a secret writing weapon, so use it.
Here’s the toy: http://iwl.me/
“I Write Like” is a website where you essentially paste a chunk of your writing, click the button and see what famous writer you’re most like according to text patterns. So far, after a few test runs, I apparently write like some sort of hybrid between Stephen King and Cory Doctorow. I’m rather bummed – I was hoping for Janet Evanovich. She’s clever and makes me giggle from time to time. Bronte wouldn’t be bad either, but I’m realistic.
But I’ll settle for Stephen King if I really have to.
It should be noted that I don’t own or work with or support the site in anyway. Nor does it support me. But it entertains me and has made me think about voice in writing.
As a writer, your voice is one of your most distinguished features. Of course, a talented writer can tweak that voice to reflect different tones in certain styles. There are also certain times that you don’t want to have much voice at all in your writing.
Playing golf and networking is a soft skill in the traditional workplace. It’s a writing “soft skill” to know how to determine when to use a bit of authentic voice, when to write with neutral tones and when you can pour it on without reservation. For example:
This post is written with an authentic voice. You could argue that I’m writing with no holds barred since I’ve used some slang, some natural phrasing and more than a few punctuation tricks to influence the “sound” of sentences. (Those quotes would be a trick – so would that dash that just made you pause and emphasize this phrase.)
The blog post I wrote for a client had plenty of voice. The celebrity news piece had some voice as well since it was written with an opinion and intentional bias. The scathing email I wrote last week was dripping with voice. (It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective.)
Blogs and features aren’t as interesting if they are written like pure journalism with a “just-the-facts-ma’am” sort of style. Most of the time, readers like personality, so as a writer it is our job to give it to them.
But then there are the times when things need less voice. Press releases, for example, are supposed to be rather dry and constrained. So are white papers and other more sensible business documents. Nobody wants a memo covered with quotation marks and exclamation marks, after all.
Hey peons! I just wanted to let you know that our “consultants” have found some serious problems with productivity this month! It’s going to be a good month for lay-offs around here, so consider putting in some serious “face time” if you’re hoping to make it to July. Have a great one!!
Right. We see the problem there.
Many new writers start out in one of two ways: they write English papers or they write musing online journals. The voice is dry or it’s over the top. Practice finding the gray areas of your voice and learn to use it in a powerful way when you need to and restrain yourself when you should. Believe it or not, it’s often a learned skill.
Well, apparently I’m back to Cory Doctorow again with this piece. (I just tested it.) Who do you write like?