Print Writing: Improving Your Voice

Writing for print is tricky in a number of ways, but one of the most important--and the most difficult--is having a strong voice and being able to adapt it to the style of the publication you are querying.

Some writers may already have a voice that they use and are comfortable with. That's a great thing, but there is typically one problem that goes along with that...they stop improving it.

If you have a "voice" that you have cultivated, don't assume that it will grow and develop on its own. You have to nurture it, and you have to allow for changes in it as you get older and learn different things about the world and the way you see it.

Make sense?

For example...when I was younger I wrote more dramatically. My voice tended to be serious and I wanted to reflect the depth of the things I saw in the world. I chose publications that matched with that and had some good success getting published. I only had to tweak a piece slightly to make it fit with the magazine's style, but there were only a narrow range of periodicals that I could write for in that manner. I wrote, then I looked for a magazine to match my style.

As I got older, I allowed my voice to expand and change a bit to reflect the humor and the curious sides of my personality as well. My "writing box" expanded, my voice became more versatile--and my income grew. Instead of looking for a magazine that was my style, I was able to match my writing voice to the magazine.

Big difference there.

Now...let me say didn't just happen. I had to work at it. As I changed, I didn't automatically start writing differently. What I did was read more magazine articles and begin to mimic different styles that I related to and admired. My tone became more honed and my writing began to be more layered. I was improving my voice and expanding my range. This opens up a wealth of additional options for you as a writer.

It's great to have a strong voice and it certainly is something to be proud of--but don't stop there. After all, if you want to write for print publications, chances are you like the challenge of crafting a piece that is more in-depth than many of the pieces that run on the web. If that is the case, then be sure you keep adding to your toolbox as a writer and learning from other writers out there.

Now--nuts and bolts. How do you do that? Here are a few ways to get you started down the path of improving your voice as a writer:

  • Read articles in magazines that you wouldn't normally pick up. Note the style and tone of the writers in the publication and see if there is anything you can glean from that to add to your own.
  • Venture outside your comfort zone when you write. Take a piece and go in another direction with it. Think of it like clothing--put on a new "hat" or "shirt" and see what it looks like on you. You might decide to keep it--or ditch it--but at least you'll have tried something new.
  • Keep a file with articles you like in it. When you have time, dissect some of the articles and write down the specifics of what you like about them. Then try to include a little bit of that in your writing. For example, if you find a particular piece funny, go for one funny line in your next article.

You should be trying to develop your voice as a writer on a regular basis--especially if you want to write for print publications where the voice is key. Take some time to invest in your writing style. It pays off in the end!

Profile image for Catherine L. Tully
Catherine L. Tully has over nine years of experience writing for magazines such as American Style, AAA Living and Boys' Life. She is the editor for an award-winning blog on freelance writing and also owns and edits a blog for dance professionals.

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2 thoughts on “Print Writing: Improving Your Voice”

  1. i totally agree with your point Catherine. As a writer, we have to versatile into different voices of writing. It is a learning process that we can eventually master if we really are determined to work on it.

  2. I know I use slightly different voices for different publications. It’s easier with longtime clients, since I know their tone and style. The nerve wracking thing is writing your first piece for a new publication. Reading previous issues helps, but doesn’t take the nervousness away.

    You’re right in advising people to read magazines and articles outside of their comfort zone. A motorcycle magazine will have a very different tone than, say, an architecture or design publication.

    My favorite trick for finding your voice is simply to write the way you speak. Sounds simple, but it can be a challenge for a lot of writers – especially ones just starting out – who can get caught up in the notion of sounding smart, or funny or impressive that they over think it.

    Since we all adapt the way we speak to fit each situation — out with friends, in school, around kids, at a meeting, in church, etc… — adapting our writing voice to fit different publications isn’t really much different. Like Catherine said, familiarize yourself with new audiences. Once you do that, just figure out how you would speak to them.


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