4 Steps to Finding Your Ideal Writing Voice

Voice is one of the most important elements of a successful blog. Period.

Without voice, new arrivals to your blog won’t read beyond the first paragraph.

Give your readers a strong voice, though, and they won’t be able to keep their hot little fingers off that RSS button.

But what is voice, exactly? And how can you make it come through in your blog?

You probably think of people you know as having a deep voice, or a squeaky voice, or a soft voice. Obviously no one can literally hear you on your blog, but they can “hear” you through the words you use and the way you use them.

Chances are, your 8th grade English teachers didn’t teach you about voice. I don’t blame them. It’s messy, abstract, and darned difficult, and I should know. I’ve taught nearly 800 young teenagers the magic of voice over the past nine years.

And now I’m going to teach you.

1. Get into the flow

Each day, my students do a three-minute writing warm-up. The only goal is fluency — to produce as much writing as they can in three minutes.

Some of the best writing they ever produce comes from these three-minute bursts. By removing the pressure of quality and focusing purely on quantity, the students are free to flow. What comes out is natural, quirky, and authentic. What comes out has voice.

Try it: Set a timer and go. Don’t let the pencil come off the paper (or your fingers come off the keyboard). Just produce. Don’t edit. Don’t censor. Simply flow.

2. Write like you talk

I encourage my students to read their writing aloud and ask themselves or a peer, “Does this sound like me?” If the answer is no, I challenge them to simply talk about the subject in their compositions for a moment, while I jot down some of the words and phrases they use in their ramblings. When they insert some of these snippets into their writing — BAM — voice happens.

Try it: Record yourself talking through an idea for a blog post — then transcribe what you’ve written. You’ll find some super-rich voice nuggets.

3. Forget conventions (at least at first)

Many of my students have been taught by previous teachers to stifle their voices by writing “standard” English. (Whatever that means.)

Yes, writing must communicate a message, and to that end the conventions of standard English are important. But in many instances, those rules actually hinder our ability to create a realistic voice.

I frequently remind my students that the rules of our language evolved over time with the specific purpose of creating clarity. If breaking a rule will enhance the clarity of their writing, then they should break it — and so should you.

That may mean you choose a fragment over a complete sentence, end a sentence with a preposition, or add a comma when the rule book says it isn’t needed. These deliberate choices allow your voice to shine through.

Try it: The next time you write a first draft, throw a few conventions out the window. Pretend they don’t exist. When you reread your draft, make your editing decisions based on what best communicates your message.

4. Write what you know

This is a biggie. For years, I have asked my students to write an essay about who they would put on the face of a new coin.

The best papers, almost always, are written about their moms. Isn’t that sweet?

Other students write about Martin Luther King, Jr. or Michael Jordan, or Anne Frank. Sometimes those essays are great, but many times they just sound like a regurgitation of historical facts.

(Even worse, sometimes those facts are wrong: “Dr. King helped free the slaves by refusing to get off the bus with his sister, Rosa.”)

Bloggers fall into the same trap of picking topics that sound smart or seem popular, even if those topics aren’t really near and dear to their hearts. The result: no voice.

Try it: Make this quote from Dolly Parton your new blogging mantra: “Figure who you are; then do it on purpose.” Strive for authenticity instead of popularity. Don’t try to sound like anyone or anything except who you already are. It sure works for Dolly.

What tricks do you have for finding your voice? Share your best methods in the comments. I promise not to assign grades!

About the Author: Joy Tanksley is a middle school English teacher, the wife of a philosopher, and a leader of workshops for women who want to smash limiting belief systems and lead more abundant lives. She blogs about living a joy-filled life at Being Joy.

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Comments

  1. Wow what great advices you got there!

    Number 1 is true to me. When I was writing the answers to questions in my exams, the less time I had in the end, the more natural my writing was!

    I also think that if you write with your head cleared, and not thinking about anything else, produces your own natural writing voice!

  2. Hi Joy,
    I’ve middle school English and College Composition also – I used to have my students write nonstop for the first 10 minutes of class. It is very liberating. That’s how many of their assignments got there start. Sometimes I think if it wasn’t for those those timed sessions many of them might not have gotten such a strong start.
    It definitely works – although, I must admit, I don’t always practice what I teach. :) Maybe I’ll get back to timed sessions – who knows what I might accomplish!

  3. We are just starting up our b2b blog and I really think this will help myself and my coworkers find our voice. I think currently we are having motivation issues because we think we HAVE to write a certain way or another. Thanks for the insight!

  4. Excellent advice, very well presented. Great post – thanks.

  5. AWESOME!!! Final ,somebody gets it! I hated english class with all the “proper” nonsence. I do love to write though. Now I’ve found my voice.
    Bad spellers untie!
    Gary

  6. Hey Joy,

    It is always good to hear information how to write great content. I like the fact that you instruct your student to write like they talk. To make it sound like themselves. This is what readers look for originality.

    Chat with you later…
    Josh

  7. I forgot about the time pressure exercise! thanks for reminding me: Tried it immediately and it was fun!

    I like the write as you talk: I have been doubting my style (occiasionally), this does help!

  8. Hi Joy,

    Great advice here about finding your voice. I think we all have something unique to say based on our life experiences and the knowledge that we’ve gained.

    One thing that is hard to overcome is the schooling that has been drilled into us when typing though, particularly if you are of a certain age. It was drilled into me that when you write it should be formal with correct grammar, no typos, complete sentences, etc. which can make it hard to write informally on my site. But, I’m working on being more conversational.

    Thanks,
    Karen

  9. Nicely put. I have been guilty of numbered lists with little personality, and even if the information is good, the blog post draws little interest if I fail to let my voice come through.

    Yesterday I tried my first “Mini Saga,” an idea I found on Rajesh Setty’s blog. The word count limit really focused my mind, and I “found my voice” in about 3 minutes.

  10. I always find that getting into character helps me best when writing copy for clients. I find it makes it easier to write from different perspective. :)

  11. First I commend you on being a middle school teacher. Ewww! :) Second, this advice is really helpful to me. I am going to go back to ‘writing’ my blog using Dragon and just pretending like I am speaking to a friend. It’s quicker and fun!

  12. Great tips. After so much technical and corporate writing in my past, I cherish every tip that helps me reclaim my true voice.

    I love the Dolly Parton quote. I’m going to be me on purpose.

  13. When you go looking, it’s hard to find. You gotta be fearless and say “screw it.”

  14. Hah, I recall those speed drills in middle school. I’d always win, mainly because I had conscience when it came to producing messy hand writing.

    I’m still struggling finding my voice in copy. I’ve read some of James’ articles at MenWithPens, and man, he has SO MUCH personality and voice in his writing.

    While this article certainly shows some starting points, I think the only ways to experience significant growth with writing copy are to just write more and to get your writing reviewed by a 3rd party.

  15. Now that is top content!
    I had the concept of voice somewhere in the back of my mind, but never named it. It became real now.

    This is definitely going to become an important focus in my writing. Thanks!

    Love the Dolly Parton quote, btw.

  16. Susan Scofield :

    I think this is a wonderfully concise and captivating article, Joy! Kids are discovering their voice and true selves in the tender teen ages of middle school, and they need to be able to put their voice on paper to make it more real to them.

    My advice? Take your top ten favorite stories that you tell and write them down. Maybe you’ll keep going . . .

  17. I agree — write like you talk. Then, if you don’t like how you talk, change it ;)

    When I lead teams creating technical guidance, the first thing I have to do is shift people from writing like “writing” to writing like “talking” — conversational wins over ivory-tower or academic style when it comes to sharing real-world advice — it’s about keeping it real, keeping it relevant, and connecting at the human level.

  18. When learning to write for radio, we had to to go through something very similar – learn to break all the standard English rules and write for the *ear* instead of the *eye*. A lot of it carries over to online. Essentially, don’t just write the words, talk to the person reading it like you would face-to-face. It’s all about being conversational.

    Great stuff. :)

  19. Your students are lucky to have you for their teacher.
    Your steps to finding a voice in writing are great, worthy of giving it a try- I’m inspired.
    As for blog writing, I get confused by all the talk about using tags in appropriate ways for search engines to find you.
    How would you address that in finding your voice,
    Thanks for sharing,
    Joann

  20. Writing like you talk is something I have tried to do all along.
    I like voices that have a bit of humor too unless the subject does not warrant it of course. I always go back over my writing to see if I can add something amusing.

  21. Jane Rhoades :

    Great job! I’ve read some quite complicated attempts at explaining voice, but your steps make voice easily understood and doable. I have found my self breaking conventional rules for the sake of voice, but then am tempted to revert for the sake of “proper” writing. You’ve given me to courage to go ahead. Thanks.

  22. Great advice, especially when you get a serious case of writer’s block.

    It’s always much more interesting to read a piece that’s written as if someone is speaking with emotion. I guess you would call that a unique and strong voice.

    As simple as these tips are, and although many of them are things we already know, it’s easy to forget the basics. These will definitely help my morning blog posts come out faster :)

    http://www.moscreative.com
    http://blog.moscreative.com

  23. Great post Joy!

    It feels good to know you’re inspiring future leaders with your teaching. That’s what voice becomes – leadership. It’s that authentic, gut-level perspective that resonates for others.

    Words that move people…

  24. I’m glad your students have you, Joy. :)

  25. Thanks. Those tips will sure help me write, I mean, blog better.

    But most of the times, or maybe all time when I write for the newspaper, the voice will be gone and the rule of the language will be strictly followed. And I get notified about what I have done and how I should write in the future.

    So, since I write for both newspaper and my very own blog, it’s pretty hard to keep what is my voice.

    And by the way, since English is not my native language. I’m afraid I don’t even have a voice over English. :D So, well, I don’t know what.

  26. Excellent advice. When I get out of my head and into the flow, my voice is strong. It’s incredibly simple when I just let it be that way.

  27. Hello Joy.

    Nicely put thoughts. My favorite is writing the way you talk. this way it becomes very easy to articulate your thoughts and you write with conviction.

    ~~ Sarah ~~

  28. you could use a voice recognition program to actually type what you say

  29. Hi Joy,

    Great tips! Your simple tips cut right through to what’s important.

    One thing I do to get into the flow is I begin writing in a “New Message” e-mail window.

    A blank MS Word document has always been a bit intimidating for me since I was in grade school. And now at 27 years-old, I still make that strong association.

    For me, e-mails are very casual and low-pressure, so I can usually find my flow pretty quickly that way.

    Looking forward to more of your posts…

    -Jason

  30. I teach at a junior college, and I love the method you have delineated for students, and yes, it does make blogs and such sound more like the writer, and thus more interesting than truly structured writing. But please don’t forget that grammar does have a place and that fixing typos and structure is also important. When on a computer, bad spelling shouldn’t ever appear on the finished product. The student — or blogger — simply looks lazy. If they didn’t want to waste their time on their paper — or blog; why should I? I back out of sites that have really terrible grammar. It is usually easy to find a site with comparable information without the irritating mistakes.

    Oddly also, my students link bad spelling and bad grammar to un-authoritativeness.

  31. Creative writing exercises like the one mentioned here are pure gold. To me, it’s not so much the free flow or time restraint as it is the effect it has on silencing the inner critic.

    Several years ago, I made a piece of software that will generate just this kind of writing exercise. It’s still around, though I haven’t updated it in a long time (I can’t even use it now, since I switched to Mac and it’s PC only), but if anyone is interested they can download it for free here: http://theprint.dk/writethis.html

    And thank you for this wonderful post about voice, or style as I’ve heard others refer to it as.

  32. Could not agree more. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of becoming any kind of ‘writer’ but absolutely the most important.

  33. Yea, just right. right. right.

    Be you, and don’t listen to those hatters that email you about your style. I am sure that you’ll connect with those that like you and that have the core that you’re communicating.

    I am finally finding my core now and I am so so glad.

  34. This may sound simple but it is not. like they say.. “practice makes perfect”. auality usually comes along with quantity. So blog as much as you can in topics that you know about. Just be yourself and you will be a sucessful / popular/ authentic/ unique blogger in no time.

  35. Thanks Joy, I’ll try some of these inmediately

  36. Great article. I will have to try those exercises.

  37. Thank you for giving us practical steps to follow. You’ve inspired me to work on my voice this week.

  38. Wow! I wish my English teachers I had growing up were this into empowering students with real tools for creative writing. So are school teachers using blogs to teach kids how to find their voice? If not, they should ;)

  39. Okay joy, you’ve got me thinking what kind of voice I am blogging in: bass, alto, soprano, ;).

    I do a little of step 1 on some of my articles but most of the time, I just generate topic ideas and later develop them into articles. This works better for me. I think different things work for different people and it’s best to find out what works for you and stick with it.

    Thanks for sharing this. It was a good read.

  40. Wow, I find this post is amazing! I find this article is helpful because I think each blogger is unique in voice and opinion. The reason why people come to blog is because of the writer opinions. Without voice and opinion, they won’t have anything to say, to argue and to come back to the blog again. This article is useful because it provides tips that strengthen the voice, helps me to become a better blogger :)

  41. @ Nabeel, ah, yes. A cleared head is very important. Do have any particular techniques that help you center yourself before writing?

    @Kiesha, nice to hear from a fellow teacher!

    @Wii iii, I am so glad you think this might be useful for you and your colleagues. Excellent!

    @Martypants, well you are just so very welcome!

  42. @Gary K., you know, I am sometimes in the minority with my approach to teaching writing, but I find it really does work. And isn’t it true that geniuses are almost always bad spellers?

    @Josh Garcia, glad you agree with that tip. I really think there’s nothing worse to read than a bunch of phony fancy talk!

    @Wendy, good for you for jumping right in and trying the tip! I’m impressed!

    @Karen, I totally agree with you. Everyone can write because writing is really about having something to say. :)

    @Jeremy, well, I’m curious to check out the “Mini Saga” idea – sounds interesting! And I’m glad it worked for you!

  43. @DSM Design, getting into character, you say? Sounds fun! Do you ever get to be a pirate? :)

    @Christina Rodriguez, oh, if I had a nickel for everytime I heard the “ew” response! Really, the bureaucracy is way worse than the kids.

    @Tammi, isn’t that Dolly quote the best? I try to live by it!
    
@Genuine Chris Johnson, SO SO TRUE. I like you.
    @ Joseph McCullough, TOO FUNNY that you were the middle school speed drill champion! That’s a resume booster, huh? You know, if you’re struggling, I definitely agree with you that practice and feedback are both important. But I also think there’s an element of relaxing – not trying so hard – that can help, too. Best of luck to you!

    @Patrick Bakker, wow, I am receiving your comment for sure. THANKS!

  44. @ Susan, have we met somewhere before? I love your advice!

    @J.D. Meier, AMEN.

    @Paige Jeffrey, how interesting! Thanks for sharing this tidbit.

    @Joann Wells Greenbaum, thanks for the warm comments. As far as the tags/search engine stuff, I’m probably the wrong person to ask. For me, authenticity always comes first. If that stuff feels forced, I’m quick to ditch it. But my goals for my blog are really modest – I just want a small, cozy community of people I really love. No dreams of world domination for me!

    @Sandy, I definitely love to read writers who have a sense of humor. But I don’t think it can be forced, do you?

    @Jane, thanks! Oh, man, if I’ve empowered you to break some rules (writing or otherwise) my work here is done. :)

    @Ally, so glad these tips seem helpful for you! Let me know if you try one that you particularly like!

  45. This is fantastic advice! I especially appreciate the last point about striving to be authentic instead of striving to be popular. When I reflected deeply on the words I wanted to use to describe the purpose of my blog, leading an “authentic” was a main one that popped up. This advice in on target for our blogs and our lives! Thank you.

  46. Great advice. I used to practice writing in 10 minute bursts on random subject. Lots of ideas came from those drills …

  47. I write from my heart. I write what I feel for my personal blog. For my other blog, I write only topics that I know. It’s hard to write something you don’t have a clue at all.

  48. Joy,

    That is one of the best advice I have read till now about how to find your writing voice. Thank you for writing it. I’ll definitely book mark this page.

  49. @ Toronto Dentist, “That’s what voice becomes – leadership” – oh,
    you are speaking my language. 100%.

    @ Sonia Simone – Aw. Shucks. Really, it’s just an honor to be nominated. I mean, um, to have a guest post on Copyblogger.

    @ Aminul Islam Sajib – Newspaper and blog, huh? Oh, I KNOW that has to be a challenge. Glad you have a blog where you can let your authenticity shine!

    @ Jean Sarauer – Yes, indeed. Someone else mentioned the need for a clear head. You are so right. We have to get out of our own way. Do you have any tips that work for doing this?

    @HowToPlaza – Seems like writing the way you talk is the favorite today. :) It’s such a simple concept, but for some reason it’s a challenge to put into practice.

    @Paul – Nice idea! Thanks for the contribution!

    @Jason – Wow. What an interesting idea. Love it! Thanks a bunch for adding your thoughts to this.

  50. If I actually talk like I write, I must have some real issues. I must be really crazy, insane and troubled.

    Go me!!!

    :-)

  51. @Leslie – Oh, yes. I won’t forget this. I promise. :) I’m a big fan of the grammar “lessons” at theoatmeal.com.

    @Rasmus – AMEN! Let’s silence that inner critic!

    @ Michael Morrison – You know, I might just have to agree with you that it’s the most important. If you lack authenticity, what’s the point? Who cares, right? Hmmm… and maybe the most important thing in, dare I say it, LIFE?

    @ Kevin – I hope you do! Let me know how it goes.
    @Tanya – Yeah! Can I refer to myself as inspiring, now? :)

    @Chris – You know, Chris, some teachers are using blogs. It can be a bit tricky in public schools. There’s always red tape, but it is definitely being done.

    @Kwame – Hmmm… you sound like baritone to me! I totally agree that different things work for different folks. We’re all unique. But, yet, all the same. Should we hold hands and sing now? :)

  52. @ Mike – Amazing? Really? Well that’s just lovely. Thanks!

    @Sandra Lee – Oh, you are totally welcome. I’m with you – authenticity was one of the main reasons I wanted to blog in the first place. It’s so easy to lose sight of it, though.

    @Chuck – Thanks, Chuck. You know, 10 minutes is interminable for 8th graders, but it can definitely be done for more seasoned writers! :) I’m always amazed at how much I can produce in 10 focused minutes.

    @mondex1 – Really? Is it hard to write about something you don’t have a clue about? Cause MAN, there are a lot of jokers out there who crank that stuff out all the time! Glad you’re not one of them! :)

    @Abubaker Jamil – Well I am so glad it spoke to you!

    @ Bamboo Forest – GO YOU!

  53. I think this is a wonderfully article Joy, I think i need to apply what you said here. Thanks for sharing and God bless!.

  54. Excellent advice! As sports journalist I always try to present the facts in the most objective way possible. But I think infusing my own ‘voice’ would significantly increase the popularity of my column. Breaking the rules along the way makes sense, too, because it will allow a writer to express himself more freely and keep the flow of ideas intact rather than presenting everything in cookie-cutter style.
    I will most definitely give this a shot.
    Thanks, Joy!

  55. My 8th Grade teacher gave me an A+ on an oral report for lighting a paper house on fire revealing an aluminum “Black Cat” that stood in its ashes ~ ala cousin Edgar’s ‘Black Cat’. I was very lucky to have an ACTUAL 8th Grade teacher help me find my voice, rather than MUFFLE it. The muffling came in 9th Grade and beyond ;-)

    Talking to my older relatives, (the elders), helps me find my authentic voice very quickly. Only drawback: you have to hurry before they die. So call your Grandma~!!

    I LOVE this post~!! Thanks for letting me, be me~!!!
    x0x
    Anita Nelson @ModelSupplies

  56. Write Like You Talk – that was always the best advice that worked for me. My college English/writing teacher told me that and it has always stuck with me. One of the worst things school teach kids is a structured way of writing that does nothing by silence their voice.

  57. Oh, Jason! Your excellent comment about blank emails reminded me of another tip. If you sleep with your phone next to you (everyone does, right? lol), when you have an idea or dream, jot it down in a new text message and save it to drafts. I am able to keep my really good ideas this way. Old school way would be to keep a pad and paper by the bed, but that requires turning on a light which is not compatible with the slumbering man next to me.

    Anita @ModelSupplies

  58. @Joy Yes, you can call yourself inspiring :) I tried all these tips today, and they really work.

  59. This blog reminded me a lot of my high school teacher Mr. Miller, we would always spend 10 minutes just writing. At first I didn’t quite understand, why would he ask us to do that?

    Years later when I wrote my first ebook and even when I’m writing my blog it made pure sense. Grammar is important, but I’m not a grammar expert, I’m a writer. I create and have chosen words to do that, and sometimes rules can be hard to always follow. But I write because it makes me happy.

    Great post…and great advice. I love spending my lunch reading great articles like this.

  60. My what a lovely voice you have Joy. :)

    One thing I’m struggling with when it comes to voice is mood. Sometimes I’ll write something that feels very ‘true’ and authentic, but I’m in a particular mood. I might be feeling particularly reverent, or particularly goofy, or particularly passionate or angry. I might be feeling Fight Club tough, or I may have been moved to write from the voice of the vulnerable inner child.

    Then later on, when I come back to it, I’m in a different mood, and I judge it – perhaps as lacking maturity, or fear I’m wasting peoples’ time, or whatever. And I end up editing the hell out of it until I’ve throttled the essence out of it.

    Any advice?

  61. I started blogging in April because of encouragement from my family. I didn’t know that I could write until I tried to do this. I like what you say about writing like you talk. I am trying to be brave enough to just say whatever I really think when I write. I am in my 50’s so I come from a very rigid educational background. I hated writing in school. I am going to try to free writing. I hope I can ignore all my mistakes and just write. I want to be free!!!

  62. This was refreshing to read and wil take these ideas into consideration. This will be a new approach for me and although Ido write on my web site these ideas will add to my artistic side.
    Thanks
    Arlene

  63. I think this is a wonderfully article

  64. Great advice.

    #2 – Write Like You Talk is an excellent point. If it doesn’t sound like you it will certainly come out stale to your readers.

  65. @Valentine Belonwu – Thanks a bunch for taking the time to give me some positive feedback. :)

    @Astrid Bidanec – Yeah! Another potential rule breaker! Good luck with it!

    @Anita – Those darn high school teachers. They ruin everything. (I’m kidding! I’m kidding!) Wow – I ADORE your suggestion of talking to the older folks. Good thinking. Thanks for sharing!

    @MrWriteMedia – Indeed. Imagine it from a teacher’s perspective. I mean, reading 80 five-paragraph essays, where a bunch of 13-year olds attempt to sound “smart”… I shudder just thinking of it.

    @Tanya – You tried them ALL? Oh, WOW! You get a sticker, woman!

    @Vincent Ng – Aw, gee thanks! It was a pleasure doing lunch with you!

    @ Jeff Sararas – Ooooh! Great questionl I love it. Are you familiar with Martha Beck at all? Sorry to get life coachy on you, but she has this great concept of essential self verses social self. It sounds like your initial writing is coming from your essential self, and then your social self (which is reactive and typically makes decisions based on fear) comes along and squashes the party. What do you think would happen if you let the initial mood stand?

    @Mum Dee – Your comment might be my most cherished. If writing brings you joy, then write! Writing really does have so much power. As cheesy as this may sound, it is one of the purest forms of creative expression and it’s available to darn near anyone. How beautiful is that?

  66. @Arlene – Thanks for this kind feedback. Let me know if you try any of the suggestions and find them to be helpful!

    @Eseotips – Well thanks!

    @Spence – So interesting that tip #2 is striking the biggest chord with everyone. I really do think it makes a huge difference. I mean, if your writin’ doesn’t sound at all like your talkin’, then, well, something is way off!

  67. @Joy, I run a creative website for writers. I believe it’s impossible to find writer’s voice if writers don’t have confidence in themselves. I’ve seen numerous instances where writers qualify their words before people even read them: “I’ve never done this before, but…I hope you like this…Everyone’s so talented, I’m intimidated, etc, etc.”

    Whatever your voice may be, it won’t reach its full potential unless you believe in it first.

    That’s my take.

  68. @Shane – I 100% agree. And I think it can all work together, you know? Wanting to be a good writer can be the spark for self-discovery and self-acceptance. Writing can help people “find” themselves.” It’s cool how it all rolls up together.

    Thanks for giving your take. I like your take. :)

  69. @Joy: I’d follow that up by saying bluntly:

    If you don’t ABSOLUTELY LOVE writing (the writing, the editing, the proofing, the boring rules), it will show in your writing voice, and quite frankly, I don’t want to hear it. Sounds cruel, but damn, I’ve never met someone who wasn’t unstoppable doing something they love. Find the love. That’s where your voice hides. ;)

  70. @Shane – Is someone paying you to say the things I love to hear? Love = effortless authenticity in writing and, well, everything else.

  71. It is a great post. I was thinking about adding ‘voice’ to my writing and this post just clarified some things for me.
    Thanks a ton!
    I am still new to writing but i have noticed this, when i have feelings related to what i am writing about, i write better and readers like it more too.
    Also, writing with a voice, being yourself is the most fulfilling too.

  72. All I can I say is thank you. I should read once a week till all becomes natural.

  73. I use number 1 a lot. I have serious problems with an overly vigorous internal editor.

    I loved the other ideas. I’ll be back to check out more. And I will continue to work on letting my voice sing out loud. Thanks.

  74. Thanks! I was actually having alot of doubt about my voice… Mainly the way I addressed my readers. I focus on small business owners/freelancers and the practical use of Social Media in their marketing/communication mix. And since i’m Dutch i have to choose to speak to people in a ‘u’-form wich is very respectful, or ‘je/jij/jullie’ wich is more the casual style of talking… Choose ‘je/jij/jullie’ but now i got the tip from my cousin (marketing man for Interpolis) that i should change it.. What do you think?

  75. Great advice. When I started blogging, I often caught myself trying to write in way that was “different”. This resulted in bad posts and people asking “did you write this?” Writing in your own voice definitely the way to go. Thanks!

  76. Paulo del Puerto :

    This is great! I’m planning to start my blog and these tips are very helpful.

    Thing is I WANT to write, but then when I start doing it it feels like a chore :(

    What happens is, I do the draft, just as how you said in this post but when it comes to editing I suddenly lose the enthusiasm :(

    I guess I just need to find my rhythm.

  77. I visit your blog fairly regularly and get warm-fuzzies every time. You do great work and yup, I absolutely did borrow from you today! Just quoted you today in my latest blog. (Nothing completely new under the sun, right?) I sometimes forget how easy it is for me do this blogging malarky. Thanks for the inspiration : )

  78. Fantastic article! I love the idea that writing like you would speak is ok – I always worry that if anyone reads my blog and I do sound like myself then somehow they’ll take me less seriously, but I like talking to my readers like they were sitting across the coffee table from me!

  79. @ Joy, I love baritone. In fact, in real life, I sing in a baritone voice. Yes, we should hold hands and sing together. Subscribing to your blog now :).

  80. Joy… you rock. Thank-you for reiterating that not only is it ok to approach writing from this perspective, it’s the best way to reach your audience. Talking with them not at them.

    My approach has always been to listen to the voice in my head and write it down verbatim. Always works for me. Remember, you can edit later if you need to. Note that I didn’t say “voices” in my head there!

    Be authentic, be real and have fun with it. Writing is a gift of discovery. Unwrap it, and enjoy the thought.

  81. YAY~! Thank you, Joy =)

    Rasmus – that practive writing tool is VERY COOL~! It has variables and a timer – Love it~!! Thank you for posting the link~!!

    Anita @ModelSupplies

  82. Your suggestion for “getting into the flow” is a very helpful one. On our blog we suggest doing three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing to help beat writer’s block:

    http://style-matters.com/blog/morning-pages.html

  83. Joy, based on the voice that came through in this piece, it’s clear that you are a dynamic and engaging teacher! Thank you for the great advice–I especially love the Dolly Parton quote!

  84. Marion Bach :

    I find myself editing as I go, which stifles my voice. To stop this, I write with my screen turned off or covered up. At night I turn out the lights too. Then just flow. Worry about typos & nonsense later. This really opens the flow straight from me to whomever I’m writing to. Or you can just close your eyes. I’ve gotten so this is my favorite way to write creatively.

  85. I wrote my father’s story in Malaysian Chinese Voice and I failed my English, but the teacher said the ideas got A+. I am not English, please look at my pa’s war memoir on http://chaifamilyhistory.publishpath.com/ and tell me what you tell. Do I have voice? thanks

  86. @ Akanksha – You know, if writing isn’t fulfilling, then what’s the point? That’s kind of my whole philosophy on life. :) I’m so glad you’ve noticed that the process becomes more engaging for you when you infuse it with your own passion.

    @ Codruta – You’re welcome. Just be you and it will become natural sooner than you think.

    @Nessa – “Overly vigorous internal editor” – love that phrase. :)

    Sjoerd Gerritsen – What feels right to you? Which form would you prefer to read? There probably isn’t a “right” answer here. I’m sure there are pros and cons of both forms. So, I would suggest going with whichever form feels the most natural and freeing for you as a writer. Good luck with it!

    @ Woordspin – What a great way to describe what so many of us do – we try to write in a way that is “different”! Isn’t that funny? What does it even mean? My guess is that it speaks to our insecurities. Anyway, good for you for letting your voice shine through.

    @ Paulo del Puerto – You know, I think what you’re experiencing is so common. We have fun letting the ideas flow and then the editing feels like a big old bummer. Maybe try to reframe editing. I like to think of the editing process as a way to honor my super-awesome writing, rather than as a way to fix something that is broken. I’m all about the positive spin. Good luck with it!

  87. @Denise – Glad you found something that was borrow-worthy! :)

    @Amy – We human beings have the funniest belief systems, don’t we? It cracks me up that we would think being ourselves would make us seem less credible in some way. Keep writing in the way that feels natural for you – that’s the way to shine! :)

    @ I knew my intuitions were pretty good, but sometimes I just amaze myself. :) Hope to see you around!

    @ creativechickie – Oh, I like you. Yes, I do. :)

    @ Anita – YAY right back atchya! You’re welcome!

    @Rober Murray – “stream-of-consciousness writing” – I like it. :)

    @ Michelle Salater – Well, thanks for that warm comment! Isn’t Dolly the greatest?

    @Marion Back – Great, great tip! Thanks for sharing. You are so right that editing along the way can really be a voice-killer. It’s interesting that my weakest student writers are often the ones who want to hop up and grab a dictionary about three seconds into a new piece. It’s a crutch, I think. A way to displace our fears and insecurities. Writing is SUCH a head game, isn’t it?

  88. @Chai – It has been my experience with students who are leaning a new language that voice and style are some of the last things to develop. I read a bit of your writing, and you really have some beautiful and powerful phrases in the piece about your pa. I think you are well on your way! My guess is that your voice is quite strong when you write in your native language, and that it will naturally become a part of your English writing in time. Good luck with the process!

  89. Nice Post. Writing that sounds like talking is really a nice concept. You tend to express the issues with ease that way.

    Thanks!

  90. Dear Joy, its too late for me, I am in my golden years, never written in my native language or spoken it for 40 years. Had only English all my life and I think I will never improve because I have not mastered English yet. My wife is English and she has also told me she has worried about my writing and has seen me write the same way for ever it seems. She has tried to help and proof read my English but to no avail! So What to do?

  91. @Chai – Sorry I misunderstood your situation! Honestly, I don’t even know what “mastering English” would mean. You are writing about things that matter to you, clearly expressing your ideas, and (hopefully) enjoying doing it. I say, keep it up and let go of the concept of mastery. I think it gets in the way. Best wishes to you!

  92. Thanks Joy, Just love your article, I am very passionate about family matters, and have a lot of time because we have no children. We are semi-retired and I read a lot and blog a great deal and in addition to family history, I delved into the art world with my wife who is an outsider artist. I like writing best without proof reading, the ideas just flow. I have just started to write in my website and have just got it running in just a few days. I code in html, and into computers and anything internet. I do seo and content management as a biz, but suffers from my defiency in my English. I am an old computer nerd, who started with a slide rule to log tables and pcs in 1981, and now still keen on pcs. Genealogy is my passion, biggest success is finding 42000 descendants of my wife in Victoria, Australia.
    Thank you.

  93. Hi guys,

    This is a great blog. I can’t imagine myself writing something in 3 minutes that will make any sense to anybody. LOL!!! But it will definitely be good practice.

    Kind regards,
    Sam
    X

  94. Keep your sentences short, like you speak. No one talks in eight page sentences. Look at some great authors like Twain. He writes like he is speaking to you. Non fiction is even shorter. Keep the tone light.

    Picture your reader sitting across from you and you are having a conversation with them. It is easier this way.

  95. Cindy Printis :

    Hi Joy I loved the article it was super helpful, my husband stumbled upon it and told me “you HAVE to read THIS” I’m working on my new blog and this has alleviated most of my fears.

    Thank you so very much!!!

  96. ‘voice’ in the literary sense also means the writer’s stance or attitude, so thats what I adopt when I blog

  97. Hey, Joy! —

    After 96 previous comments, I’m a bit late to the party, but I wanted to let you know that I LOVE this post. I used to teach high school English. Teaching creative writing and giving students permission to discover and reveal their voice was one of the most rewarding parts of any school year. And now as a copywriter/coach to creative entrepreneurs, one of my favorite parts of my work is helping people discover the voice of their brand, the one that will connect most powerfully with their right people.

    I’m definitely most attracted to bloggers whose voices shine through their copy. And you can always tell when someone is “straining” for a voice that isn’t quite theirs. I definitely think that growing into one’s blogging voice is a process: it comes with repeated publishing, listening to feedback from readers, and the realization that only YOU can deliver a message the way that YOU do.

    Great stuff! Thanks!

    — Abby

  98. Couldn’t agree more, Joy. I do know that those few short bursts of writing is where the most creative part of you will come out.

    There were times when I tried it myself and it is quite impressive to see yourself being able to write so much without constantly distracting yourself with editing.

    The editing part can come later. Much later in fact, but the evil thing is when you over edit yourself thinking about how imperfect your blog post is.

  99. I think one of the best ways to find your writing voice is to just get on and write a lot of material, engage other people and asking them to comment and give feedback. Blogs such as this one have no shortage of people commenting upon them who will tell you exactly what they think.

  100. Joy, thanks for this article. I have had writer’s block and have been having issues finishing some projects. I had completely forgotten the “stream of consciousness” exercise and I had done that exercise for years.

    Thank you for the reminder that I needed. :-)

  101. @Joy If you’re interested, this is the story that came out of practicing these tips: http://www.convergemag.com/college-career/Chicago-Technology-Academy.html. I scrapped my draft and started over after I read your post.

  102. @Samantha Milner – You know, it’s kind of amazing what one can crank out in 3 minutes. I swear, some of my students’ best writing comes in those burst. Not always, though. Sometimes it’s total crap. But at the very least, it builds fluency. Thanks for commenting!

    @Mike Martel – Great additions! Thanks!

    @Cindy Printis – You’re husband is obviously a very smart man. :) Wow, I’m so glad this has helped you get past some fears! That’s major!

    @e.lee – My lovely state curriculum uses “tone” as the word for the writer’s perspective/attitude. English is such a lovely shade of gray, isn’t it? :) Either way, the writer’s attitude toward a subject is definitely an important piece of the puzzle.

    @Abby Kerr – You are fashionably late. As far as I’m concerned, the party has just started! Thanks for your lovely contribution.

    @Rezdwan Hamid – Oooh, yes, the over-editing beast! And if you haven’t saved an early draft, you can end up totally screwed. :)

    @Kevin Martyn – Great tip to add to the mix! Thanks!

    @Ja-Nae – So glad this reminder was timely and helpful for you!

    @Tanya – BRAVO! Nice rhythm in this piece!

  103. Jessica Traffas :

    Excellent post! I edit and post blogs for five very different members of our team, and my goal has been to let their unique voices shine while maintaining a level of professionalism. We certainly don’t need five blogs that all sound the same. The most successful posts are the ones that sound just like something I’ve heard them say before.

    Also, I’m convinced your 4th point won me a college scholarship. The essay question was, “If you could meet any person throughout history, living or dead, who would it be and what would you talk about?” I pondered all the obvious answers – Jesus, Abraham Lincoln, etc – but there is really nothing new to say on those topics. So I wrote about meeting Elvis in a coffee shop in a small town in Oregon. He was still alive, and we talked about his perspective on current events.

    That’s what paid for 4 years of tuition.

  104. Where were you when I was in middle school, Joy?! Thank you for a wonderful post and validation of what I tell my clients all the time. (I’m a writer and writing coach even though my 8th grade English teacher told me I would never be a writer.) I think you just unmuted quite a few authentic voices. That’s what I call making a difference in the world.

  105. Rem tene. Verba sequentur. (Pretty sound, isn’t it?)

  106. Very helpful advice. I would amplify one thing: write in an active voice, especially if you are instructing your readers on how to do something. Passive writing is dull, while active writing keeps your readers interested and will likely take additional action.

  107. Thanks Joy, I see my wife took my advice and read your article. Hi :) Cindy P. We are pretty excited to get started on her new blog. The 3 minute drill is extremely powerful. It really breaks that fear of writing I have from time to time.

  108. @ Jessica Traffas – Thanks for sharing this! I loved reading the story of your college scholarship. Excellent.

    @Carol Hess – Wow, thanks a bunch for this comment, Carol. And I’m so glad you didn’t let some bad advice from your 8th grade teacher define you.

    @visnotjl – Absolutely!

    @Matt Keegan – Thanks for that addition. Definitely an important point in all of this.

    @Think.Point.Click – Let me know when Cindy gets her blog up and running so I can stop by and give her some love!

  109. to begin is always hard,
    but thanks to give this info. hope it works.

  110. Joy, What you have said is actually the basic process of starting effective writing. These four steps will help anybody to write better and in a fast way.

  111. Loved the Dolly Parton quote. Can’t get any better than that.

  112. Great piece. You have a great voice too!

  113. Why, thank you, Sam!

  114. I have been using “Write or Die” (desktop version for money or on-line for free at “writeordie.drwicked.com”) for about a week now as a way to force myself to do timed writings. It’s a pretty good idea because I really don’t even start with a topic, so the first little bit I fall behind somewhat, then have to race to complete on time.

    Otherwise, I can spend hours Stumbling … which is how I found THIS page.

  115. This is a very excellent article. It is a bit shocking to hear it come from an English teacher, because the one’s I dealt with in school were all about following the rules and being proper. We were never told to forget the standard conventions of writing. We were chastised for not following those conventions.

    Your first point about free flow writing is an exercise that I am definitely going to make an effort to get into a daily habit of doing. I have heard of that method of writing to get warmed up several times when reading similar articles to this one about how to write better. I’ve just never gave it a chance.

    I think the most prominent thing that I need to take away from reading your article is to write like I talk. When I’m writing for my blog I try to be as proper as possible and that’s not my true voice. I am from the south though, so I do have to take extra care to not completely write like I talk, but I’m not all that southern in my speech. I do pronounce words more properly than most of the people in my area, which makes me stand out a little at times. Your point here really hit home with me though. I think that if I can focus more on writing how I talk, I’ll be much more happier with my content and feel more like it’s my own and not something paraphrased by some scholar.

    Lastly, I just want to say I love the Dolly Parton quote, and not just because I’m from Tennessee and sometimes go to Dollywood. The quote makes a lot of sense to me. It all comes back to writing how you talk and being genuine. I’ve actually put that portion of your article on one of my Sticky Notes in Windows 7 to keep on my desktop to remind me to be myself every time I sit down to work on a post. Thanks for the wonderful advice. It was all helpful, not just the points I mentioned.

    • Wow, Christopher, what a treat to see your comment come in this morning! Thank you so much for this thoughtfully written response. As hokey as it may sound, I think authenticity is the key to pretty much everything in this world, so I’m glad that point resonated so much with you.

      By the way, I claim TN as my home state (lived there longer than anywhere else) and have lots of fond Dollywood memories. :)

      Happy writing!

  116. Thanks Joy. I’ve just spent 30mins on your first exercise (I couldn;t stop). I’ve generated some great material AND I feel like I’ve found my voice. I’ve been feeling blocked and in doubt about what writing style to adopt. This exercise really helped me tap into my intuitive self. I feel like my style/voice has emerged.

    What you are doing with your teaching is a great thing.

    • So glad to hear you actually tried the exercise AND that it helped you! Awesome! Thanks for the feedback – I love that it helped you get in touch with you intuition. You are totally speaking my language with that!

  117. Great tips. Thanks, joy. Your students are fortunate to have a teacher like you! The link to the post about speech recognition software (“Try it: Record yourself talking through an idea for a blog post — then transcribe what you’ve written. You’ll find some super-rich voice nuggets.”) was very helpful, too.

  118. Interesting post Joy, thanks. Personally I like to imagine that I am writing to one specific person; as if I’m writing him a letter. Actually, maybe only one person is reading it anyway … !

    • Ha ha ha! Seriously, that’s a great tip, Denzil. It works well with videos as well. When I make a video blog post, I always think of one particular person and talk right to that person.

  119. I love your post, Joy! Especially the “write what you know” one. I’ve always struggled with deciding whether I should write what I know, or write what I don’t know and try to learn something new. Usually it comes down to how much time I have, and if I can research it or not. The less time I have, the more likely I am to write what I know, because it’s easy. I already know it.

    I can talk for hours about any topic that I feel passionately about, but if I don’t care one way or the other, I have difficulty writing even a paragraph about it. Thanks for posting!

  120. Thanks for the great tips. I particularly like the part about writing like you talk. I am just starting out in the blog world, but thing i sometimes have a hard time doing, is finding the right voice for my posts. I manage several vary different blogs, from Industrial Filtration Equipment / Industry, To Buenos Aires Travel/Expat living. And i find that i have a hard time switching back and forth sometimes.

    But my friends who read my personal blog, always tell me they love my writing. And they say its because in my personal blog I always write in the same unique (albeit kind crazy) way that i speak.

    Thanks again for the advice.

    • You’re very welcome, Dominick! I can understand how it would be tough to make the right shifts when you’re writing for several different audiences and purposes. Even for the less personal blogs, I think you’ll find that writing in your more authentic, natural voice will work. Have fun playing around with it!

  121. Write what you know is I think the key of the post. Write what you know!

    • I have been having a problem writing like I talk for it usually involves an extended period of editing out improper language. I like the part about forgetting about conventions and I completely agree that one’s best writing is when he just sits and writes and does not worry about convention or correctness.
      Thanks so much for the tips.

  122. Nice job, Joy!

  123. Figure who you are … then do it on purpose …

    Awesome Post. … Thanks Joy!

  124. When writing on a topic, I like to find some relation to the subject from things I have experienced, and as I am writing I think of how it would sound conversationally ( as if I were telling it to someone.) I have some examples on Hubpages.com.

  125. I am not a good writer and I always have difficulty expressing myself. Even worse, as English is not my native language, I tend to be conscious about my spelling and grammar all the time (and I only get it all right half the time). This makes writing, for me, a daunting task. I would like to be able to enjoy writing and share my thoughts & ideas without struggle. I believe your advice is gonna help a lot. Thank you so much for sharing, Joy.

  126. Nej,

    Your post touched my “mommy heart” So, forgive me if this comes across as too motherly. But, I wanted to tell you that good writing, technical and grammar issues aside, is a purely subjective thing.

    Much like music. Some of the most talented artists in my view (and I’m certain that many would agree with me on this) are not necessarily the most gifted singers, for example. Bob Dylan anyone??? Neil Young??? I once heard someone say that Neil Young had a voice like a screaming cat in heat. But, many would agree he is a talented, gifted, musician. Bob Dylan can’t carry a note in a bucket. But, he’s one of the greatest lyricists of all time. A true poet.

    How about Willie Nelson? A pleasing intonation to his voice, to be sure. But, Pavarotti? I think not.

    Here’s the thing with good writing, good music, good visual art, good anything……if it speaks to another human being and connects with them…..it’s good.

    We are all in this together and we all want to connect, to unify with the human race at large. We also all want our experience in this world to be validated. When we hear a song that touches our heart, mission accomplished. When we read words on a page that have resonated with us on some human level, mission
    accomplished again.

    Good writing is not about perfect prose, flawless grammar or technical perfection. It is about reaching inside somebody’s soul. It’s also about the honest soul of the writer spilling out on the page.

    Which, by the way, you just did. You poured your soul into the comment you just made. Good writing, dude.

    Magnolia

    • Thank you Magnolia. Your comment helped me gain self-confidence and inspired me to go and write more. I’ll keep on practicing until I get more comfortable and confident with my writing. Whenever I struggle and feel overly-conscious with my words, I’ll think about what you said. I hope even if I don’t put the best words, I’ll still be able to send the message the way I would like it to be felt.

      • You’re welcome, Nej. Just keep putting it out there. Sometimes the most meaningful and frankly, beautiful expression is the imperfect.

        Magnolia

  127. The Kahill of Willow Walk and the sequel For the Love of Willow Walk, as one reviewer says, is a modern day Gone with the Wind. The last in the series will be out this year, Forever Willow Walk. I love Copyblogger. It contains a world of information. It’s fun and the writers are great.

    S.K> Hamilton (Pee Wee)

  128. Amazing article. I’ts just the encouragement I needed right now to focus on writing using my authentic voice…. instead of spreading it in all directions.

  129. Excellent advice; this blog reads itself. I opened this page thinking to myself that I would grab a glass of water while it loads. I didn’t even get the chance to get out of my seat when I noticed that I had already read the entire article.

    Love the warm up idea, I will definitely work on that as I am a full-time freelance writer who often lacks creativity and originality.

  130. Awesome post Joy! Just reading this was already very liberating. With all these things about focusing on SEO and keyword search, I gotta admit it’s been really difficult balancing my personality and getting more readers. I’ve downloaded the pdf version of this so that I can always refer back to it easily. Many thanks again.

  131. They certainly didn’t teach “writing voice” in my 8th grade English class. I do remember elementary school where we were asked to write about a topic, review it and make edits by crossing out and writing revisions. We actually got praised for doing many cross-outs. Perhaps a different era. I must admit that I review my writing by quietly reading out-loud to myself. I suppose that is the extent of my writing voice.

  132. Hi! I’m a little late to the party here – by about a year and a half, it looks like. But I want to thank you for this post! I’ve been running around reading up on ‘finding your voice’ and THIS is the article that has proved most helpful. I want to continue on and actually do the exercises you wrote about, but even just thinking about them seemed to really improve my blog. I have two blogs going, and feel like I have great information to share, but that it all comes across as rather boring. Your opening statement, ‘Voice is one of the most important elements of a successful blog. Period. Without voice, new arrivals to your blog won’t read beyond the first paragraph,’ resonated with me. I know it has been a missing ingredient in my blogs. And guess? What, when I stopped self-edited, threw away conventions, and wrote like I talked (or actually wrote like I thought), writing was a whole lot more fun. I have two blogs going, and feel like I have great information to share, but that it all comes across as rather boring. My initial post ‘with voice’ is http://wp.me/p1g9vU-eG.

    Thanks again!

  133. “Write like you talk” is brilliant advice and a great way of spotting clunky phrases in writing.

  134. Love the thoughts here. You closed with a question on what tricks I use to find voice. Funnily enough I think I’m my most authentic when leaving comments. Something to do with not wanting to write an essay…? I’ve noticed that if I spend too long on a post I can edit all the voice right out of it!