For some people, lively writing comes as easily as speaking. Most of us, however, have to put a little more effort into giving our content personality.
In the writing world, that ever-important quality is called “voice.”
Why is it so hard to show your true colors when putting pen to paper? For many of us, this struggle probably began in school when we were taught to purge our writing of any evidence of a narrator. We’d write awkward sentences like, “The author contends that Holden Caulfield knew all along where the ducks went in winter” because it was against all those stuffy rules of English to actually acknowledge that you were the one writing the paper.
Though our school days are long gone, this tendency is so ingrained that it’s sometimes hard to shake off.
So how do you add voice to your content?
I’m so glad you asked. You shouldn’t be ashamed if your writing naturally comes off a little prim; it happens to the best of us. Luckily, there are several easy tactics that can help re-insert a strong sense of “you” in your content.
1. Study writing that you enjoy
No, not writing that you’re supposed to enjoy—actual stuff that makes you think, laugh, or feel inspired. This is the perfect way to kick off the creation of new content because reading allows you to pick out the qualities that you’d most like to emulate in your own writing.
Think of the blogs in your industry that you most enjoy. How do they start out their articles? What type of language do they use? What is it about their writing that keeps you hooked? You can be sure that they’ve put a lot of thought into their content writing; it’s an important pillar of successful online marketing, after all.
2. Give freewriting a shot
Here’s an exercise to try: sit down with your laptop or notebook and have a freewriting session. Don’t worry about sounding intelligent; no one else is going to read this. Simply muse for a few minutes on the topic that you’ve selected.
Once you’ve gotten all your freewriting out, take a look at what you’ve created. You might be surprised at how much usable content you can find. A clever phrase here, an interesting point there—you might even decide you need to change your topic!
This exercise helps to free your voice because you aren’t concerned about anyone else reading what comes out during a freewriting session. Though you’ll definitely need to edit and organize the mental mishmash that’s been produced, you might find your writing is suddenly more interesting after you’ve given this exercise a shot.
3. Choose a focus
Vagueness murders voice. If you’re not sure exactly what you want to say and how you’ll say it, can you really expect readers to get anything out of your content?
The best way to avoid the curse of vagueness is to decide on a clear focus for your content right from the get-go. Remember the thesis statement? That’s one concept from high school English that you shouldn’t erase from your mind. Identifying a focus and goal for your content will allow you the freedom to express yourself comfortably in writing instead of fumbling around for some semblance of sense.
Write it on a Post-It note and stick it to your computer, if you need to. Just make sure you have a focus.
4. Use your tools
There are so many tools out there that can help you in the process of writing and editing. Using a thesaurus can help you when you’re stuck on expressing an idea in a way that’s both interesting and concise. Beware the overuse of your thesaurus, however: never sacrifice clarity for the sake of a cool word.
Another nifty tool is the readability calculator. A readability calculator can help you to review your writing from an objective standpoint. It analyzes the text you’ve written and spits out certain data: reading ease, run-on sentences, and so forth. Keep in mind that content writing should be very easy to read—try to write at the level of a 7th or 8th grader.
Microsoft Word has a readability calculator that looks like this:
Click here for instructions on using this tool. You can also find many readability calculators online, many of which will give you more information than the Word calculator. I like Online-Utility.org and Readability-Score.com.
5. Read your content out loud
Seriously, this works wonders for your writing. Find a place where you won’t be bothering anyone and actually read every single word aloud. Make notes as you read whenever you stumble over a strangely worded phrase or over-long sentence.
This is also the perfect opportunity to analyze whether you’ve written in a voice that matches your personality and audience. Do you use words like “utilize” when you can just say “use”? You might be surprised by how much you notice when you take the time to read your writing aloud.
The big takeaway
In the end, the decision to add voice to your content writing is up to you. No one can force you to write with personality and style. However, just consciously avoiding “blah” writing is an important step toward amazing content. As you continue to create and consume great writing, a strong voice will come more and more easily. Who knows? With time, you might find that writing with voice is as easy as speaking.
Guest Author: Natasha Watts is a writer and musician who blogs about small business marketing for Marketecture, a SaaS-based company in American Fork, Utah. Connect with her on Twitter @NatashaWattsUp.