Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Finding your blogging and tweeting voice

You might be a longtime writer, but finding blogs and tweets a format that's making you rethink your approach, or a newbie writer thrust into it now that publishing tools are free and easy to use. That's why, if you read enough blogs and tweets, from time to time you'll see articles rounding up nonprofits who've found their voices on Twitter or bloggers reminding themselves to work on finding their voices. But what does that mean?

Finding your voice sounds elusive enough, but in reality, it's not that far out of reach. The found voice has a sureness about it. If you've ever thought of a good found voice as "knowing," your instincts are sharp, because a found voice is all about the knowing. It knows what it wants and what it won't do, under any circumstances. It knows what makes it laugh or cry, and isn't ashamed of that. It knows who's listening or reading and what makes them laugh and cry. It knows how and when to respond to a question, a different point of view, a challenger. It knows when it wants to share, and what it wants to share--and it wants to share some personal details, so that readers can get to know it all the faster. It knows whether it would be caught dead saying things like "shilly-shally" or "leading from behind" or "antidisestablishmentarianism," and then it says them. It knows when to stop and where to start.

A knowing voice isn't a know-it-all voice, however. Perhaps most important, a found voice knows when it's forcing or faking or unprepared to speak or just plain lost, and shuts up at those points. So if you're a blogger who's written a post apologizing for not posting more frequently, no need to say you're sorry. You're still exploring. Readers won't mind, by the way, if you do some of that exploring by thinking out loud on the blog or in your tweets until you settle on something. We like watching works in progress, and you'll learn faster that way.

All those knowns about your blogging or tweeting voice are, in effect, boundaries that tell you--and everyone else--where you stand, and where you don't. Then we know what to expect from you, and so do you. That's where the sureness comes from...well, most of the time, anyway. If you can't yet define those boundaries for your blogging and tweeting, it's where you should begin the quest for a voice.

When I started blogging, for example, I was more careful and proscribed with my posts and what I chose to cover, a kind of learning to swim by hanging on to the edge of the pool approach. Over time, I've reached further back to my roots of writing humor and practical advice and personal essays, remembering that I like to be direct, practical, personal, and funny when I can manage it. Because I report to myself and my clients seek me out for perspective, I try to have one--that, and a personality. If you meet me in person, you should be well-prepared, having read my blog posts and tweets.

Sometimes, finding your voice involves trying and discarding things.I played with the editorial "we" voice and then abandoned it as I got surer of the sound I wanted--and I do think of it as the sound of my voice on this blog and in my tweets, conversational as they are. I've deleted more draft posts and tweets than you will ever know, enough for another blog, when they didn't sound like me. You must be likewise ruthless in protecting your voice, once you find it. In the meantime, throw stuff at the wall until you find out what sticks.

I hope the idea of boundaries helps you see this as a narrowing-down process, not a hemming-in process. Found voices are distinctive, not just because they're identifiable, but because they can let us hear more than one note in the symphony in your head. Showing your infinite variety is possible even on Twitter, and sharing a variety of subjects and views just makes you a more interesting human.

You can journal or brainstorm or mull your way to figuring out all the factors that go into your side of a found voice, and you'll learn how they work by writing that way, over and over again. But to make sure it's found by someone other than yourself, you need readers. Who are they? Can you write profiles for your typical readers? It's a great exercise that will help you recall, when you're writing later, the approaches that will and won't work for your readers.

Because it comes down to this: A found voice is heard, understood, appreciated as something apart from the buzz and smoke. It resonates with someone, with many someones. (And by "resonate," I might mean provoking anger as well as excitement or agreement.) To get to a found voice takes a two-part process: First you have to find your voice. Then we have to find it. The clearer your voice is, the easier it will be for us to hear it.

And if you're looking for a crystalline found voice--the clearest example I've found of late--or just a diversion from finding your own, read Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef.It will set your hair on fire and push you to find a voice that fits you as well.

Related posts:  How I balance personal and professional on Twitter

Behind the scenes on this blog: How I find the time and the ideas

How to blog or tweet more without working too hard

I've also written about finding your voice as a speaker on The Eloquent Woman blog--a similar problem, only in three dimensions.

(This photo--how could I have used another?--comes from Pedro Klien's photostream on Twitter)

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