Today’s post is by Jim Dougherty.
Has anyone ever told you to “find your voice“? It’s a curious bit of opaque advice that people like to share, but what does it really mean? Does it mean that you should write about the things that interest you? Does it mean you should become an indignant, uncompromising (underappreciated) artist? Does it mean you should find a voice that someone else wants you to have?
I don’t know what people intend to advise, but I’ve gone through a litany of “voices” in the last few years and think it may be helpful to share what has been effective and not so effective for me.
I started a blog a couple of years ago called “LeadersWest.” Incidentally, the name means absolutely nothing – I don’t write about leadership or any topics western in nature. It was simply an amalgam of words that I created many years ago when securing domain names. The site is my online laboratory – I tinker with different aspects of the content to understand what works and what doesn’t. I’ve tinkered with the content quite a bit. I hope my lessons learned are illustrative to you.
Writing for a minuscule audience
The original intention for my site was to provide tutorials for beginners about social media. I had a lot of passion about social media and was interested in how people and businesses could use social platforms to communicate, but the problem with that idea was that there really weren’t any social media novices reading blogs. Particularly blog posts referred from social platforms. I created content that I wanted to create without an audience.
Write for writing’s sake
Tutorials for a sparse crowd soon got frustrating, so my posts digressed into rants for a short period of time. I would write about my past experiences and vaguely tie them to social media. Not the most compelling reading, but the lack of attention reinforced the fact that rehashing past experiences in short form is uncompelling.
Topical writing (Newsjacking)
I noticed that some of my most well-received posts were topical, so I set-up a bevy of Google Alerts and started to write analyses of newer content in tech and social media. It was by far some of the best trafficked content that I’d written. By multiplying the traffic I received by four posts per day, I got my site traffic up to about 20K visitors a month. I was also exhausted and found a lot of the content redundant and unfulfilling.
Write smarter not harder (or something like that)
Though I was happy to get traffic, the post frequency wasn’t sustainable for me and I wasn’t learning a lot from the writing I was doing. So, I decided to write one thoughtful post per day focused on studies and data points rather than breaking news and opinion. And I hit a sweet spot. I get about 40% of the traffic that I got at my peak for 25% of the effort. And I have amazing contributors (like Erin Feldman) who augment that traffic further with great monthly content.
When I think about what it means for a writer to find their voice, I suspect that any one of the different content choices I experimented with could qualify. Maybe a writer needs an outlet, maybe they need gratification, maybe they need to be efficient, maybe they need to learn, or maybe they need to rant.
Whatever the goal is, online publishing enables writers to experiment and “find their voice” with much more social validation, data, and feedback than has ever been available. I hope if you find yourself dissatisfied with some aspect of your writing that my tinkering inspires you to do some tinkering of your own.
Jim Dougherty is a blogger and chief of miscellany at Leaders West.
Image: Andrew Forgrave (CC BY NC SA 2.0)