Has Anyone Ever Told You to “Find Your Voice”?

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Today’s post is by Jim Dougherty.


Breathe deep and speak up.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)

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Erin Feldman

Erin Feldman is the director of editorial services at Tenacity5 Media and the founder of Write Right. She's a copywriter, editor, poet, and artist. You can find Erin on .

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10 comments
barrettrossie
barrettrossie

Interesting topic and who better to write about it than Jim, who's absolutely prolific. I wonder if the whole "finding your voice" thing comes down to knowing what you want to talk about, having something of value to say, and saying it with some passion. 

Nah. 

ExtremelyAvg
ExtremelyAvg

I like to think I have a voice, but that it has many different accents. My first love was the mystery novel and I've written four of them. Then I wrote a YA book about some 12 year olds and I was careful to use words that fit the age. For my thriller I tried to take a different tone and now that I'm writing "Underwood Scotch and Wry", I've changed again, with more of a undercurrent of snark.

I don't know if it is good for my readers, changing up, but I feel like it is good for me...and really...I tend to write for me, mostly. Of course, it is the comments I get that bring me joy, so I should probably not get too crazy.

Latest blog post: Underwood Scotch and Wry Ch 9

Julie Barrett
Julie Barrett

To me, my "voice" is when I've hit my stride in the writing process.  I sit down and intuitively write, and sometimes what comes out is't what I set out to do, at all!  Those always turn into the best pieces, with layers that I didn't even know I was adding.  To me the voice comes out in the story.

Erin F.
Erin F. moderator

@barrettrossie I think my voice found me while I was doing the work, so, yes, it does come down to having a topic or theme and knowing why you're writing about it. Purpose can lead to passion and passion can lead to that sometimes indefinable quality known as "voice." :) 

People can poke and prod my writing style as much as they like. They might even be able to replicate it. Is that voice? No, that's a good imitation. Copying another writer, though, can lead one to a way of writing that flows naturally for him or her.

Erin F.
Erin F. moderator

@timbo1973 You're going to be fine, and people with stick with you because of you. It took me a long time to get to this point with my business and its blog. Some of the people who follow it used to follow my old site. That thing was a mess. Also, voice isn't static. It changes as you grow and your writing matures.

Erin F.
Erin F. moderator

@ExtremelyAvg I think voice is different when you write fiction or poetry - even non-fiction, such as memoirs. The voice has to match the writing, although you may only figure out the right voice by getting to the business of writing. 

I think it's fine to use different voices with different series. You have different characters, and they need to differ from characters found in other series. If they don't, they remain flat. Different or conflicting voices within a series? That can be problematic for readers unless each book within the series is supposed to be written from a specific perspective of a specific character.

Erin F.
Erin F. moderator

@Julie | A Clear Sign I think so, too. Follow the writing where it's trying to go, and a lot of the other concerns will take care of themselves.

Erin F.
Erin F. moderator

@rdopping It seems that the advice is dispensed often enough, at least according to Jim's post today, to be worrisome. I think it's more important to find topics that interest you. If you're interested in the subject, the voice often takes care of itself. Also, "voice" is such a nebulous term. It's something you grow into as you write, so write. Write as much as you can. Study as many writers as you can. Learn what you can, but always, always write. (I feel as though I'm winding up to write a follow-up post.)

It's going. I'm tired this week. Yourself?

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