Note to Self (and Maybe Other Writers): Know Your Voice
I write a lot. For work, for fun, for somewhere in between. Marketing. Fiction. Journalism. Employing different voices for different outlets. Tuning tone one way and another like the knob some of us used to twist on the stereo. For nearly a dozen years I’ve been at it, growing more adept at that twisting and shifting, feeling increasingly better about my work.
Clearly I have a handle on my own voice, then, right? Well, turns out no. I hadn’t put a lot of conscious thought into that until, in a recent job interview, I was asked the question directly: How would you describe your writing voice, Clint?
I nearly began this paragraph with “Needless to say…,” but the fact that I’m writing this ditty proves that it does need to be said. (Speaking for myself, anyway.) We writers aren’t just magical passive conduits who channel words from some other plane. Rather, we’ve already collected the words, we keep them within arm’s length, and, blessedly, somehow string them together to fit the right place at the right time. But we each do that differently, don’t we?
The way I’d write about a smartphone, an investing method, a musician, myself, or your standard toothpick likely wouldn’t read anything like your piece. We might choose completely different adjectives and verbs. You’d emphasize one aspect while I highlighted another. Our sentence structures wouldn’t align. Our punctuation would be a Rorschach study in placement (and I’d use more em dashes). Your work would be memorable and persuasive, and hopefully so would mine. For, most likely, very different reasons.
That’s the beauty of writing: there’s no singular perfect way to compose any given headline or ad or email or story. There are best practices and proven approaches, of course. But being a successful writer requires a unique application of those ground rules, a distinctive fruition of education and instinct. In short, being good at it requires having a solid voice. A voice you can describe, refine, and describe again. A voice you can be proud of.
So. Excellent question, interviewer. Next time I get it, I’ll have an answer as well thought-out as everything that I write.
Vintage knob image from w2dtc.com.