What do you think when you read your own work?
Do you wonder whether your writing sounds like you?
Would you like to have a stronger voice, just like your favorite writers?
Finding our voice is perhaps one of the most frustrating challenges we face as writers.
A strong voice helps us stand out in a sea of same-same writing, and it helps us bond with our readers, enticing them to come back to “hear” our voice again.
You may think, you’re born with a voice inside you.
And you only have to discover it.
But this is far from the truth.
Your writing voice develops over time, and you can accelerate that process by following the 4 steps outlined below …
Step 1: Decide who you’re writing for
When you write a personal letter or email, do you think of the person you’re writing to?
Perhaps, you ask how they are, what their plans are for the weekend, and you might tell them off or make a joke about something that happened the other week. Your writing feels human and real.
When writing a sales page or blog post, do you also think of the person who’s reading your text? Or do you forget who’s reading you?
As Kurt Vonnegut said: “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”
Finding your voice starts with knowing who you’re writing for. For instance, you can imagine the kind of person Man Crates is writing for when you read their product description for bacon jerky:
Example of a strong voice #1: Man Crates
Ready to have your mind blown? What if we told you bacon doesn’t have to just be a staple at breakfast and on your sandwich?
Bacon can be a portable, dangerously habit forming companion at your fingertips, 24/7.
You might start hoarding and stashing. You might tape packs of Bacon Jerky below the conference room table, sew pockets into the inner lining of your long johns, and fill the side panels of your car with bacon jerky in case you ever break down.
I picture a macho bacon-lover who seeks the thrills of danger. After all the text suggests that bacon can be a portable, dangerously habit forming companion.
In contrast, J. Peterman’s copy for a shaving brush exudes an understated sense of style:
Example of a strong voice #2: J. Peterman
I was browsing in a Paris antique shop one winter afternoon when a fitted leather train case caught my eye.
It contained silver-handled brushes, boot hooks, a straight razor, several silver-stoppered glass bottles.
One bottle was different. Encased in yew-wood, with a handwritten date: 1903.
Inside the bottle, there was still the faint aroma of a gentleman’s cologne. Custom-made for a rich traveler a century ago.
Women like the way it smells on a man. Like a symphony that begins loudly, then soon slides into subtle, entangling developments that grow on them.
Or so I’ve been told.
Who do you think that text resonates with most? Who do you imagine will buy that shaving brush?
The difference in writing voice between J. Peterman’s and Man Crates’ copy lies in the words chosen and the imagery sketched:
- J. Peterman writes about the faint aroma of a gentleman’s cologne and the symphony that beings loudly then slides into subtle, entangling developments.
- Man Creates writes about having your mind blown and filling the side panels of your car with bacon jerky.
Different words. Different imagery.
That difference isn’t a creative trick. That difference exists because their writers know who they’re writing for.
Tip on finding your voice:
Start writing by imagining your reader—preferably someone you like and who cheers you on. When you write for that reader, your writing becomes more human, more real.
Step 2. Make your voice stronger
We’ve all listened to speakers with a weak voice.
They ramble on.
They speak in generic terms. They use meaningless words. Their messages remain wishy-washy, and their ideas are buried under wordy sludge.
A strong voice starts with clarity of thought. When you know what you want to communicate, you can present your ideas clearly. Without frills. Without blabbering.
For instance, Apple’s copy mostly communicates clear messages. The following snippet is from the iPhone 13 Pro sales page:
Example of a strong voice #3: Apple
With its redesigned lens and powerful autofocus system, the new Ultra Wide camera can focus at just 2cm—making even the smallest details seem epic. Transform a leaf into abstract art. Capture a caterpillar’s fuzz. Magnify a dewdrop. The beauty of tiny awaits.
The copy above is strong because the message is clear and the copy is specific, vivid, and concise:
- The feature mentioned is specific: the Ultra Wide camera can focus at just 2cm.
- Vivid imagery explains the benefit—e.g., transforming a leaf into abstract art.
- Each word matters.
Mark Manson’s writing voice is completely different but his messages are clear, too. For instance, the following is a paragraph from a post by him titled Screw Finding Your Passion:
Example of a strong voice #3: Mark Manson
The common complaint among a lot of these people is that they need to “find their passion.”
I call bullshit. You already found your passion, you’re just ignoring it. Seriously, you’re awake 16 hours a day, what the fuck do you do with your time? You’re doing something, obviously. You’re talking about something. There’s some topic or activity or idea that dominates a significant amount of your free time, your conversations, your web browsing, and it dominates them without you consciously pursuing it or looking for it.
It’s right there in front of you, you’re just avoiding it. For whatever reason, you’re avoiding it. You’re telling yourself, “Oh well, yeah, I love comic books but that doesn’t count. You can’t make money with comic books.”
Fuck you, have you even tried?
There’s no doubting what Manson is trying to tell us, eh?
Manson’s voice is completely different from Apple’s copy. He uses a lot of swear words. He engages the reader in a conversation, and he shares a strong opinion: I call bullshit. But just like Apple’s copywriters, he shares a clear message: Stop that search for your passion.
Tip for strenghtening your voice:
When you communicate one clear message, your voice feels stronger. So, pinpoint your message, cut away the fluff, and let your message shine more brightly.
Step 3. Lean on your values
A strong voice is more than a writing style.
A writing style is about how you communicate. A voice is what you communicate, too.
And what you communicate is both your message and your values.
For instance, when you read Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass, you get a sense of her love and respect for nature:
Example of a strong voice #4: Robin Wall Kimmerer
Hold out your hands and let me lay upon them a sheaf of freshly picked sweetgrass, loose and flowing, like newly washed hair. Golden green and glossy above, the stems are banded with purple and white where they meet the ground. Hold the bundle up to your nose. Find the fragrance of honeyed vanilla over the scent of river water and black earth and you understand its scientific name: Hierochloe odorata, meaning the fragrant, holy grass. In our language it is called wiingaashk, the sweet-smelling hair of Mother Earth. Breathe it in and you start to remember things you didn’t know you’d forgotten.
Wall Kimmerer can only write a paragraph like that because she pays attention to nature, and she lets nature be her teacher—nature inspires her way of writing and living:
A voice isn’t just a layer of paint, giving a shiny, polished impression to your readers. Your voice is who you are and what you’re paying attention to.
Tip on finding your voice:
To find your voice, notice when you feel most alive, and pay attention to what sparks your creativity and what makes your heart sing. Allow yourself to discover what matters to you.
Step 4. Pay attention to your favorite writers
The last step to finding your voice is to emulate writers whose work resonates most with you.
You can accelerate this process by reading more of what you like, and by paying attention to the style elements that help define your writing voice:
1. Word choice
In the examples above, Mark Manson’s strong words contrast with the sensory words that Robin Wall Kimmerer uses. The words you choose give an impression of your personality.
How word choice influences your voice (with examples) >>
2. Use of imagery
Reading Wall Kimmerer’s writing above, you can almost smell the sweetgrass. And when reading the text from Man Crates, you can picture someone stuffing the side panels in their car with bacon jerky. What imagery you choose and what sensory language you use shape your voice.
Abstract vs concrete language: Examples >>
3. Point of view
Mark Mason’s writing feels like a conversation with a reader, and J. Peterman is present in the stories told. Whether you write in the first person (I, me) or the third person (he, she, they), and how you address readers with the word you influence your writing voice.
4. The rhythm in your writing
The sentences in Apple’s copy are mostly short, and often broken. They even use one-word sentences (like: Zoom? Boom!), and use word repetition a lot (like: Shoot it. Cut it. Ship it.) This creates a recognizable rhythm and helps define their voice.
(…) you can’t find your own voice if you aren’t listening for it. The sound of your writing is an essential part of what it’s doing.
~ Ursula K. Le Guin
5. Creative writing techniques
They’re great for experimentation and having fun when writing but be careful that these techniques don’t become an obstacle to clear communication.
Tip on finding your voice:
When reading the work of your favorite authors, pay attention to their word choice, the imagery, the rhythm, and their use of creative writing techniques. Do they address you directly as a reader? Do they tell stories about themselves or only about other people?
When you learn to appreciate the writing style of others, it becomes easier to develop your own style, too.
How to find your voice
As we’ve seen there are 4 steps that will help you find your voice:
- Write as if you’re writing for your favorite reader only
- Define the message of each piece of writing and communicate your message clearly
- Pay attention to what matters to you and let your values guide you
- Emulate the style of writers you admire
While many writers feel tempted to focus on step 4, the most important steps are those above it. Step 4 is the cherry on the cake. The cherry looks good but it can’t make a stale cake taste good.
My most important advice is perhaps this …
Keep writing, my friend.
And enjoy your writing.
You can’t find your voice if you don’t use it.
When you write more, you learn what matters to you and what resonates with your audience.
So, keep showing up.
And keep being you.
Thank you to Paul Couchman, The Regent Cook, for inspiring me to write this post. This is an expanded and updated version of a post originally published on 6 January 2015.
The Enchanting Blog Writing course helps you take the first two steps in finding your voice: