Writers all experience the same frustrations.
You’ve buckled down to write your content. You’re proud of your ideas.
But when you read your draft … it kind of sucks. A spark is missing. The content sounds blah. It doesn’t sound like you at all.
Makes you want to cry?
Cultivating an engaging voice may feel like an arduous, perhaps even painful journey.
But when you nurture a sense of play, that excruciating journey turns into a fun adventure.
While experimenting with words, you’ll find your voice. And when you’ve found your voice, your content stands out in a drab sea of grey words. Fierce. And proud.
Want to know how to have fun with words and find your voice?
Why word choice feels tricky
Most of us tend to choose safe words—the words popping in our mind first. These are the words everyone is using.
Everyday language is a good idea, because readers can quickly grasp your ideas. But when you use only everyday language, your content doesn’t stand out. You sound like everyone else. Your content lacks sparkle.
Writing is different from talking. When we speak we use hand gestures and facial expressions to add emotion and meaning to our words. But when we write, we can’t wink, we can’t smile, we can’t slam the table, and we can’t put our hands up in the air.
So, our written words have to work harder. Our words have to whisper or shout. Our words have to attract attention and engage. Our words have to express emotion.
This is why you need to infuse your writing with more emotional words, with colorful language, with a sensory touch. You need to push yourself gently outside your comfort zone and play with different words.
Examples of word choice
Have you ever studied how others choose their words?
And have you noticed how their words give you an impression of their personality?
Below follow snippets from a sales page for a fitness book of DragonDoor. What type of personality comes across?
- How to construct a barn door back—and walk with loaded guns
- How to take a trip to hell—and steal a Satanic six-pack
- How to guarantee steel rod fingers
- Time to deliver the final bullet to those aching muscles: the Crucifix pull—brilliant and very painful!
The DragonDoor copy uses strong sensory and emotional words like “loaded guns,” “bullet,” “trip to hell,” “Satanic,” and “steel rod.”
Now, let’s compare this to a sales page for a yoga teaching class of Balance Yoga and Wellness. Try to imagine the type of teacher who’s written this:
- Heart-centered yoga: Learn the foundations of Anusara yoga, including the loops and spirals, universal principles and more.
- Balance your body and mind: Learn and apply ayurvedic principles to your diet and lifestyle so you get healthier and happier. Improve your sleep and digestion so your energy invigorates your students and others around you.
- Spark your creativity: Make your own mala bracelets, eye pillows, clay models, and yantras. Tapping into your creative center will help to infuse a sense of playfulness into your teaching.
This copy uses softer and more positive words like “invigorate,” “heart-centered,” “spark,” “balance,” “healthier,” “happier,” and “tap into.”
Choosing your words isn’t just about being precise and concise. The words you choose also give an impression of your personality; they define your voice.
How do you want to come across? How do you want to interact with your audience?
How word choice shapes your voice
Below follow four questions to consider when considering how words shape your voice.
1. Do you use jargon or everyday language?
Whether you want to use jargon or not mainly depends on the experience of your readers. Do they understand your technical terms?
DragonDoor uses some technical language like “pecs,” “hanging straight leg raises,” “stand-to-stand bridges,” and “progressive calisthenics.” For instance:
Balance Yoga and Wellness also assumes you know basic yoga terms:
When considering your word choice, consider your audience. Which words would they use? Do they understand technical language and jargon? Also, consider whether your audience would appreciate slang or not.
2. Do you appeal to negative or positive emotions?
Positive or negative word choice has a big impact on how readers perceive your voice and your personality.
DragonDoor, for instance, addresses readers’ fears of doing things wrong or acting like a “baby-weight pumper” or “wannabee.” They might make you feel insecure:
- Do you make this stupid mistake with your push ups? This is wrong, wrong, wrong!
- This little fella will really separate the iron men from the baby-weight pumpers!
- These Gecko pushups truly separate the wannabees from the real thing
- Obey these important caveats before you start bridging—or risk injury
- The dumb, fickle, want-it-yesterday way to fail in your long term Convict Conditioning training
Balance Yoga and Wellness uses a positive tone of encouragement instead:
Do you want to agitate and stir up fear? Or comfort, encourage, and soothe? How positive do you want to sound?
3. Do you use strong or subtle sensory words?
DragonDoor uses strong language, borrowing terminology from prisons and war:
- One crucial reason why a lot of convicts deliberately avoid weight-training
- Bar pulls—an old convict favorite for good reason
- How to effectively bulletproof the vulnerable rotator cuff muscles
- Transform skinny legs into pillars of power, complete with steel cord quads, rock-hard glutes and thick, shapely calves
The copy of Balance Yoga and Wellness strikes a warmer tone:
Are you astonished how much your life has improved since you stepped into your first yoga class?
You gained strength, flexibility and fitness. You tapped into a deep calmness, and experienced a new sense of peace and inner beauty.
Now, what’s next?
(…) Our Teacher Training helps you nourish a deeper understanding of yoga, delve into human anatomy, and gain the confidence to share the magic of yoga with your friends and family and community.
How do you spice up your content? With fight analogies? Or cooking metaphors? With hints of seduction? Or warmongering?
4. How much curiosity do you arouse?
DragonDoor arouses curiosity with phrases like “little-known ways,” “a dormant superpower,” and a “jealously-guarded system:”
- The dormant superpower for muscle growth waiting to be released if you only do this
- Try this little-known way to make stand-to-stand bridges harder and increasingly more explosive without adding any external resistance
- A jealously-guarded system for going from puny to powerful—when your life may depend on the speed of your results
The copy of Balance Yoga and Wellness is more straightforward about what you’ll learn and why:
- Sequence a yoga class: Use creativity and knowledge of yoga postures to develop a balanced yoga class.
- Use language effectively: Learn effective verbal cues for leading a yoga class.
- Breakdown key yoga postures: Talk students into and out of yoga postures, what the fundamental alignment cues are for each postures.
- Teach safely: Appreciate how our anatomy impacts different types of yoga postures, and learn how to modify yoga postures to avoid injury.
Curiosity-arousing phrases change the tone of your writing. Moreover, curiosity can nudge readers to take action—to satisfy their curiosity.
But it’s a fine balance as too much curiosity arousal can make your content flimsy, pushy, and hypey. In contrast, pairing benefits with features makes your content more substantial, straightforward, and honest.
A word choice exercise: Get out of a writing funk
Ready to explore your voice?
And play with different words?
Try the exercise below and experiment with your word choice. Try to impersonate different personalities. Also, pay attention to how your voice changes when you borrow phrases from, for instance, cooking, fighting, dating, or sports.
Word choice exercise
Complete the following sentence:
I’m a … and I’m on a mission to …
The standard, drab version:
Another strong-armed copywriter:
The sparkling personality:
The sensory cook:
The quiet rebel:
Have fun with as many options as you like. Leave the options percolating overnight, and choose a favorite the next day. Consider adding your mission statement to your social media bios and About page.
Playing with words is like trying new clothes
Pick up a different style, try it on, and see how it looks in the mirror.
Does that jacket make you feel confident? Does that fuchsia scarf make you feel more creative? Wanna try a bolder style? Or a different color?
Playing with words puts the fun back into writing.
It enlivens our copy. And invigorates our soul.
PS Thank you to Darren DeMatas of Selfstartr for inspiring this post.