Writing does not come naturally, nor is everybody comfortable sitting down to write their guts out. For me, as an avid bookworm, whilst growing up, it is like second nature to me. For the most part it is fairly easy to express myself, even with topics I am still learning about, because I have the confidence to write as I speak. In adulthood, I have spent a good number of years as a community leader and an activist, which has helped me hone my ability to speak succinctly and clearly; it is only the odd bout of ADHD, that makes me stray off the point and rattle on beyond others’ attention spans.
When I was suddenly approached for help with writing, what was amazing that these were intelligent and gifted people, one of whom was a retired English teacher! As I had lost all my original material on the subject, with the hacking of my blog, I had to go back to basics once more to work out what people needed to do, to set their keypads rattling into action.
So what do you need to do when you are trying to find your writing voice? First of all get in your comfort zone if writing is not that place. Begin with writing down your thoughts as if you were talking to family or a trusted friend, who has no idea what you are talking about. This does two things: it removes any voices in your head saying that you are ‘doing it wrong’, or that what you have to say is not good enough. You then will feel relaxed enough to be yourself and speak your mind and take the time necessary to fully explain what you mean.
Next read aloud what you have written. Take your time doing this; it is the most important part of any writing exercise. The reason why is that you hear where you have either chosen words that do not make sense, where words are missing or even whole parts of your argument have been skipped, meaning you are jumping ahead and will not take your listener with you in your line of thinking.
If you have somebody you trust to read out aloud to, even better, because they will ask you WHY you say so-and-so means ‘such and such’. The thing is not to be offended or overly sensitive to questions, but to view their feedback as a gift which will improve your work. The chances are if they have spotted a hole in your argument, so will somebody else.
The other benefit of reading aloud, is that it helps show where you need to take natural breaths when talking; this is why you need to take your time. If you have long-sentences, with no grammar, or missing grammar, being short of breath is a sure sign, this needs to be considered.
BITE SIZED CHUNKS
This is another benefit of reading aloud. When you need to take breaths and write in your grammar and punctuation, you will be breaking down longer threads of argument or lines of thinking into steps which take you to your ultimate goal. If somebody is hearing what you have to say for the first time, it helps them digest what you are feeding them.
There are lots of tricks and tips and hints to creating ‘digestible’ writing, which I will write about elsewhere. Meantime, if grammar is not your strong point, take a look here and sign up for Jane Strauss’s enewsletter offering help on grammar and punctuation. This website has some great information on the difference between : and ; – nope it isn’t to do with smiley faces whatsoever, albeit they do help you express yourself better!
This brings me to my own personal area of challenge… I have ADHD and am arrogant about my writing abilities sometimes; it is a dangerous combination as a professional copywriter, because it means that no sooner have I written something, I am bored already and itching to move to the next subject or task. This means that I occasionally do not proof-read before I submit drafts to clients.
It doesn’t matter how brilliant your writing, if there is a mistake, be sure someone will zoom in on that. I have a client who is perfectionist about what he does and aside from that, measurement in millimetres is what he does everyday for a living as a designer. I swear, I produced an otherwise perfect piece of work for his website one day, only for him to ask me to remove a space between two sentences, as he had spotted that the gap was just a few pixels bigger than it should have been i.e. ONE character space!
I have no doubt that even as I therefore, advise you all to proof-read, I am also reminding myself to always do the same too. There is no substitute for going over a piece of written work more than once, to iron out the wrinkles. The first proof-read will generally pick up the glaring mistakes and gaps, the second, will be just ‘dotting the ‘i‘s and crossing the ‘t‘s’.
(If somebody can tell me the exact grammatical writing of that last statement, I will be much obliged, as on this rare occasion, I too am having an apostrophe crisis of confidence).
This brings me nicely to the final element of finding your voice in your writing efforts. The more you write, the more confident you become; the more confident, the easier to write it becomes. You will find yourself ‘writing as you speak’, which is ultimately your goal. Whilst your written words may be you at your most polished, it will still be your voice in the words and arguments. You are merely learning to write in such a way as to make yourself understood to the widest audience of readers, or listeners, if you intend ultimately to deliver any kind of speech.
Practice does make perfect and also helps you pick up speed. It is natural for anybody to begin any new ‘art’ haltingly, but as you learn the basic requirements to string your words together coherently, you will remember how you bridged gaps before, making the journey second time round much simpler.
If you intend to earn from your craft, then at some point, every professional requires help and support. There are many experts online, but you want to really go with the best and get the best bang for your book with any online creative writing courses .
Joining a local creative writing group will also help you hone your skills. These groups are established as supportive forum for you to share what you write and get positive criticism of your work, to help you get the most out of it. Do a search online and see what is happening locally with fellow writers. They will help you raise the bar and up your earning capacity as a result of writing a higher quality of material.
If you are stalling, the best thing you can do is make yourself accountable. My favourite trick here is to have that chat with a friend who is driving you nuts because they are not doing something to help themselves. Phone them up and make a deal with them. Agree that if they finally do that thing they are avoiding, you will stop putting off sitting down and writing what you have been intending to write for too long already.
JUST DO IT!
Wherever you are at in your writing career, be you a first timer, or a regular hack, the two biggest obstacles to getting anything down on paper, or onto a computer are fear of failure and fear of success. Both of these things will make you procrastinate, until another day passes and you still have not got going. So it is only yourself you have to conquer… so stop tidying your office, making another cup of coffee, calling a friend who needs you, or tinkering with the car… and just DO IT.
Too many people spend too much time getting ready to get ready or thinking they have to get it perfect… This is a process, but ultimately, it requires you to set the time aside and value the work enough to get stuck in… So, now you know some of the main stumbling blocks to finding your voice online or anywhere else, you are better equipped to get on with the job.
If you are writing a book, allocate the time and remove the obstacles in your head… if you do not use your voice, you may ‘lose it’. Those flashes of inspiration could be lost forever.
Finally, for those of you who are freaking out the most at finally doing the deed and speaking your mind, know this: writing is like any other job… When you have finished, you will wonder why you did not do the job sooner. During the process, you may even find yourself feeling better and even enjoy the task. In all liklihood the whole reason this has been built up as such a huge mountain to climb in your mind is because the task is important enough for you to consider doing something that you might not ordinarily do, i.e. write! The sheer fact you are finally getting it done will be an immense relief of pressure and once you are in your flow, you will even find yourself enjoying the process, no matter how tough the subject matter.
When you are finally done, remember to reward yourself, even if it is only patting yourself on the back. If you are likely to be rewarded financially for finding your voice, then why not treat yourself accordingly..?