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Supercharge Your Content With Voice

The following post on finding your blogging voice was submitted by Lance from Honey and Lance.

We all know that content is king, and we’re also aware (sometimes painfully) that the vast majority of bloggers come from non-writing backgrounds. This means we come across a lot of bad writing. Grammar, structure, even spelling is the pits. Ever surf into a blog where you thought, “Gee, great idea, too bad I can’t read this.” Then click away? Me too.

I’m not hating on bloggers…I love bloggers, and any medium that gets regular people writing and giving value is a great thing, even if the writing isn’t so hot. The good news is, just by reading a resource or two and by pumping out content, it’s pretty easy to improve the technical aspects of your writing. Grammar and structure isn’t that hard, we have spell checkers to correct our misspellings, and thesaurus.com to improve our vocabulary.

So what’s the best way to supercharge your writing and really take your content to the next level? The answer is developing a unique VOICE. Joel Falconer wrote a great post on voice here, and I want to expand on his ideas.

Voice is the distinct sound/feeling your words create in a reader’s mind. Voice is what makes your writing unique. Voice can be changed, massaged, enhanced, and even manufactured. One of my favorite blogs is fakesteve.blogspot.com. Ever heard of it? Dan Lyons blogs as a caricature of Apple CEO Steve Jobs. The voice comes across as acerbic, neurotic, arrogant, narcissistic, dripping with irony, and just plain hilarious.

Fake Steve is unique, and more importantly, his voice makes reading Apple news compelling and fun. In fact, it’s more than compelling. It’s addictive. Several hundred thousand fans visit each month, and Fake Steve’s voice is what brings them in.

So how do you find your voice and have it permeate your blog? Here is my 6 step method. These are pretty simple, but a few of them require a fair amount of work. Nothing new for a problogger.

voice.jpg
image by platinum

1. Find 10 Blogs that have an interesting, unique voice.

If you’re already a hardcore blogger, you probably have 10 blogs lined up. If not, start looking at blogrolls and find them. Fakesteve is a fine starting point. Problogger.net is written with a certain voice. Can you name the qualities? After that, go immediately to bloggies.com and check out any of the award nominees. Pay special attention to the Most Humorous and Best Writing categories. Read those blogs and soak in what makes them unique. You’ll find that ALL of the top authors have a distinct voice.

2. Brainstorm the qualities you want.

Get a piece of paper or fire up Word and just punch out qualities of your potential voice. Don’t know what that voice is? Identify it, stat. If you’ve got a blog about technology, you might shoot for: brainy, geeky, clear, authoritative, dry. If you’re writing about Premiership soccer, you might try: flippant, cheeky, cynical, zealous. Sometimes when I’m writing fiction, I like to give certain characters counter-intuitive voices, ie assign them qualities you wouldn’t expect. Try writing your tech blog in the cheeky, cynical, zealous soccer voice. Now you’re creating a unique and fun reader experience.

3. Experiment with your voice.

Once you have a couple of ideas, try writing a single post in those voices. The content will be the exact same, but the reader experience will be different. When experimenting, go over the top, and see what your stuff sounds like when you get really crazy. Try writing a post about soccer in a Hunter S. Thompson voice. Go nuts.

Once you do that, you’ve got a range to operate in, and you’ll have a handle on where you can take it. I would even write 3-4 posts to get a feel as you move across different subjects, post structures, and word counts. On one of my blogs, I wrote 10 posts before settling on a voice, and then I went back and revised every post to make sure the voice was consistent.

4. Decide what voice is best for your Blog.

After you’ve experimented, you should have a pretty solid idea of what’s going to work for your content and what you’re comfortable with. The key here is sustainability. Whatever voice you settle on, you better be able to write in that voice every single day…forever! Make sure it’s something you enjoy and feels natural. If you can’t do Fear and Loathing without struggling, that might not be the right voice for you.

5. Become a character, and get into that character’s head.

On my dating advice blog, I write as Lance. Lance isn’t the real name of the author, it’s a pseudonym. When I write as Lance I actually imagine a fictional character, a guy with his own unique personality. That let’s me assume his voice when I sit down to blog and the words flow from there. I’ll not only imagine what he sounds like, but I’ll imagine what he looks like, what he’s wearing, his haircut, even his mannerisms. That way, I have reference points to use, and I can answer the question, “how would Lance respond to this?”

Not only does this have functional value, but it’s a lot of fun get in character and write. Lance is a slice of my id, and it’s a cool release.

6. Read real books.

Are you reading books in your spare time? Real books? If you’re not, and you’re serious about being a professional blogger, get to Borders and pick some up. There’s an overwhelming amount of information on the Internet, but good literature is scarce. Reading feeds your head and informs your blogging. Reading will open you up to what’s out there and what’s possible with voice. I recommend starting with some classics. Try Hemingway. Try Delillo. Try Toni Morrison. Try Grace Carol Oates. Try Cormac McCarthy. All of these authors have will take you to school on voice.

If you’re looking for shorter, more digestible pieces, I highly recommend anything in the Best American Series:

  • Best American Sport Writing
  • Best American Fiction
  • Best American Non-Fiction
  • Best American Essays

Any of these will introduce you to a ton of fresh voices and give you ideas for expanding your writing. After I go to the bookstore, I always feel jacked and ready to pump out killer content.

So there you go, 6 steps to create your own voice and take your blog content to the next level. By the way, what’s the #1 most subscribed blog on the planet? That’s right, it’s Engadget. A tech blog with a unique, witty voice that is fun to read.

Read more of Lance’s work at Honey and Lance

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Sean Hodge says:

    This is a difficult subject to give advice on. You’ve certainly pointed out some good techniques. I’ve found that writing style will just happen if you write a lot. Keep in mind your goals and audience. Be comfortable with yourself and you’ll find your voice.

  2. I really like this post. A good book to go with it is Spunk & Bite by Arthur Plotnik.

  3. Open English says:

    Really great advice on finding your own voice. Like Sean said, it is very difficult to give advice on how to find your own unique style but I really liked it. Especially the part about reading REAL books. So thanks.

  4. I have to agree. A voice is the only thing that’s going to persuade a reader that your site is better than another when both can deliver the same content.

    I’ve tried on my blog to keep a lighthearted and humorous tone to keep the reader engaged and entertained.

    Typically I think your blog can portray a character and not just an overall voice. If you just pump out article after article about technical topics your going to come accross as very serious and blunt. For example if you were to post some funny pictures every once in a while it would alleviate the “serious” atmosphere surrounding your blog and give you more of a humorous character.

  5. Jacqueline says:

    I concur with the other commenters, this is great advice – especially the part about reading actual books. After all, the best writers tend to read voraciously and learn from others, and while there are some great bloggers out there, there are just as many (if not more) great books.

  6. Read real books….. umm what’s a book?

    Just kidding.

    Might be handy to have a friend or two help you get a good voice going, since you may not be able to tell your own voice if you read your own work. Sometimes things sound completely different to someone else than they sound to you.

  7. jhay says:

    I find reading books does really help my find my or regain my voice. It’s not enough to read just blogs, it’s a good tip to read other sources and materials for added insight.

  8. I can see where this will increase the readability and entertainment value, however, I think you want to make sure there is a lot of the “real you” in your found voice.

    If not it will be very hard for you to sustain that voice and you run the risk of coming off like a fake.

    So perhaps you just amplify a certain aspect of your natural behaviors?

  9. Thanks for an insightful post, Lance. I’ll be sure and check out FakeSteve and Bloggies as you suggest. I have to agree that finding your voice is probably mainly a function of writing. As you write you become more comfortable with it and with the way you present yourself to your audience. Probably most people, unless they’ve already been writing a lot for other purposes, come across a little stiff. A little exercise on the keypad loosens you up and more of your personality and passion begins to shine through. People get a better picture of who you are. Thank again, and all the best!

  10. Julie Power says:

    love your point about books. Sometimes we get so obsessed about what people are twittering about, digging, im-ing, emailing, etc., that it is hard to turn the computer off for a while and sit down to read and reflect. The blog is a beast that needs to be fed, needs constant attention and always craves more … more time, more posts, more energy. Just like kids. And just like parenting, there are times when it is best to shut the door, turn off the lights and say goodnight. And sit down away from the chatter with a good book and hopefully a good glass of Australian red, she sighed in a homesick way… writing from Bethesda Md in the United States.

  11. Lance says:

    Word! Thanks for the props. If anyone is interested in Hunter Thompson stuff, I recommend his awesome essay on the Kentucky Derby:
    http://www.derbypost.com/hunter.html

    Gonzo journalism, excellent piece, unique voice. My attitude is take your voice to the max.

  12. I’m a little bit hesitant about voice. One of the things that I like about the internet is that it gives me an oppurtunity to find information by reading. I’m burnt out on radio and tv.

    Too much noise.

    Now they want to add more noice to the internet. It will soon become background noise when everyone starts posting that way.

    I vote for reading.

    The Masked Millionaire

  13. Mike says:

    Read real books – great advice.

  14. My gosh trying to blog in any voice other than my own is something I don’t think I could ever do, or would ever want to do! Of course my blog is a personal blog which is branded with my own name so it would be kind of silly to try and blog in a different voice for that blog :)

  15. S’funny – I saw this pop up in my google reader and I thought…

    “WOW! Cool! Some others are blogging directly with their voice…”

    See here: http://whatleydude.vox.com/library/post/speaking-freely.html

    But nope. However, LOVED the article. I know what you mean about finding your voice. I’m not hear to preach the gospel about SpinVox, I read this blog quite often for great tips for blogging etc…

    Just thought I’d mention it is all..

    :)

  16. Charles says:

    Great post.

    I read a lot of copywriters works and am truly amazed how interesting they can make their works no matter if they are writing a how-to book or about some other subject.

    The greatest ones can make almost any subject interesting reading.

    Being able to change their voice according to the present audience and need must be their greatest asset.

    Writing effectively and making any voice changes has been difficult for me as you can see.

    This post has been very interesting.

  17. Tom Beaton says:

    You need to give these things time. Assuming you read and write regularly, these thing develop very well naturally. On top of that, if you spend a little time every now and then thinking about it you will probably make huge progress.

  18. Phonecto says:

    But if you’re writing on a tech blog, it’s the voice so important?
    I think that more important it’s the content, the news you are presenting.

  19. Great insight. I do imagine that even on a tech blog, a voice is still important. There are so many other tech blogs out there… it’s important to differentiate yours by adding personality and voice.

  20. mike says:

    I always spell check my blogs and try to write perfect english at all times. It is important in keeping readers coming back.

  21. Cara says:

    Jumping in with the “me, too” to say thanks for a great post. It can sometimes be helpful (especially if you’re trying to find your voice or even just figure out where to start writing) to pick one person that you know and write your blog as if you were writing them a letter.

  22. A lot of bloggers (and non-bloggers, too) would do well to heed Lance’s voice. The most frustrating thing I face as a copywriter for a marketing firm that serves small businesses is the reluctance of clients to explore their voice.

    Review some of the most popular newspaper columnists, TV personality, radio talk show hosts, and authors, and you’ll realize every one of them has a distinctive voice. Dave Barry has always been a favorite of mine, and his voice is unmistakable.

    The other thing these people have in common is that they have built an audience. When you speak/write in your own authentic voice, you’ll find people who enjoy your tone. And if enough people enjoy your style, you build a massive audience. No matter what field you’re in, the more people tuning in to you, the more money you’ll make.

    Call me a convert…I’ll be checking out HoneyAndLance.com sometime soon.

  23. Matt says:

    This was interesting because I blog in character (despotic former First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos), this and my content give me the edge over all the other footwear blogs. I’ve found I can connect with an older reader who appreciates the satire but younger readers just don’t get it. What to do?

  24. Lance says:

    @Matt: Dude. I checked out your blog. Great content, but I have two immediate suggestions: 1) Add an about page that’s obvious right on the first screen load. Describe what it is exactly you have going on here, ie the relationship of Imelda and shoes; 2) Try blogging entirely in the first person and give the audience the voice of Imelda. Go over the top with it. I read your last three posts and it’s obvious the author is a guy. If your blog didn’t have a banner graphic that said Imelda, I wouldn’t have a clue what was going on. Give me a female’s perspective and be a despot!

    The writing is intelligent and interesting, but could use some tightening up. I had trouble staying inside each post.

    Obviously, you read Manolo’s Show Blog, which does voice perfectly. Look there for pointers on concision and voice.

  25. I have to say that this is a worthless post on many points.

    First af all, God made us all unique, so we all have a distinctive voice already. Secondly, I really did not care for the advice on creating “fake” voice. And thirdly, emulating “Big Shots ” of blogosphere is definetly will not help in developing my style. Thanks though for reminder to read real books. No offense, just wanted to share my opinion.

  26. Mr Nice Guy says:

    Great post for bloggers Lance. I truly believe that content is king. There’s no substitute for having many followers because they like the way you write contents.

  27. Lance says:

    @Sibirskiy: None taken. How are those abs coming? Still burning off the tire? Just kidding. I had to bust on you for busting on my post. Everyone is born with a unique voice, but as bloggers we rarely project that voice in our content because we’re not experienced enough in writing. My advice was to work on finding your voice by becoming a better writer. Interestingly, your blog has some nice voice stuff going on, so you must be a natural. Cheers!

  28. Thank you for such a unique encouragement on both of my pursuits: six pack and blogging.

    Well, then may God help you teaching others to get over their fear of speaking (writing) in their own voice. Bless you…