Thursday, June 17, 2010

Finding Your Voice - From Copyblogger

Copyblogger is a great resource for learning how to create great content for your blog. Here's an article from Middle School English teacher, Joy Tanksley on finding an authentic voice. She also has blog. Check it out: Being Joy.


Voice is one of the most important elements of a successful blog. Period.

Without voice, new arrivals to your blog won’t read beyond the first paragraph.

Give your readers a strong voice, though, and they won’t be able to keep their hot little fingers off that RSS button.

But what is voice, exactly? And how can you make it come through in your blog?

You probably think of people you know as having a deep voice, or a squeaky voice, or a soft voice. Obviously no one can literally hear you on your blog, but they can “hear” you through the words you use and the way you use them.

Chances are, your 8th grade English teachers didn’t teach you about voice. I don’t blame them. It’s messy, abstract, and darned difficult, and I should know. I’ve taught nearly 800 young teenagers the magic of voice over the past nine years.

And now I’m going to teach you.

1. Get into the flow

Each day, my students do a three-minute writing warm-up. The only goal is fluency — to produce as much writing as they can in three minutes.

Some of the best writing they ever produce comes from these three-minute bursts. By removing the pressure of quality and focusing purely on quantity, the students are free to flow. What comes out is natural, quirky, and authentic. What comes out has voice.

Try it: Set a timer and go. Don’t let the pencil come off the paper (or your fingers come off the keyboard). Just produce. Don’t edit. Don’t censor. Simply flow.

2. Write like you talk

I encourage my students to read their writing aloud and ask themselves or a peer, “Does this sound like me?” If the answer is no, I challenge them to simply talk about the subject in their compositions for a moment, while I jot down some of the words and phrases they use in their ramblings. When they insert some of these snippets into their writing — BAM — voice happens.

Try it: Record yourself talking through an idea for a blog post — then transcribe what you’ve written. You’ll find some super-rich voice nuggets.

3. Forget conventions (at least at first)

Many of my students have been taught by previous teachers to stifle their voices by writing “standard” English. (Whatever that means.)

Yes, writing must communicate a message, and to that end the conventions of standard English are important. But in many instances, those rules actually hinder our ability to create a realistic voice.

I frequently remind my students that the rules of our language evolved over time with the specific purpose of creating clarity. If breaking a rule will enhance the clarity of their writing, then they should break it — and so should you.

That may mean you choose a fragment over a complete sentence, end a sentence with a preposition, or add a comma when the rule book says it isn’t needed. These deliberate choices allow your voice to shine through.

Try it: The next time you write a first draft, throw a few conventions out the window. Pretend they don’t exist. When you reread your draft, make your editing decisions based on what best communicates your message.

4. Write what you know

This is a biggie. For years, I have asked my students to write an essay about who they would put on the face of a new coin.

The best papers, almost always, are written about their moms. Isn’t that sweet?

Other students write about Martin Luther King, Jr. or Michael Jordan, or Anne Frank. Sometimes those essays are great, but many times they just sound like a regurgitation of historical facts.

(Even worse, sometimes those facts are wrong: “Dr. King helped free the slaves by refusing to get off the bus with his sister, Rosa.”)

Bloggers fall into the same trap of picking topics that sound smart or seem popular, even if those topics aren’t really near and dear to their hearts. The result: no voice.

Try it: Make this quote from Dolly Parton your new blogging mantra: “Figure who you are; then do it on purpose.” Strive for authenticity instead of popularity. Don’t try to sound like anyone or anything except who you already are. It sure works for Dolly.

What tricks do you have for finding your voice? Share your best methods in the comments. I promise not to assign grades!

About the Author: Joy Tanksley is a middle school English teacher, the wife of a philosopher, and a leader of workshops for women who want to smash limiting belief systems and lead more abundant lives. She blogs about living a joy-filled life at Being Joy.

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