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Be Yourself When You’re Writing – Who Else Can You Be?

Be yourself when you writeIn response to If English Isn’t Your First Language – An Open Letter To Writers,  Cathy Miller commented in part, “I have worked with several individuals (who) spoke perfect English. However, when it came to writing in English, you’d never know it was the same person. I don’t know why, but it was a very common occurrence.”

The phenomena of writing being different than speaking she describes reminded me of one of the lessons I learned along the way about freelance writing, and that was how to be myself.

Sounds silly doesn’t it? I mean, who else would I be? Who else would you be?

Here’s what I mean.

Years ago I started a newspaper column called Successful Single Parenting. I managed to syndicate it to three newspapers and actually got a book out of it by the same name that you can still find if you search for it.

I was also contacted by a major newspaper syndicator to create a series of three one-shot stories based on my column. The hope was the stories would be picked up by a whole bunch of newspapers around the country, leading to a good profit for the paper, for me and maybe even  a regular column.

I Froze

I froze. Almost completely. I struggled to get words on the screen of my first computer. I wrote, then rewrote, and rewrote some more, hating every word I put down.


Looking back, I know I was trying to write what I thought the editor wanted. I thought, somehow, that it had to be different, more sophisticated perhaps, or at least more formal than my usual writing. 

Please, understand, the editor, who was a jewel, didn’t ask me to write differently. That was something I made up all on my own. I was dazzled by the possibilities and convinced that what I’d done so far wasn’t nearly good enough. I really wish I’d kept those stories, or maybe I’m glad I didn’t. I finally got them written and submitted and waited.

Concrete Charm!

The editor called me -yes, sometimes an editor will do that. I don’t remember all he said, but one part still rings in my brain. “Anne, I want your concrete charm!.”

Concrete charm? I had no idea what he was talking about and way too much in awe to ask him. I simply agreed to rewrite the articles. As I remember it I paced for about three days trying to figure out what about me and my writing was concretely charming. I re-read some of my columns, more than once. And finally I began to understand what he wanted.


He wanted me to write the one-shots the way I’d written the columns. It seems so obvious now, but I remember how startled I was. The idea that something about my writing voice caught his attention – more than that, it not only caught his attention but he liked it, was a brand new thought to me.

I began to relax. After all I did know how to do that. I wrote the one shots the way I wrote those weekly columns.

Relax and Write

The editor loved them and I learned a huge lesson – to relax and be myself when I write.

Oh sure, sometimes I need to be more formal than others. When I’m ghostwriting books I listen so I can write in the client’s voice. There are solid reasons to write one way or another, but unless I’m ghosting it’s always me. And my writing has gotten better over time – it really is hard to get worse at something we practice, and I write a lot.

Mostly I just relax and write – not exactly the way I speak, but close. I strongly suggest you quit worrying and do the same thing. I suspect you’ll be delighted with the results.

How do you approach your writing in terms of voice or style?

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Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by Tony the Misfit

{ 17 comments… add one }
  • I totally see your point. There is a thin line between providing everything the editor wants and still producing the content in your own style that charmed the editor in the first place. It is easier to be (and remain) yourself in your writing, though, if you are writing for a publication that has a similar personality to yours.
    Pinar Tarhan recently posted..What Content Mills Can and Can’t Do For YouMy Profile

    • Anne

      Yes, Pinar, which is why I’ve never even submitted to say The Economist 😉

  • Authenticity is important. Always. But, voice should also, to some degree, be dictated by the tone of the publication, the purpose, and the clients’ projects.
    Jennifer Brown Banks recently posted..5 Ways to Keep Your Blog Audience From "Channel Surfing"…My Profile

    • Anne

      Jennifer, yes, and the definitions of voice, writing authentically and such get blurred I think.

  • martin

    Good for you for finally finding the right style. By being humble and accepting comments about your work, you finally improved your writing. Your advice really inspired me to find my writing voice. I like the way you made things simple and easy to relate.
    martin recently posted..how to flirt with a girlMy Profile

  • Someone once told me I should consider ghost writing, but I didn’t understand what they meant. It’s interesting!
    Diane Carlisle recently posted..A Lesson in the 8 SensesMy Profile

    • Anne

      Ghosting is interesting.

  • I definitely have a writing voice – I’m not sure that I can describe it, but it’s there. And what you see in my online interactions is definitely me – anyone who met me offline would recognize the way I write in the way I speak, I think. Of course, I modulate what I say for different audiences, as Amelia mentions, but it’s still basically me – I’m not good at fakery. 🙂
    Sharon Hurley Hall recently posted..What’s Your Next Move As A Freelance Writer?My Profile

    • Anne

      lol, Sharon, I’m not good at fakery either –

  • Thanks for this Anne!
    I’d much rather write in the voice I’m accustomed to, rather than trying to become someone’s voice I’m not. Makes sense?

    Clara.
    Clara recently posted..“Let’s Give ‘em Something to Talk About”My Profile

  • Thanks for the shout-out, Anne. Since you linked to my Simply stated business site, I signed in under my personal blog because I would say the two blogs exemplify my style. 🙂

    There are two elements I would describe as -Simple and humor. Obviously, there are times I have to knock that humor devil off my shoulder when it is not appropriate for her to be hanging around.

    But, simple can always hang out – even in my health care niche. No, ESPECIALLY in my health care niche.

    Isn’t it funny how often we try to change to what we think someone wants when it was really us they wanted all along? And if that doesn’t sound like a Dear Abby column, I don’t know what does. 😀
    Cathy Miller recently posted..Does Comment Policy Toss Out Real Fans?My Profile

    • Anne

      Cathy, you almost always make me think!

  • When I write informational pieces, I want to stuff in as many information as I can – and then I start using long sentences and then I tend to sound geeky, so I go back and edit a lot. Lighten up the prose. Split up sentences. Rewrite sometimes, according to the target audience or customer – as strange as it might sound, I find it easier this way.

    When I was younger, I thought my writing should be somewhat ‘flowery’, literary-like. Of course, it was fake and it sounded fake. No good. Now, I don’t think a lot about style. I think about what needs to be said and about structure, coherence and clarity. The rest seems almost to take care of itself. Then I edit and cut the fluff, and then… it’s done.

    Of course, when I write in my own language, I am much more comfortable. I like incorporating wordplays and latent meanings and images — one must have a very strong command of a language and a sound knowledge of a culture to do this.

    • Anne

      Helennee, this is more or less my story too.

  • This article is so helpful to me! I write ghost articles for a business and I write a blog, so the two obviously sound very different. I want to write a book and have been stuck, not knowing if my comfortable “blog voice” is appropriate, but it is the real me.
    Thank you.
    Susie Klein recently posted..HonestlyMy Profile

    • Anne

      Susie, glad it’s helpful. I find I sort of automatically have a different voice with each subject – all me.

  • When doing work for clients I have to tailor it quite a bit to what they want. Some actually WANT a stuffy sound. I sound like myself in my blog. But one of my favorite places to write are my articles for the gaming column at a comics site. This is my place to just have fun and I write like I was speaking to a friend who doesn’t care if I even swear a little bit now in then.

    I think it’s along the same lines as I don’t speak to my kids the same way I speak to my mother and I don’t speak to my friends the same way I speak (spoke!) to my boss.
    Amelia Ramstead recently posted..The "Go with the Flow" PhenomenonMy Profile

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