“How do I find my freelance writing voice?” I get this question often.
Let me tell you how I really found mine.
Years ago I created a newspaper column called, I think, Successful Single Parenting. I sold it to three newspapers, giving me the beginning of what I hoped would become a massive syndicate paying me millions.
It was a Q & A patterned after either Dear Abby or Ann Landers, or maybe both. Each week I’d make up two or three questions, answer them, send them off to the three newspapers. Occasionally I’d get a question from a reader. I think I made something around $30 a month, maybe a tad less.
To my surprise I got a call from what was then one of the largest newspaper syndicates in the country. The call was from a seasoned editor there – yes, it can happen that they call you. He had been reading my columns and maybe even gotten ahold of the book I’d written which was published by a small publisher in the midwest.
He asked me to write a ‘one shot’ on single parenting. In the syndication world that meant then, and maybe still does, an article that the syndicate offers to publishers. If it sells well they may bring the writer on board as a columnist.
The real magic
I struggled over that article for a couple of weeks, reading every article put out by the syndicate I could find. I wish I had a copy of it still. I waited to hear with nail biting tension.
“Anne,” he said and I could hear disappointment in his voice, making my gut clench. “This isn’t what I want. I want your concrete charm!
I had no idea what he meant, but I did recognize I was being given a second chance. I paced around my studio apartment for maybe three days trying to understand what he might have meant by ‘concrete charm.’
Finally I picked up a short handful of my columns and began to read. After all, it was those that had impressed him. Maybe, I reasoned, they would tell me what I needed to know. I searched for clues. I probably took several extra long hot baths because back then I was sure they helped my creativity. Today it’s hot showers – same idea.
It gradually dawned on me that while what I had sent him had good information, the tone or voice was stilted, nervous and awkward. It was nothing like my columns. I had let the size and the prestige of the organization buffalo me into thinking my writing for them should be, well pretentious.
What he wanted was for me to write the one off in the same way I’d written the columns. I wasn’t to try and write in the imagined voice of the syndicate, but in my own way of getting words down on paper.
That was the real magic because it was then I learned both what my writing voice was and begin to trust it.
What about your freelance writing voice?
You know that place where the writing is easy? The kind of writing you could do almost all day with minimum effort?
That’s your writing voice! It’s natural to you. You don’t have to work hard at it. You can, instead, focus on what you want to say, on the information you want to convey, on the story you want to tell.
Which isn’t to say you can skimp on the rewriting and editing – not at all. Your freelance writing voice isn’t top-of-the-head or careless writing. It requires all the care, love, and attention you can bring to it. That said, trust that voice, use it, hone it – it is a true expression of who you are. Your writing will be better for it.
I’ve also written: The Real Truth About The Writer’s Voice. It’s a bit different and you may find it helpful too.
Write well and often,
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