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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Who, You? Five Ways to Develop your Voice (and Make you Stand out)

One of the biggest challenges of ghostwriting is the challenge of capturing your client's voice. When you ghost, what you write should sound like your client, not you. So you may be surprised to learn that I do believe in having a unique voice as a writer, regardless of the type of work you do.

But how do you develop a unique voice? How can you make your voice stronger? And what is voice, anyway? I'm frequently asked about voice, especially by newer writers who want their work to stand out from the crowd—and there's nothing wrong with that. But voice isn't something that can be forced. It develops over time, gradually announcing itself in your choice of phrase, your rhythm, your style.

Every writer has a voice. If you're still trying to identify yours, or make it more compelling, try these five techniques:

Write for a variety of markets. When you write for different markets, you must be able to analyze the magazine's voice and perspective—and duplicate it, or at least conform your work to it. Articles I've written for a magazine aimed at 20-something women sound quite different than those I write for markets aimed at an older audience, or for men, for that matter. Writing for different audiences is one of the easiest ways to play with different voices and see which feel most natural and comfortable to you.

Write for yourself. Of course, if you're always worried about pleasing your editor, your own voice may slip through the cracks. That's why I recommend personal writing, whether it's blogging, writing letters, or keeping a journal. When you write for yourself, you may find your voice begins to assert itself. Make a habit of this kind of "selfish" writing—it will improve your craft and help you develop a unique style.

Compare before and after. After a story is edited, compare your original version to the version your editor produced. How did the story change? Did it affect your voice? Are you happy with the edit? Why or why not? Even small changes to a piece can have a dramatic impact, and becoming aware of those changes (especially when introduced by another writer) can help your own writing in the future.

Read widely. Don’t limit yourself to one genre, one subject matter, or one author. I read everything from popular nonfiction to novels to The Star (hey, I've got to keep up on my celeb gossip.) The broader your base of reading, the deeper your "language well" will be, and you'll notice a difference in your writing.

Be yourself. At the same time, don't strive to be the next Hemingway or Atwood or Clancy or Morrison. Imitation may be a form of flattery, but it won't help your writing. Instead of trying to be like someone else, focus on your perspective—that's something that no else can duplicate. I don't read fiction when I'm working on a new novel because I don’t want to be influenced (even unconsciously) by another author. I want the voice in my book to be authentic. I want it to be mine.

Whether you ghostwrite or freelance for different markets, you’ve got to be able to capture the voice that your client or editing is looking for. Just don’t forget that you have your own, too—and strive to develop a strong one. It will make you more marketable, and more memorable, as a self-employed writer.