Having a reader recognize your writing is a high that’s tough to top. (Okay, getting paid to write is pretty nifty, too) They spot your words and KNOW they’re yours. You stand out. That’s a compliment, especially if you work as a freelancer in a sea of similar-sounding copy and content where you don’t always have the opportunity for a byline. How are you going to cultivate a following? Sure, you can spend endless hours on social media doing self-promotion. Or you can find your writing self and develop a voice that’s easy for people to recognize. (You tell me which you think is easier)
The You You’re Meant to Be
As a freelancer, you don’t always have free rein to write in the style or tone you want. Companies may have templates, guides, or even vocabularies they require you to follow. And that may make you feel like your voice will end up silenced. They’re not stifling creativity, merely establishing consistency in their copy. And just because you can’t use made-up words or sprinkle exclamation points through your dialogue doesn’t mean you have to abandon YOU in a document.
I love nothing more than playing with pop culture references and puns. But I’ve accepted assignments where clients weren’t keen on that kind of thing. I needed a formal tone. Yet reading the pieces, you still find turns of phrase, word choices, and punctuation that define who I am as a writer. I’m still present.
(And I managed to sneak one pop culture line in under a client’s nose – to my delight)
Having a set of rules doesn’t mean you have to violate who you are. All it means is looking at things in a new way. If your sense of self is strong enough, it will come through whether you’re writing about a passion project, discussing washing machines, or penning a new tagline for a promotion.
And it’ll strike a chord with your readers.
Finding Your Sense of Self
Who are you?
Not your biographical details, though that’s probably part of the answers. I’m talking about the ins and outs of your writing personality:
- What motivates you to write?
- Are there turns of phrase that pop up in your everyday conversations?
- Do you like the taste of certain words?
- Which punctuation marks are you guilty of overusing? (Hands up if you belong to Semicolon Anonymous or Em Dash Anonymous like me)
- Are you interested in sentence variety? Or does Grammarly yell at you for monotonous phrasing?
These questions shape who you are as a writer and set you apart from everyone else in the pool. They define your voice, yes, but they go a bit deeper. The details appear in everything you pick up, from blogs to articles to captions. Jumble a few sentences from everything you’ve ever written together in a mix with a random assortment from other people, and readers can identify YOUR work.
Pull samples from everything you’ve worked on and spread them across your desk. Highlight everything that stands out as consistent.
You’ll start to see your writing self develop from the beginning of your writing career to where you are now. It’s probably gained refinement as you’ve grown and learned. But there are common threads that have stayed.
And they stand out from everyone else.
Sitting With My Self
Sometimes, it feels like you have to lose a part of that self to complete an assignment. A client hands you their regulations, and it crosses out everything you love about your writing. (Or it feels that way) You look at a case study or white paper and feel you’re back in college confronting a research paper. (This is in no way meant to condemn people who enjoy that sort of writing)
That doesn’t mean throwing in the towel and giving up.
You can ALWAYS find ways to integrate yourself into your writing, regardless of what you’re working on. And the stronger your tie to your writing and identity, the easier it is to accomplish. All it takes is a little meditation.
I don’t write strictly fun pieces. Ironically, most of my current published work is serious in tone. (Not intentional, I assure you) But a pun doesn’t have to be slapstick; you can make it soft and slide it into a paragraph to soften the edges of a profound moment. That doesn’t break your usual writing – it stays in line AND maintains the flow of your work.
Because you CANNOT drag a reader to the bottom of the pit and keep them there.
Who Are You?
I’m lucky: most of my clients like my wit and humor. And they’re content to let me write a bit of personality into my work. I haven’t needed to accept more than a handful of dreadfully dry pieces (and you better believe I still snuck some pieces of ME in there). Having fun with writing is part of MY writing self.
Joss Whedon’s philosophy is one I use constantly – as stated and in reverse. This means it can’t always be fun and games. I need to throw in the serious statements and ice-cold moments, too. That’s a herald of my writing. It defines who I am, and readers recognize me by that calling card.
You want the same for YOU.
Take a look at your work and decide what sets you apart. Start asking yourself what you want to be known for. Puns? Vocabulary? Punctuation? (An odd choice, but if you want it, run with it) Phrasing? Whatever you love injecting into your work, stick with it. Find ways to incorporate it into EVERYTHING.
So your faithful readers can find you – no matter where your words take you.