Monday, May 15, 2006

If you write like you talk, readers will listen

Wait a minute. Does that headline even make sense? Can readers listen to you?

Sure they can. If you write right. Me, I never took any writing classes. I didn’t major in English. And I’m sure my writing isn’t as polished as other authors.

So I write like I talk. Like I’m having a conversation with you, right now. And while this isn’t the only way to engage readers and help them “listen” to your writing, it’s certainly an effective technique.

Kurt Vonnegut once said, “Great writers need to be great dates for their readers.” That means you and I are on a date, right now. (By the way, that shirt really brings out your eyes.)

Anyway, back to writing right. I think the key to capturing your reader’s ears (in a non-Van Gough kind of way) is with your voice. And by “voice” I mean the distinctive quality, feel, sound and tone of your writing. Take Dave Barry. He is, in my opinion, is the funniest writer in the world. Here’s an excerpt from one of his 1996 columns from the Miami Herald:

Recently, when I was having a hamburger at an outdoor restaurant, two guys started up their Harley-Davidson motorcycles, parked maybe 25 feet from me. Naturally, being Harley guys, these were rebels -- lone wolves, guys who do it Their Way, guys who do not follow the crowd. You could tell because they were wearing the same jeans, jackets, boots, bandannas, sunglasses, belt buckles, tattoos and (presumably) underwear worn by roughly 28 million other lone-wolf Harley guys.

Readers get the feeling that a face-to-face conversation with Dave Barry would be exactly like his writing: hilarious and exaggerated. So, they listen to him. That’s probably why he’s sold millions and millions of books around the world. And I use Dave as an example because he has a unique voice. Unfortunately, coming from someone who reads two books a week, I’m sorry to say that too few writers understand the value of developing and using their voice.

Because they’re afraid. They’re afraid of breaking the rules of grammar and structure. They’re afraid of throwing themselves into their art. And they’re afraid they’ll have to apologize because their writing might offend somebody. So, they hide their true selves behind the same boring, unrevealing and this-is-what-my-English-professor-or-boss-told-me-to-do kind of writing.

Look. I can’t tell you how to put more of yourself into your writing – only you can decide that. Besides, how should I know? After all, this is only our first date.

Take a tip from two masters. Leo Tolstoy once said, “Write only with your pen dipped in your own blood.” William Jenkins once said, “Good writing is like walking across a stage naked.”

Now ask yourself: “Does my writing reveal who I really am to my readers?” If the answer is no, here are a few ways to start developing your voice:

1) Everything you write, read aloud. Decide if it really sounds like you. Imagine you’re giving a speech at Harvard’s Commencement: would those 5000 students really listen to you?

2)Pay attention to specific words and phrases used in your daily conversations. Do you also use those in your writing?

3)Grab a newspaper and read three editorials. What do you like/not like about the voice of the reporters? While reading, did you find yourself completely engaged or thinking about something else?

All writers have a unique voice, whether they use it or not. So, it isn’t something that needs to be created. It’s something that’s already there because it comes from the heart. What you need to do is uncover that voice. Then, your readers will listen.

Well, this has been a lot of fun. I hope we can go out again sometime...

...how about a kiss goodnight?

LET ME ASK YA THIS...

What's your writing "voice"?

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Scott Ginsberg
Author/Speaker/That guy with the nametag
www.hellomynameisscott.com