Talking comes first. As little dumb baby idiot things we learn how to use these symbolic representations of information with our gross, wet word holes. Mostly so we can fill them with food or small choking hazards but sometimes to express thoughts and opinions on matters great and small. Somewhere between learning to make noise that means things and having thoughts and opinions other people want to hear, we learn to write these things down with structured markings. Why don’t those inadequate little marks sound as good as those gross, wet mouthsounds?
Let me start by covering my own ass here: I firmly believe writing is a skill. Anyone can do it, you almost always start poorly, and effort makes you better. Some authors disagree on the grounds that artistic talent is what elevates the mediocre from the good and great. I think this is bullshit. Persistence refines how you say something until you can say what you mean. THE END.
DOING IT WRONG
I bet you’ve heard the term ‘speaking above your station’ as a sort of pejorative and classist insult meant to push you down and make you feel like you can’t question someone ‘above’ you. I’m going to use it as a way to describe writing to make yourself sound absolutely nothing like you speak. A lot of people misuse the term that accurately describes this phenomenon, so I won’t be using it. But please, if you do, use it correctly. It stands out when I read it, like my nose getting tweaked hard. Who talks like this? It’s like putting on false airs, or acting smarter than you are on some topic or another. It probably feels uncomfortable to write, and awkward to say, and I can guarantee it feels really unnatural to read. SNIFF TEST: Someone types out wa-la in a sentence when they mean to write viola.
Just… don’t do it.
DOING IT RIGHT
Easy: You read something and immediately hear a voice speaking in your brainhole and you think, wow this is how people sound! That’s all. Natural. Smooth and easy. You can recognize the character of the person behind the words, maybe even some of their inflection and personality. Maybe they’re jerks who talk down a little bit to you, or maybe they’re really clever. Hey, go read someone who can sound smart and also full of character and ALSO very natural. Both of these are important to know if we want to talk about voice.
VOICE IN PRINT
Look, it’s like this: Write they way you talk. Or, if you hate talking to people out and about in the meat world, write the way you want to read. Do this a lot. Seriously just go and do it a lot RIGHT NOW. I’ll wait.
I’m going to assume you wrote a lot. Keeping a journal where you just talk to yourself is pretty important here because it lets you be yourself to yourself. You don’t put on airs with a lone audience member who is also the author and also someone who knows when you’re BSing. Once you have some control over this, you can change your voice to address new and exciting audiences. If you’re reading this you’ve probably done this with academic writing, blog posting, tweeting, and all that other form-constrained context. You don’t, like, say whatever, man, in an academic thing, and you aren’t going to evaluate the strength of, and at times, conflicting points of view so as to discern the strengths and weaknesses of an argumentative form on twitter. You probably will do both of these things on youtube, because that is a place where everyone goes to take a verbal shit. Youtube.
But, in the professional world of amateur writing? Just be yourself. Be a good yourself. Don’t say what you wouldn’t to your friends or, say, a chatty bus driver. And don’t use the P-Word all the time.