I'm going to kick off this week's series of Reader Questions, with something from Laura Whitehead who wonders how to write concise, informal blog posts that have the right "voice." Good question, Laura. Let's see if I have an answer.
Finding Your Voice
Several years ago I taught a course on presentation skills. Always there would be some shy, formal person who wanted to learn how to become Jim Carrey. What I had to constantly remind participants was that presentations aren't about adopting a particular style. They are about finding YOUR style and using various skills and strategies to make you the best possible presenter you can be, not turn you into someone else. Once people could relax into that idea, they made some really amazing strides. I think it's the same way with blogging.
Dooce (Heather Armstrong) is one of my favorite bloggers of all time. She's feisty, she's funny, sometimes profane, often very deep. Her posts can be long or short, and they're always peppered with photos and hilarious observations on life.
On the other side of the spectrum is Dave Pollard. He too has a definite voice, but it's one that's very different from Heather's. He writes long, thoughtful posts full of analysis and insights. You get glimpses into his personal life, but he shares different parts of himself and is far more serious than Heather.
Two successful bloggers who have learned how to capitalize on their particular voices. Neither could do what the other does, nor should they try.
When it comes to your own voice, I think the one thing you owe your readers is to be as authentic as you can be. If you ramble as a writer, then that's who you are. Work with it. Ramble well. If you're given to short, pithy posts, that's fine too. Become the Hemingway of blogging.
Some bloggers use $4 words and others use .02 words. Some sound like your neighbor while others sound like your biggest blow-hard professor from college. My theory is that is long as you're being authentic and working to make yourself understood, then you're doing what you can. And frankly, for every "blogging rule" on how to write, I think there's someone who's successfully breaking it and has a nice audience. The key is to keep striving for clarity, authenticity and a point of view. If your goal is an audience, then somewhere someone will appreciate you.
Laura asked for some of my tips on how to write like I do, but I don't really have many because how I write is a reflection of who I am. Mostly I try to write like I talk--if my speech had the benefit of editing. You can tell the posts that I spend time on and the ones I just whip up quickly. When I have the time I labor over these things like I was working on my first novel, a reflection of the obsessive perfectionist in me.
I also try to walk the fine line between being friendly and personable, while still maintaining some credibility. I basically want to sound like I know what I'm doing, while still giving a sense of the woman behind the curtain who often does not. That's important to me because I think in the end we are usually relating to the blogger as much as the blog and no one likes a know-it-all.
Keeping Things Short and Sweet
The great thing about finally finding your voice is that you want to use it. But then you also have to know when to turn it off. I will say that this is an area where I have problems, as I tend to be the rambling sort of blogger.
According to "How Long is the Ideal Blog Post?" the majority of posts are between 100-249 words long. But the length of a post also depends on your blog's content. If you're writing for reference, you can get away with longer posts than if you're writing for entertainment. And of course the quality of writing will have a big impact, too. No one wants to read a long, poorly written post.
Some of the techniques I've tried to keep my posts shorter include major surgery to excise passive voice and extraneous words, and turning long posts into a series. (I usually discover the need to do a series when I realize that a single post has become unwieldy). Writing list posts and link posts can also help me keep things brief. And I've definitely benefited from these articles from Copyblogger:
So, what's your online voice? And how do you keep it in check when necessary?