As I write these words, I am propped up in bed, laptop resting on my thighs, cat lounging on the sleep-rumpled covers beside me. I’ve yet to check my email or open a social media app. Instead, I am typing these first few lines on a blank Scrivener screen.
My normally bustling neighborhood is quiet, the absence of noise like a cozy blanket insulating me from the outside world. My mind, so recently reclining in sleep, is still soft and open and willing to flow.
In these predawn hours, I can almost believe there is no audience, no public space these words may eventually call home. I can almost believe the only reason I’m putting my thoughts down in writing is for my own edification and clarity of thought.
It’s just me and my words. And the cat, of course.
Later, I will edit. I will comb through these words with a critical eye. I will cut, elaborate, rearrange, and tweak. I will shape these half-filtered musings into something logical and whole.
But for now, I’m alone with the page. No editor, no formatting, no audience.
And therein lies the key: I can write like nobody’s reading.
“Voice” is one of those perpetually hot topics.
How do you sound like yourself as you send your ideas out into the world, whether in blog post or ebook or email or some other package? How do you find the most authentic form of your thoughts to share? And how do you stay at least a smidge consistent?
“Write to one person,” some say.
“Collect words and phrases you like to use in your own work,” suggest others.
And still others urge you to “write, write, and write some more.” Practice, in other words, makes perfect.
All good advice, for sure. But I’d like to add another suggestion to the pot, to melt in among the others: Write like nobody’s reading.
The problem with writing for someone — even your beloved right person — is that every layer of external scrutiny you add introduces another filter and piles on an additional helping of pressure.
Trust me: filters and pressure and authentic writing mix like oil and water — which is to say very poorly indeed. (That’s one of the things I address in Out of Your Head and Onto the Page. It’s that important.)
I’m sure you’ve felt it.
Say you sit down to write an email to your list.
You start off writing to one person, like the experts suggest. How would this one person like to hear what you have to say? There’s one filter.
But in the back of your mind, you know it’s not just this one person. It’s your whole list, and possibly people who’ve never even heard of you until a friend forwards your email (because it’s that good…uh-oh, now you have to make it that good!). Hey there, two additional filters.
You really want to come at the topic from this particular angle, and if at all possible, you should gently remind people that you’re now offering one-on-one coaching. Come on in, filters four and five.
Now you’re writing for your right person, plus the rest of your list, plus people who’ve never encountered your brand. You’re also trying to capture a specific angle AND work in a soft sales pitch.
See what happened? Five filters. Five perspectives to juggle as you translate your thoughts into words.
Oh, but hang on — you’re also determined to make sure this email sounds like you. So make that six perspectives.
By the time your words make it through all six of the filters you’re using, what are the chances they’ll still sound like you — even with that sixth filter in place? Hint: not good. Every perspective you try to incorporate introduces another opportunity for distortion, for straying off the path of “sounds like you” and into the realm of inauthenticity.
I’d like to propose a better way.
For your very first draft, as you do the delicate work of translating thoughts into words, write like nobody’s reading. Know your topic, maybe the general direction you want to go in, then let go of the rest. Let it be you and the page. Untether your mind from all the constraints, remove the filters, and let the words come naturally. This is your rough draft. Possibly the first of many. It’s not the end — only the very first step of the creation process.
But what if it’s messy? That’s ok. That’s good. In mess, there’s likely to be truth. Crap? Yes. But also deep, unvarnished, diamond-in-the-rough truth. Also? More of real, authentic you than your writing has seen in a long time.
Once you have that initial capture done, you can edit to your heart’s content. Tweak the wording a bit to appeal more to your right person. Spin the story a hair to better illustrate your point. Add a little here and trim a bit there so that you capture the particular angle you’re after. Work in a call to action about your new coaching services. Refine until it fits what you’re envisioning.
The key is that in that roughest of rough drafts are the elements of your own voice: the way you tell stories, the words that come quickest when you reach, the rhythm of your prose. You have all of these things, if you can find a way to set the filters and the “supposed-to”s and the pressure of other people’s perspectives aside long enough to let them shine through.
I’m not saying you must get a cat, awaken before dawn, and write before your feet hit the floor. But I am suggesting you find your own equivalent, that time when you can set aside the expectations of the world (and even your own) and just write.
Write like nobody’s reading, and your most natural voice will find its way out into the world.
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