Use an Authentic Writing Voice

Write the way you speak, only with more polish.

You may need to unlearn a lot that you learned in college about writing. Teachers teach academic writing, which tends to be dry, fact-focused, and concerned more with making a point than crafting elegant sentences.

The narrative voice draws the reader into the text.

The author’s voice and approach are fresh.

To develop an authorial voice that is engaging and fresh, imagine you are writing a letter to your reader.

Photo © Kalim •

Techniques used in oratory don’t transfer to writing. I’ve written before about the problem with threefold repetition in prose. Modern readers may find that repetition unexpected and dull.

One thing many of us learn in school is to put two spaces after a period. This called for by APA style, as specified in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, which is used by many colleges. All other style books I know of, including Associated Press style for new article, Yahoo style for web writing, and Chicago style for books, call for one space after a period. If you can’t train yourself to hit the space bar only once, do a find and replace for two consecutive spaces and replace them with one before submitting your manuscript, whether to a traditional publisher or for self-publishing.

Beware the Zombie Rules

Some of the things you may need to unlearn will include zombie rules, that is, “rules” that are not actually rules of English but that nevertheless get passed along by teachers and editors and critique partners, generation after generation, despite all best efforts of linguists to exterminate them.

Following are the antidotes to some of the zombie rules with which you may have been infected:

  • You may start a sentence with a conjunction. But avoid doing it so often that your work becomes a river of ands and buts. Because is another word that people have been told to avoid as a sentence starter, but it’s perfectly okay.
  • Prepositions are okay to end sentences with. Sometimes, though, it’s more effective to put a stronger word at the end, e.g., You may end sentences with prepositions. Try it both ways and see which way sounds better.
  • You may use adverbs if you do so judiciously.
  • You are allowed to boldly split infinitives.

The key to developing an authentic voice is practice. But it’s also important to not let yourself be hampered by nonrules. Instead, write as if you were having a conversation with your reader.

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  1. Great stuff, Kristen. I shared it with my blogging audience too.

  2. Love your sense of humor! “You are allowed to boldly split infinitives.”, etc.

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