Protecting Your Voice

Last week, I had a little real-life communication mix-up.  I was trying to say something very straightforward and direct, but because our contemporary American communication style is so steeped in irony and sarcasm, irony and sarcasm are inferred even when they’re not intended.

It got me thinking that if I have difficulty being understood clearly through the postmodern “irony filter” in real life, how much harder is it to maintain clarity of tone while writing and blogging.

I used to sing a lot.  I was in choir and did solo and ensemble singing in high school, and continued voice training in college.  I sang “special music” at my former church.  (Which in hindsight was a misnomer, because they had “special music” every week, which to me sort of means it’s not really all that special.  But I digress.)  I also was kind of a “drop in” singer with a couple of bar bands during my “wild side,” pre-kids early twenties.

If you’re serious about singing, one essential thing to understand is that you have to protect your voice.  If overused or abused, the quality and tone of your voice will change–in some cases permanently.

Your voice is your unique instrument.  This is true in writing just as much as it is in speaking and singing.

If you have a strong, distinctive voice, people will notice.  They may like it or hate it, but they will notice it.  One danger that I see in writers who begin blogging is that they start out with a strong, unique, distinctive voice.  But they do what all the experts and gurus recommend:  they start following and reading other bloggers who they admire.  Often, in addition to picking up tips and techniques, a new blogger or writer will also pick up elements of their mentors’ voice and writing style.

This is not an entirely bad thing.  Even in singing, over time your voice is like aging bourbon or wine.  It picks up new colors and layers and flavors and tones that give it a deeper, richer character.

But that is the kind of change that comes with maturity and experience as a writer and avid reader.  The problem I see most often with bloggers is that they don’t slowly absorb these additional influences.  They go through this intense immersion into blogging (or problogging, which as a genre has a very distinctive style) and it’s almost like Neo learning kung fu in The Matrix.  They plug their heads into their feed readers and BOOM! in a week they know blogging!

They don’t just adopt certain elements of another blogger’s style–they copy his or her style wholesale, and lose their own unique voice in the process.  Which, in a world where blogs are numbering in the millions, or billions (I start to lose track when the numbers get that big), their own unique, distinctive voice is the greatest thing they have to offer.

When I first started blogging, it was strictly an anonymous, personal journal.   I continued that kind of blogging for a full year or two before I started blogging with the intention and assumption of an audience–and even then, my “target audience” was still those who knew me in real life for quite a while.  I look at those early years of blogging as my apprenticeship.

When I went through my “problogger immersion” period, I did adopt different elements of other bloggers style, but it was more like trying on outfits that aren’t your usual style, with the intention of finding the specific pieces to expand your own style, not to try and become a whole different person.  The intent was to add new techniques and tools to expand my existing repertoire.

For a while, the results were mixed, because a lot of that whole “problogger” voice just doesn’t really fit my own style.  Some of the time, I felt more like a copywriter, writing in a “brand voice” than an authentic expression of my own.  It just didn’t sound like me.  Which is when I realized that I’d rather be the singer who has a small following on Myspace and a unique style than a knock-off of a more popular singer.

You owe it to yourself as a writer to protect your own voice.  Who knows?  Maybe you’ll be the next Ingrid Michaelson and achieve some popular success anyway.

img courtesy scottsnyde on sxc

Leave a Reply