How to be yourself when you write

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Are you still awake?

I made those words up but could just as well have copied them.

The Internet is full of About us texts like these — formal, third person, the same old words.

The facts in such a text are near impossible to remember. There is only one message that sticks: “This agency is just like any other.”

Which begs the question: why are these texts so common?

Hard to shake off

One assumption is that we deliberately copy from each other. But I don’t believe that. Why imitate something that isn’t effective?

I think there is a different mechanism at work: almost involuntary, we use such language as a model. We are vulnerable to using it because its hard to get such words and phrases out of our mind.

It is why jargon is so persistent. At first a word like value proposition may not mean much to us. But as as we hear it more often, we grow used to it. When we pick up our pen, it pops back into the mind and there you go, you too have used it, welcome to the club.

That is the mechanism and it keeps you from writing in a more personal way.

So how we can be ourselves?

We need a counter-reference. Something that tells us how to do it differently. A guide. A guide that reminds us which language and which tone-of-voice we really want to use.

Such guide forces you to think about basics:
What are you all about? And how do you want others to perceive you?

Big corporations do such exercises as a matter of course (they call it branding). For the self-employed and small er businesses the idea doesn’t come so natural.

But there is something magical about asking those questions. They make you more aware of your strengths, your style and how it makes you different.

A style to match your personality

Once you’ve answered these questions, it’s easy to find the style of language that matches it. Define your tone-of-voice. And don’t make this a bureaucratic exercise. Instead of lengthy explanations give a few examples (of a typical tweet, a typical email and so on).

Your guide doesn’t have to be long. It shouldn’t be long. The shorter it is, the more likely you are going to refer to it. Try to keep it to page. But do do the exercise. Otherwise you risk falling into a language that is not your own.


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5 thoughts on “How to be yourself when you write

  1. sometimes it is hard to be ourselives. my writting style is full with humorous and criticism. so people can relax from reading what i am really about to tell. but one day, a old guy told me, i should be carefull about i am writting. i dont know why should i be carefull, i think we should have freedom to say what we want to say. of couse i accept also the criticism from others. but i will not stop writting about my real feelings. writting with music can help to a better writting, but must the right music for the right emotion.

    1. Dear Chris, I think you are absolutely right to focus on your own feelings. If not everything would become sterile. It is also what people want: they want to feel the writer’s personality and opinion.

      It’s more important to be yourself than sticking to rules. There’s a wonderful book by Brenda Ueland called ‘If you want to write’. She says that everyone is talented for writing but that our magic is normally killed by critical teachers and people who tell us how not to do it instead of encouraging our creativity.

      1. everyone is talented for writing,which i was not agree when i was in high scholl.Beacause at that time, we must writting accordng to the fixted topic and no negative opionions to pass the examination. But now i have to agree, when people start to think, they can writte. there are some people who dont like use internet or writting on internet, because they think it is not good for their career, they are afraid the potential companies or collegens may read or see their crazy side on themself.what do you think of that?

  2. When you write it is good to give yourself an audience. The reason is that your writing will be better if you have an audience in mind. But that doesn’t mean you have to publish anything online. It makes perfect sense to show your inner worlds only to those you want to share it with.

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