I was there as a tourist, so to speak. My roommate was asked to lecture on her area of expertise (set design) to a university class, and I was there to provide feedback and emotional support.
I was excited to hear her since I loved everything to do with drama and had always dreamed of becoming an actor.
(That dream was shattered once I actually got a bit part in a play and had to repeat the exact same lines four nights in a row. Phantom of the Opera cast, how did you not lose your sanity?!).
I sat in the front row (because that’s what keeners do), ready to take notes.
My friend appeared, dressed in a knee-length pencil skirt and blouse buttoned up to her neck. She looked like Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Except normally, she wore long, floor-length flowing skirts covered in bright flowers and embroidery, cowboy boots, chunky hand-knit sweaters, hair long and loose.
The class fell silent. And then, she began.
“Good afternoon, classmates. I’m here to discuss principles of set design, namely, the physical structures of a play. The actual structure of the theater itself notwithstanding, the set design encompasses. . . ”
I’d already lost the thread.
Who was this person, stiffly spewing words I’d never before heard come out of her mouth? Notwithstanding?!
The rest of the lecture was a painful blur. The students fidgeted, they smirked, they stole sideways glances at each other. One even passed a note.
In other words, a full-on disaster.
“How’d it go?” she asked the moment the last student left the room. “Was it too technical? Do you think they enjoyed it?”
“The information was great,” I said. “But to me, it sounded just a little too. . . formal.”
“But I was trying to sound like I knew my stuff!” she said. “And besides, aren’t you supposed to be formal when you’re the expert?”
That led to a conversation about our favorite professor, Dr. Ditsky, who was never formal. Yes, he was undoubtedly an expert. And yes, he always sounded as if he knew exactly what he was talking about.
But formal? No, never.
I see this odd personality switch happen all the time with clients who jump into writing their books. For some unknown reason, they believe their writing needs to be stiff and unnatural to sound professional.
But please keep this in mind: “Professional” does not equal “boring”! And it certainly does not equal stiff and stuffy.
For your writing to resonate with your audience, it’s important to sound like you.
One test is to ask yourself, “Would I say these words in normal conversation?”
If the answer is “no,” it’s more than likely you shouldn’t include them in your writing, either.
Writing styles change all the time. What was “normal” for Henry David Thoreau in 1854 simply won’t do in 2022. Heck, even The New York Times in 1990 would likely be too “formal” today!
Perfecting your voice is one of the things you can do with a book coach. Even if you’re not (yet) comfortable writing, a coach can help you to discover writing in a way that sounds like you.
Because that’s who your audience wants to hear from, after all.
Here’s to finding your true voice (preconceived notions notwithstanding)!
Want more info to help you lean into your writing? Subscribe to my weekly emails, filled with writing tips, real-life stories and the occasional cute dog photo! Click here to subscribe.