Occasionally, I visit classrooms and give talks about being a writer. It can be agonizing, because I always discover how capable the next generation really is and then I worry about job security. But mostly, it’s fun.
At a recent school visit, I talked to a room full of high school seniors at a local private school and our conversation turned to voice. How do you find your voice? How do you keep your voice? How do you teach voice? They wanted to know a lot about voice. They seemed concerned about losing their own voices. This is not an uncommon fear among writers, especially those at the beginning of their careers. Why?
The thing is, voice is subject to the same whims and variations as everything else. I remember this one guy in grad school who complained that he thought all of his teachers were trying to change his voice. Even at the time, I thought he was simply revealing his own laziness. Your voice is always changing. It’s not static. No one can ruin it. It’s just another tool in the toolbox.
Your voice is what your work sounds like. It’s closely related to style and tone. It’s what you hear when you recognize certain stories by Hemingway. For writers with a highly distinct style, voice is a key part of their work. But unless you’re Hemingway (or maybe Shakespeare), voice isn’t something to worry about too much.
Here at Nomad, we are two different companies—Nomad Press and Nomad Communications. For Nomad Press, we publish about 30 children’s nonfiction books a year, and we do maintain a fairly consistent tone. Our books are meant to inspire enthusiasm for learning and so they tend to sound excited, occasionally playful, always open to possibility.
But the voice changes according to the material. A sparky voice isn’t appropriate for a book about the Holocaust, and a somber voice is really going to dampen the spirits of a book like Explore Makerspace.
In terms of Nomad Communications, voice needs to be even more flexible.
Every client we’ve worked with requires a slightly different voice and even more so with multiple audiences. Just like snowflakes, no two clients are exactly alike. Copy for a bank is going to sound a lot different than copy for an interior designer. The same goes when writing for different generations. We change the content, the tone, the key words, the entire feel of a piece depending what the target audience will respond to. That voice becomes the foundation for stronger storytelling and should be used across all mediums when targeting that specific audience.
When those elements align and project the strengths of your brand, you’ve found your voice. Now, shout it out loud!