Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Finding My Blogging Voice

I remember reading Frank McCourt's biography, Teacher Man, a few years ago. Somewhere in there, McCourt said something about teaching that's stuck with me: it takes about five years to really get a handle on your job as a teacher. Some of it's figuring out how to manage grades and paperwork; some has to do with designing lessons and teaching effectively. But most of it is because it takes that long to find your voice. Once you're established in your teaching persona, you start to feel at home in front of a classroom.

It's the same with blogging. When I started this blog, I knew that there were plenty of other great sites out there that offered similar information--and that the "voice" I chose would set me apart. While I think I still have a lot to learn about settling into a voice that works, here's what I've picked up so far.

You need to choose something authentic. The thing about blogging is that it's an endurance activity. You have to keep coming up with post after post without getting stale or bored or blocked for ideas. If the voice you choose isn't something that comes naturally, it's going to be very difficult to maintain. I tried a couple different personas on when I started blogging--from mildly acerbic to authoritative and businesslike. After a few posts in each of these styles, I realized that a more casual and positive voice was easier for me to return to day after day.

Choose a persona you wouldn't mind clients seeing. No matter why you're blogging, you should be aware that potential buyers and even current clients may wander onto your blog from time to time. How well does your blogging persona mesh with the face you wear when you talk to them? And what would clients think when they get a look at your blog?

Writing blogs such as Irreverent Freelancer and The Frump take problem clients and unreasonable employers to task as part of their persona. Clearly neither of them is aimed at buyers, but there's always a possibility that clients and potential clients will find those blogs. Each writer has to deal with the client perception issue.

Know why you're blogging in the first place. Are you trying to position yourself as an expert? Appeal to buyers? Share your knowledge with others? These are all very different reasons to blog, and each calls for a slightly different voice. Looking around at other writing blogs, I'd say Problogger and Copyblogger do a good job of setting themselves up as experts-among-experts in the field of blogging and copywriting; The Copywriter's Crucible is a great example of a blog that aims to educate and attract buyers; and The Article Writer seems more casual to me--and focused on sharing knowledge with other freelancers.

Respect your readers. What do your readers want to read? This probably has more to do with what you write about than how you write about it, but it's still a big part of your blogging personality. I've learned to think "what will readers get out of this?" every time I sit down to write a blog post. I've even posted something, let it sit for a few hours, come back and completely re-written it later. Whatever persona you choose, quality should be a part of it.

Check out what else is out there. What other voices are already out there? It can help to find bloggers whose voices appeal to you, just to get a sense of what you could be doing. Reading other blogs can also tell you where the vacuum is in your blogging industry. Are you seeing a lot of professional, formal blogs--and could you be the one to add a slightly edgier voice to the community? Are you seeing a lot of bloggers trying to be funny--and could you add a bit of levity and authority? If your voice is different from the norm, you may generate more traffic.

Some people are very deliberate in choosing a blogging persona; others seem to just write what comes naturally. Over time, I'm sure I'll become more aware of my voice and how to make adjustments to deliver the results I'm looking for. Hopefully, it won't take five years.


Kathy@TheFlawlessWord said...

"Choose a persona you wouldn't mind clients seeing." Yep, I'll be touching on this very subject in short order. Until then, suffice it to say that I'm still of a mind that any potential client who finds my blog and is scared off by it is likely to be a client that will earn a showcase there. For the foreseeable future, I have no intentions of going undercover. My blog is what it is and I make no apologies for it.

Jennifer Williamson said...

Yours is definitely one of the ballsier blogs out there--and I couldn't write a post on blogging personas without getting a mention in about yours. I saw something on your blog earlier about some sort of client issue--I'm looking forward to it.

Anonymous said...

Good advice in this post, and I'll add my own: Be yourself.

We've tried on various voices at our blog, and for eight months, none have seemed to fit. Some even did us more damage emotionally than they did our blog any good.

Finally, I revolted. I decided that, dammit, if I couldn't post in my own voice and be who I was, then blogging wasn't for me.

Of course, I asked Harry if he was cool with that. His answer?

"Jamie, you be who you are, and I'll be who I am, and that's always been fine with me."

Hm, and your comment options are strange. I can't seem to leave my contact info. Odd.

Jennifer Williamson said...

James, I was just on your blog two seconds ago, and now I come back and you've been here. We must have crossed paths in cyberspace.

I think Blogger just changed their options so that non-blogger folks can't leave a link. Yet another reason to get off my behind and figure out how to set up Wordpress.

Yeah, I think I was trying to get at that somewhere in there, but you said it better. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jennifer,

You've hit the nail on the head. I try to use my blog as a marketing tool both to educate on the importance of useful content and to try and showcase my business to potential clients.

When people find me through the search engines the aim is to get them to subscribe and then try and build trust and confidence over time. So far I'd say it's been a more effective strategy than trawling Craigslist for hours everyday, and means I'm able to differentiate myself on something other than price.

I'm expecting to see you listed in Michel Stelzner's top ten when it's announced, so start preparing your blogging schedule for the flood of new subscribers.

Thanks for linking to The Copywriter's Crucible.


Jennifer Williamson said...

Hi Matt,

Wow, thanks for the confidence (and the heads-up!). I've been checking the site obsessively in anticipation of the list. If I'm lucky enough to be on it, I'll be ready :-)

Thanks again for your nomination.

Anonymous said...

@ Jen - I love Wordpress, seriously. It's easy to use, too. Drop me an email with your WP questions and I'll help you out if you need it.

Too funny about crossing paths in space. Just goes to show you we both have good taste!

Matthew C. Keegan said...

Thanks for the mention, Jeniffer!

Yes, I enjoy sharing what I know, have learned, have discovered on my flagship blog. There are writers who focus much more on the element of writing and style, while I try to aim for the business side of writing.

Jennifer Williamson said...

@James--thanks for the offer! I might just do that pretty soon.

@Matt--yours strikes me as the most similar to what I'm doing on mine, although I talk about writing mechanics too and yours has a lot more info on online marketing. As I develop my expertise in this area, I'll probably add more of that.