I started talking to a friend the other day about this idea of “finding your voice”. To many, it sounds like a fortune cookie, and doesn’t seem to make very much sense at all, and to others, there’s an instant resonance. So to bridge this gap, let me explain what i mean by Finding Your Voice.
When I first started to write a book, I wrote episodically. I’d write in long spurts, put the piece down, and come back days later, maybe adding some, maybe starting over. When I reread the pieces to edit them together, it became apparent I had a problem with tone or voice. The mood I was in when I first sat down, or what was exciting to me at the moment colored the tone and the “voice” of what I had written, and it sounded like two different people had written sections of the chapter. This change made the piece harder to read and pay attention to, because it felt choppy, like too many people were talking to me at the same time.
What’s interesting about this, is that if you look at some of the work of Vygotsky and other developmental psychologists, they talk about our development of our “inner voice” as a dialogue between us and the outside world. For example, as you read this blog post, you “hear” the words in your head, as if I were sitting beside you, talking. Our “voices” go from being external when we’re children to gradually becoming internal, although in moments of stress or difficult problem solving, we may still find that we start talking to ourselves, trying to work things out. (This is why you can often find me asking out loud, “Where did I put those stupid car keys?” even if no one is around to answer me.) This inner voice is real- it’s our narrator, so to speak, and this carries over to all of our modes of expression, even writing.
So back to editing- When my writing got disjointed, it was like several different internal voices were speaking at the same time, and the flow of the work became harder to follow. The internal voice, the narrator in our heads, was no longer one person, but several. In order to make the piece flow and make sense, it becomes incredibly important to find that voice- that one person, so to speak, so the writing feels like a whole, not like different sentences in various typefaces, stapled together like a ransom note.
If you think of writing like music, there’s a big difference between playing the notes on a page and “making music” which requires both a flow of the notes, but an emotion as well behind the playing. It’s why we can hear the same piece of music played by different people, but get something new out of every variation. There’s a fluency that develops, like a child going from reading one word at a time to reading whole sentences, to then reading with expression. It’s the difference between reading a play and seeing it come to life with a performance of the same work. The fluency and flow of the expression, the voice that develops, makes all the difference in whether your writing works or whether it seems like a collection of disparate ideas with no common thread.
Now, if we apply this same concept to social media, I think companies and individuals are most successful when they find their voice. Different people can contribute to the whole, but the common purpose needs to feel like it aligns together. This is why when companies not known for cheeky ads try to pull one off, sometimes it succeeds, because it seems in line with the personification of the brand, and other times it fails miserably, because it runs counter to what people expect as an authentic voice of the company.
For example, Apple can get away with the “PC v Mac” ads because the personifications seem to ring true- it lines up with people’s experience and it matches what Apple has positioned itself as- an outsider. It’s also why the whole controversy about the new iPhone is causing a stir, because it makes Apple look more like the mean establishment guys, and betrays the cool dude factor. In contrast, the “Im a PC and Windows 7 was my idea” while it seems very Microsoft, makes no sense to me whatsoever. I do not believe for one second that that girl in the french cafe had anything to do with Windows 7, so the ad leaves me puzzling over what message I’m supposed to be getting here, because it seems disjointed and the meaning is lost for me.
In writing, in music, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in marketing in general, you need to find a comfortable voice that the company can use and emulate. People have to be able to have a sense of who the company is, a personification they can identify with. This is what makes each company unique, and why mimicry is so hard- even in real life, few people can pull off pitch perfect imitation of others. By being ourself and finding your voice, you find why your are special and what you have to contribute. Without this voice, you’re still like a confused teenager, trying on different personalities until they find one that seems to fit.
Don’t be that kid.