I only remember one writing exercise in high school. We had to pick a passage from a book (I chose To The Wedding by John Berger) and then extend it. We had to step into the shoes of the original author, adapt their vocabulary and mannerisms and try to imagine how they might finish the paragraph. I loved this assignment for its simplicity and how it forced me to think like someone else. And I loved that I got to learn how to write in another person’s voice so young.
How to write in another person’s voice
When I’m writing for a client, I will often have to adapt to their voice. Companies approach me to write their website copy because they don’t have the time, or because they don’t have the resources.
Sometimes I’ll meet a business owner with a powerful personality and loads to say. But they don’t know how to turn their enthusiasm into words on the page.
They need someone who can take the unpolished thoughts and transform them into something that captures and converts readers.
And this kind of assignment is very different from the assignments where I just need to create a voice – any voice – and keep it consistent.
When I have to write in someone else’s voice, I need to know their mannerisms, their vocabulary, how they wish to be perceived by others.
Not everyone has the self-awareness to hand this to me in a brief, so sometimes I have to go digging. I’ve developed a few different ways to achieve this over the years.
The importance of the discovery call
It all starts with a discovery call. But this isn’t about finding out about the history of the company or what they are hoping to achieve with the website.
It’s about learning their voice. It’s about sparking a conversation that goes beyond what they know about their company and digs deep to find out who they are as a person.
I always record this call so I can listen back to it. As much as I hate the sound of my voice, I find this step incredibly important.
I can’t retain the information for long, but I can go back to the recording before I start writing again and slip back into the same style.
Once I have the discovery call, I will sit down with pen and paper and dictate the call.
Yes, I could type it a lot faster, but when you put pen to paper, you give your brain time to adjust to the vocabulary. You think about the sentence structure and the word choice.
You can’t do this on autopilot, so it helps to cement this information in your brain.
This won’t always be relevant to the website copywriting, but it helps to put you in the right frame of mind. Above all else, it stops you from falling back into your voice.
Read it aloud
A common piece of advice for writers is to always read your work aloud. If you’ve used an awkward phrase, this will become clear. And if your punctuation needs some work, you’ll be able to hear this when you read aloud.
Give it some time between drafts. Always give yourself enough time to forget what you wrote. Revisiting it with fresh eyes will allow you to spot the glaring errors and missed opportunities.
When you read your writing aloud, don’t expect it to sound like something you wrote. If you’ve done it right, you won’t recognise it at all.