One of the things I get asked most often is how to write with personality. Witness exhibit A. And Exhibit B:
I was checking out your website your personality really shines through the site. So awesome!
I am pretty sure my writing style is dull as shit at this point. Your blog about regarding the need for a ‘professional’ not being necessary was inspiring. I’m really look to tap into my creative side again with freelancing. Writing sales copy could be very interesting to me!!
Anyway, I’m just looking for more resources to help me get more confident and start searching out copy jobs.
Any help you can provide is very much appreciated!!
I’m going to share with you a few of the ‘tricks’ you can use to write with personality, but not before I’ve harped on about the importance of practice.
The simple answer is to practise, but that’s not altogether useful on its own, right? Practise what? How? How do you practise writing with personality when you don’t know what you need to be doing in the first place?
I got a LiveJournal when I was 15. I used it to write whatever crap was going on inside my head. I used it to write stories I thought my friends would find funny. I copied other people’s styles of writing in there. I experimented. I wrote a whole lot of bullshit. And I’ve been doing that pretty consistently for 14 years. I mean, not always in my LiveJournal, because hey, I’m a grownup now – but writing a lot about whatever shit I felt like writing. I got used to writing. And then I got used to writing in my own voice. I’m hesitant to say ‘I found my voice’, because ugh, but yeah… that’s pretty much what happened. And it never would have done if I hadn’t started that LiveJournal.
Write for an Audience (AKA ‘Thinking’ and ‘Editing’)
I think the key for me was that I had a small, safe audience (go LiveJournal!). Only a handful of friends could read what I wrote, so I felt free to express myself openly. And the great thing about having the small audience was that I got feedback on what worked – what people enjoyed reading. People won’t necessarily tell you they love your writing style, but if you write something that gets a lot of comments and interaction, pay attention.
While writing privately for yourself is incredibly helpful, it’s not the same as learning to write for an audience. When I write for myself, I don’t edit and I don’t write particularly articulate sentences. I write boring stuff that’s on my mind. For example, here’s a line out of one of my most recent brainspews (some people like to say ‘morning pages’; I prefer brainspews):
‘Also I guess one thing to bear in mind is that, even if I do end up “buying furniture” or whatever (why does that petrify me so much?) if I had enough money, I could just move somewhere else. I could hire somebody to move the furniture for me, or I could pay to store it somewhere if I wanted to go abroad. RIGHT? So obvious.’
As you can see, my tone is duller when I write for myself. (And now you know about my deep-seated – no pun intended – fear of buying furniture.) So learning to write for an audience is different. It requires you to think more and to actually edit stuff, both of which are skills in themselves.
Facebook is a good place to post things in a safe environment if you don’t want to share your words with the whole world yet.
Learn to Write Conversationally
Writing with personality is about more than just writing conversationally, but writing conversationally is a huge part of it, and if you can’t do it you’re going to struggle to write with personality. I wrote an in-depth article on this last week, but I’ll summarise here:
- Write how you speak (that’s the gist of it).
- But don’t write exactly how you speak (you can cut out most of your ums and ahs).
- Use contractions (so that’s ‘don’t’ instead of ‘do not’).
- Incorporate your accent and common phrases you use.
- Don’t use jargon or other fancy words (unless you want to sound like a pretentious d-bag).
- Read it out loud to see if it feels weird (if it does, you’re not writing in your own voice).
- Break the rules of grammar (after all, those rules don’t really apply to the spoken word).
- But don’t break all the rules (gotta know ’em before you can break ’em and all that).
If you want more thorough guidance on how to write conversationally, check out the post I wrote last week.
Write in the First Person
I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this, but just in case, let’s go over it one more time: WRITE IN THE GODDAMN FIRST PERSON NARRATIVE. You can’t write with personality if you’re writing about yourself in the third person, so fucking stop it. [Update May 2020: I no longer believe this. Check out the addendum at the end of the post I just linked.]
Be Honest as Fuck
I’m not saying you have to share your deepest darkest or write about your mortal fear of buying furniture, but writing with personality is going to mean saying what you think. Because that’s part of your personality, isn’t it? The way you think about stuff? And if you just gloss over things because you’re scared of offending someone, your true voice will never come through. And nobody will ever be able to relate to you – which is really the end goal of writing with personality – because you’re not sharing anything real. Anything that matters.
So don’t be afraid to put your true feelings about stuff out into the world. That’s how people will decide whether they want to be on your team or not. Spoiler: not everyone will. AND THAT’S O-FUCKING-KAY. It means you’re doing this right.
So stop giving a shit whether anyone likes you, and just be honest in your writing – honest about how you really feel about things. Note: this does not mean dishing out all your woes publicly – or at least not until you’ve overcome them. I’m talking about sharing your opinions. Not just for the sake of being controversial, but because there’s something you feel strongly about and you want to rally people to your side.
Use Verbs (and Metaphors)
I started reading Fight Club a couple of days ago, and there was a line in there that really struck me. It went like this:
‘While desks and filing cabinets and computers meteor down on the crowd below.’
In case you haven’t figured out what I think is so awesome about that sentence, it’s this bit: meteor down. Palahniuk could have said ‘fall’, he could have said ‘drop’ – he could’ve said any number of duller verbs that still set the scene. But he didn’t. He went with meteor down, and his writing is all the stronger for it. Because saying ‘meteor down’ paints a fuller picture of what’s happening – can’t you just see the flaming filing cabinets plummeting screaming to the earth, obliterating anything or anyone that had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?
He metaphored the shit out of it too. You take your item/word/idea and then you think of other things with similar characteristics.
Like this: What was the filing cabinet doing? Plummeting to the earth. What else plummets to the earth? Meteors. Hence, the filing cabinet was meteoring down to the earth. Clever stuff that will make your writing more interesting.
Now, to finally answer the original question – did I take any courses to learn to write with personality? – well, yes. But not just that. I’ve read a lot. A lot. I’ve read countless blogs and books, taken some courses. And I pay attention. Would you have noticed that line about the meteor? In the past, I wouldn’t have. I wouldn’t have known why it was clever or why I enjoyed reading it so much. But now I understand exactly why it was so powerful, and so it’s something I can incorporate into my own writing.
So read a lot. Study the blogs of those who write with personality (hint: those are likely to be the ones you can’t get enough of). And let’s not forget the golden rule, shall we? PRACTISE. Practise your little fingers off.