Stop sounding like everybody else

I’ve officially hit the saturation point.

Two years ago, before I’d officially joined the world of online business, everything felt fresh. I mean, not fresh-out-of-the-garden fresh, but still, pretty crunchy.

Every day, it seemed, I encountered something fun. Super niche businesses. Interesting perspectives. Authentic voices.

I felt terribly optimistic about what online business could do for me and people like me who wanted to live by their values, on their own terms, and doing work that made them want to pole-vault out of bed in the morning.

I’m still optimistic. But I’ve also realized we’ve all drunk from the same vat of Kool-aid (is it pink? I think it might be pink).

The longer I worked for myself, online, the more I realized there were a LOT of people doing and saying the same things, making the same promises, and bragging the same brags.

Every day it gets a little noisier.

And everyone is starting to sound exactly the same.

It needs to stop.

 

Stand out in a sea of sameness - stop sounding like everybody else

Here’s what the copy-cats are missing

Readers are savvy. Increasingly so. They know when they’ve already heard your pitch or bought what you’re selling…from someone else.

Don’t belittle them. They can handle the real you.

Parroting someone else’s voice—even if you do it unintentionally—also does YOU a massive disservice. It masks your real voice, which means your people are much less likely to find you (how can they if you’re hiding?).

It may also mean that you don’t feel great about your stuff—whether it’s website copy, a blog post, a guest post, an e-book, whatever—because you know it isn’t fully aligned with who you really are. Which means you might not want to share it or send it out. Which is, obviously, bad for business.

Faking it feels icky. Your readers can pick up on that. And so can you.

 

So let me confess

In the beginning, I was doing a little copy-catting myself. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t even WANT to. But I did want to my business to be a success.

It’s hard not to soak up and internalize the voices of the people you’re following. You’re trying to learn. But nobody wants to be that guy who takes on a fake accent when he’s around people with accents.

Please don’t be that guy.

For me, it took the shape of holding back more than anything else. My personal writing was wild and deep. Vulnerable, cutting and a little crazy. My blog was restrained, overly polished, unimaginative. I was paying too much attention to what other people were doing, and it made me stiff and a bit awkward.

As I became more confident (and more annoyed by the sea of sameness described above), I realized I really needed to let my real voice come through. I was holding it back, tucking it away. Saving it for a rainy day? Errr.

I think I did it because I was scared. Because I wasn’t ready to full-out BE my business. Because I was overthinking it, making it more complicated than it needed to be.

And then I put an end to all that.

You + your client: all that matters

There are only two voices you need to worry about

You can probably guess whose they are, but just in case:

  1. Your ideal reader’s voice
  2. Your voice

That’s it. C’est tout.

If you’re serving a particular type of reader or client, it helps if you know how they describe their dreams and frustrations. Remember and record the things they say, but keep an eye out for specificity. “Frustrated” isn’t good enough. What did that frustration look like? How did it play out?

You have to be specific to have a broader appeal. If you don’t give your readers something concrete to hold on to, they won’t be able to picture and understand what you’re describing and they’ll…drift…away.

After that, it’s just you. Swear if you want to swear. Be corny if you’re corny. Belt out a few bars if you’re a drama queen. Embrace your intellectual side without thinking about how people might respond.

Or just be sweet and simple and to-the-point. That’s good too.

And that’s basically all you need to get started. That’s the magic, right there.

A few other things that might help…

1. Write by hand.

This can blow your world open. Writing by hand changes everything. It takes publishing, editing and sharing out of the equation—at least for the short-term. When you write by hand, you’re free to take chances, to risk. This allows you to write how you speak and what you really feel.

And although it seems counter-intuitive, starting a piece of writing by hand will actually SAVE you time, because you’ll get where you’re trying to go much faster. Less time fussing. More time for truth.

(I use Moleskines like these, or cheap spiral-ring notebooks:)

My actual stack of notebooks

2. Cut the clichés

Everybody uses them, and I understand why: we’re all in a hurry, and stock phrases save us precious time. But they also make it much harder for your poor reader to hear your actual voice, and feel what you’re actually feeling.

Don’t fuss about it too much when you’re writing, but before you publish or send out your work (AKA when you revise or edit…you do that, right?) look for specific phrases you may have heard before, and try to replace them with something more unique.

I could write a book of clichés—it’s so easy, because unfortunately they pop onto my pages all the time (how do they DO that?)! But here are a few quick examples:

  • When the rubber hits the road
  • Head over heels in love
  • Bored out of my tree
  • Having the time of my life
  • It blew my mind
  • Take it to the next level
  • Beat yourself up about it

If you write these things…as I do sometimes…don’t mash your face into the keyboard, it isn’t a sign of you being a bad writer. It’s just a sign of you being a busy human.

Just try to find another, fresher way to say the same thing. If I can do it, so can you.

3. Get specific.

An easy, fool-proof way to be original: use concrete details (as mentioned above).

I’m talking about dialogue: a few lines of conversation, real or imagined.

I’m talking about story: anecdotes from real life that help people feel an emotional and intellectual connection with you.

I’m even talking about physical detail: if I tell you I’m writing this in my purple housecoat, drinking Moroccan mint green tea, with my little cat Alvs sleeping in a ball on the couch a few metres away…I become a real, three-dimensional person in your mind (and you are fully able to judge me for not being properly dressed at “work”).

4. Pay attention to what you love to read…online and off.

Your rational mind knows when something is “well-written” or purely persuasive or ticking off all the must-dos for online writing.

But underneath that, your intuitive self knows what you like. Pay attention to the people who are doing an amazing job of being themselves online (because there are many!). Take note of the writers you love—and remember, they don’t have to be writing the same stuff as you. They could be poets, speakers, anything!

What do you love about these writers? Are they lyrical? Do they use long, flowing sentences or short choppy ones? Are they hilarious? Are they dry? Serious? A little wacky?

There’s a reason you love them, and that’s because they’re doing something that you can do too.

Follow that, and good things will happen.

You’re never going to do it “right”

The other day a lovely client said something about making sure she got her blog posts “right.”

And although I was in the processing of sharing some pointers (because obviously there are always things we can learn), the word caught me.

There is no “right” or “wrong.”

There is good, and no-so-good, and better.

There’s lightning. Chemistry. Art.

There’s writing that flows out of you—like a conversation with an old friend.

There’s writing that bolts out of you—like a bat of out hell, like my fiction mentor Zsuzsi Gartner likes to say.

There’s just you and your people.

Don’t think too hard about the rest of it.

 


Clear, confident copy

Ready to put this philosophy in action? Learn more about working with me to create website copy that sounds exactly like you.

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This post was inspired by the #braveblogging series created by the smarties over at at Makeness Media. Kindred spirits, they are.

About Nicole Baute

Nicole is a writing coach and story strategist for small businesses and creatives. A writer, editor and teacher, she has a master's degree in journalism and was once a reporter at Canada's largest daily newspaper. As a writing coach, Nicole helps her clients become more confident writers and grow their businesses by creating original, authentic and helpful copy and content. She believes that being yourself—unabashedly—is the best way to stand out, online and in writing.

22 Responses to Stop sounding like everybody else

  1. I find the blog instructive though casual and totally fun. Particularly, your thought on ‘Writing by Hand’. I am fond of that because it helps me be creative and gives me freedom to express my exact thoughts. the issue I have with it is that, I then have to then type it. it is much difficult when I have a deadline to meet. Any ideas?

    • Hi Paul! So nice to hear from you. One thing you could try is writing your story by hand for the first few paragraphs or the first page…just long enough to hear your voice and understand what you’re trying to say. Then once you feel that flow you can type those starting paragraphs up on the computer, and finish writing the rest on the keyboard. That’s a trick that works for me, at least!

  2. I love what you said about there’s no right or wrong. I feel that pressure a lot when writing. I think I may have to try writing on paper before going digital. 🙂

    • Heck yes—we have advice on the “right” way to write and work and live coming out the wazoo these days. At some point you’ve got to stop and listen to yourself, right? Thanks for reading, and have fun with the handwriting!

  3. So many awesome knowledge tidbits here! I get so jaded by all the noise online just liked you talked about. It all sounds the same. I absolutely love when someone adds their quirks and traits into their writing, it helps me connect so much more with them instead of just scrolling through the article to get to the point. Great post! Sharing for sure!!

    • So well put, Megan! I totally agree. Every time I find myself reading every single sentence of a blog post or article I stop and think “Whaaa?” And then I realize the person is a great storyteller with a fresh voice (and usually a knack for specificity). Thanks so much for reading and sharing!

  4. Love that you’re talking about this. As a former TV writer, I learned early on that, in a competitive market, voice is all you’ve got. And on a creative level, finding your own unique voice is one of those incomparable joys of self-discovery. I hope more people are motivated and inspired to trust theirs!

  5. Ooohh such juicy-good stuff here. Great for writing inspiration. I want to put each of these points on a little square notecard and keep them in a stack on my coffee table.

  6. Hi Nicole,
    Thank you for sharing this. I’ve definitely caught myself ‘imitating’ other voices I randomly absorbed. I’m getting better at finding my own voice and your tips are very helpful. Thanks again!

    • It happens to all of us from time to time, I think. There’s also a “good” kind of influence, though…I find that reading incredible writers (often offline) can help me experiment, take chances, and connect to my voice. A more deliberate way to develop the craft of writing. Thanks so much for reading!

  7. Yup. That kool-aid is most definitely pink. bright pink.

    I love to outline all of my articles and copy by hand – then use those maps to get the writing done. It’s a lot of chicken scratch, but I like being able to do my whole cross out, arrow, circle, underline madness of creativity before committing to proper sentences.

    • Absolutely…my handwritten drafts are always a MESS too. And usually I know that if I don’t transcribe them right away I won’t be able to figure them out later. But I take that as a sign that there’s some alchemy involved, maybe? Thank you for reading, Devon!

  8. I’m pretty sure the Koolaid IS pink (the kind that stains a ring around your mouth like a clown with unsteady hands). 🙂

    I really like how encouraging this post is, Nicole. So many people get frustrated by the daunting task of uncovering their writing voice. I think that’s why they end up playing it safe and writing something that sounds like everyone else.

    • Thank you for saying that, Maisie! Creativity can always use a little more encouragement. Great description of the clown makeup, I love it.

  9. Your intro perfectly describes where I am right now with my business. I’ve hit the saturation point; I’m tired of the click-bait headlines; I can’t even look at Twitter. That makes me sound depressed, but I’m not – awareness is good. Knowing that I sampled the Koolaid is good (definitely pink, probably drunk out of a glittery cup that says Girl Boss). And moving on from it is better. Thanks for this – it’s so great to know that others see it too.

    • I’m so glad to hear that it resonated, Beth. I’ve noticed your writing and your voice definitely shines through. To a more diverse online ecosystem! *sips coffee from Girl Boss mug

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