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.
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.
There are only two voices you need to worry about
You can probably guess whose they are, but just in case:
- Your ideal reader’s voice
- 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:)
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. 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.
This post was inspired by the #braveblogging series created by the smarties over at at Makeness Media. Kindred spirits, they are.