Funny thing about voice. What you think you sound like and what you actually sound like are two com-plete-ly different things. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever listened to yourself recorded. And in the age of voice mail, who hasn’t?
There are a bunch of scientific reasons for that phenomenon (read one explanation here), but as a former TV journalist, I can attest that science doesn’t matter when you’re first starting out. All you know is, when you play your story back, your delivery doesn’t sound the way you intended and you want to change it. Or at least that’s how I felt.
Sex Doesn’t Always Sell
So during my initial weeks as a full-time reporter, I spent my time in the audio booth delivering voice-overs that I felt conveyed “newscasterish” authority. I built up the courage to ask a fellow reporter for feedback after about a month on the job. His response was kind but blunt:
“I like your story telling, and I like your stand-ups (the portion in front of camera), but during your voice-over, you sound a little crazy. It’s all slow and breathy.”
His critique was spot on. I listened to my stories with fresh ears and discovered that, in my attempts to transform my voice, I’d become a Katie Couric-esque phone-sex operator. (Bleck! No one wants to listen to that!)
I’d succumb to what I later dubbed as “new reporter voice.” My first tip to new hires, once I became assistant new director: stop trying to sound like what you think you’re supposed to, and just speak to the audience like you’d talk to your mother (as long as you like her).
Don’t Be Afraid to Stand Out
Even with that knowledge under my belt, years later one of my favorite interviewees, Al Weinberg, taught me a valuable lesson.
If the Academy Awards decided to add “most distinctive voice” as a category, this lovable, successful businessman would have taken home the Oscar. He knew it and capitalized on it, narrating all of his commercials himself:
“Hi, folks! This is Al Weinberg from Weinberg’s in Presque Isle…”
Here’s a video of a story I shot with him about his unique sound. (Please forgive the poor audio and video quality. It’s a copy of a copy of a copy.)
Al embraced the uniqueness of his voice and used it to brand his business. As a Southern gal who’d worked hard to erase my drawl, this conversation made me rethink my approach.
Yes, I wanted an accent that viewers could understand, but achieving that goal didn’t mean I had to eradicate the characteristics that made me…well, me.
I loosened up after that. And perhaps it was Al’s influence that prompted me on my last newscast in Northern Maine to sign off with “Y’all have a great day now, ya hear?”
Transforming those Sentiments into Writing
Oddly enough, my eureka moments in broadcast news didn’t carryover into my creative writings. In story after story, I found myself emulating other writers and failing miserably. Similar to my sexed-up Couric voice, I hated all of it, as did the select few people who I allowed to read them.
Remembering those frustrating experiences led me to panic a bit late last year at the thought of launching this blog. I talked myself into going through with it anyway by reasoning “how would I ever find my writing style if I never wrote?”
Fast forward a few months. I’m starting to believe that I’m on the right track after receiving messages like these from friends:
“Had a chance to read your blog..It felt like we were having one of our talks and getting caught up on each other’s lives.”
“I can hear your voice in this…. So proud of you!”
“Your writing is funny and authentic. 🙂 Sounds just like you!”
What’s this? When I write like I talk, people don’t want to poke their eyes out?
Hmmm, seems like Al Weinberg taught me that years ago – embrace your voice and make it your brand. Apparently, some of his message got lost in translation.
How about you? Have you found your writing voice? Or, like me, is it still a work in progress? If you don’t write, have you had similar experiences in expressing yourself?
(This post is one of 30 30-somethings I’m writing for the weekly countdown to my 40th birthday. Celebrate with me as I share other lessons or humbling experiences from the past decade.)
May 3, 2014 at 12:02 am
I’m still working on finding my own writing voice – but when I read people who have found theirs I recognize it.
Your comment about the “sexed up Couric” voice had me snickering about a telephone answering system one of my vendors had at my old job. The woman had a breathy 1-800-sex type voice thing going on and whenever I was really having a bad day I’d call just for the laugh.
May 5, 2014 at 8:57 pm
Ha! I need to find someone like that to call when I’m having a bad day. And I’d have to disagree with you about you still working to find your writing voice. I loved your Dancing the Dance post (http://www.goingfromheretothere.com/2014/05/02/dancing-the-dance/) among others. Seems like you’ve found a strong writing voice to me.
May 3, 2014 at 12:17 am
I think you have a marvelous writing voice! I loved reading this warm and, hrm, intimate (?) piece. I honestly laughed out loud about the Katie Couric phone sex. 😀
Found you through Yeah Write Moonshine, and wanted to say hi. So hi! Looking forward to reading along some more.
May 5, 2014 at 9:06 pm
Thanks for the kind feedback, Celeste. Glad you found me on the Moonshine Grid. I love that place. Looking forward to reading more from you as well.
May 3, 2014 at 7:48 am
I struggle so much with this! I want to explore more, but then, how do you even do that?! Great post and I love the advice!
May 5, 2014 at 9:12 pm
Thanks, Deanna. Weird thing. I know I’ve followed your blog before, but when I just clicked on it, it showed as if I wasn’t following you. Must have accidentally unclicked it while reading by phone or something. Anyway, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Glad to know I’m not alone in that struggle. 🙂
May 3, 2014 at 9:37 am
This is a wonderful post, and it’s full of great insights. I think your voice comes through very clearly here, and it seems strong and effortless.
Finding my written voice has been easier for me than finding my speaking voice, but I definitely still view it as a work in progress.
May 5, 2014 at 9:17 pm
Thank you for the positive feedback. I’m still working it out, but I feeling more confident with every post. And given the stories I’ve read from you, I’d say you definitely have found a strong writing voice.
May 3, 2014 at 8:08 pm
I know the feeling. I hate the way I sound when I listen to something I recorded. What I hear when I’m talking and what I hear recorded sound completely different. When people mock me, I quickly negate that that’s how I sound and then I hear it recorded and I’m totally embarrassed. But I do get a lot of people who say that they can hear me saying what I’m writing.
May 5, 2014 at 9:22 pm
Ha! I know. I was convinced that my recorded voice just sounded funny because of the distortion from the equipment. Nope! 🙂 At least now with writing I know any “distortion” comes from me needing to practice more.
May 3, 2014 at 9:03 pm
Agh, I hate my speaking voice! I feel like I sound squeaky.
My writing voice is ever-changing, and the more I write the more styles I try on, see what fits. As you said, it’s a practice, and it takes time.
May 5, 2014 at 9:24 pm
I was just the opposite. I felt my real voice sounds too deep and clearly tried to over compensate. 🙂 As for consistency in written voice, well, that’s a bit of a rollercoaster, but it’s been a fun ride so far.
May 4, 2014 at 10:22 pm
Have I found my own voice? Sometimes. Other times I feel my writing voice is moderate/average. Always a work in progress.
May 5, 2014 at 9:27 pm
Yep. I go back and forth too. My current test is to go back and read an old post. If I still think it’s good, I feel I’ve nailed it. If I cringe or want to make edits, I know I missed the mark. Working hard to average more of the former than latter. Thanks for your comment!
May 4, 2014 at 11:37 pm
Really great post. Enjoyed it immensely.
May 5, 2014 at 9:28 pm
May 5, 2014 at 5:01 am
Hahahah this might have been me. Your post echos my thoughts about voices, whatever type of voice. I am still struggling to find mine. Sometimes when i go back and read something i wrote i am alarmed or dismayed at my style of writing or the words i used. Its hard not to be the hardest critic of our work. Then again i can take comfort in knowing i do this to let out t he steam and not to be judged. I loved your piece.:)
May 5, 2014 at 9:33 pm
Thanks, Jean. And I often go back and review previous posts, cringe and wonder: what was I thinking? But I’m still glad I made the post and just try not to repeat the same mistakes – emphasis on try. 🙂
May 6, 2014 at 2:37 am
I enjoyed this blog.
Reminded me of a time I was told I had a book at bedtime kind of voice… Which is fine if it is but as an after lunch speaker I made them feel way too comfortable and drowsy! I did check he didn’t mean I was boring … Assured me not… But it was the sleepy time tones! Good feedback…
May 6, 2014 at 7:07 pm
Ha! Book-at-bedtime voice. What a great descriptor, even though it wasn’t exactly the tone you were going for. Thanks for sharing, Susi.