My best advice on writing goes against the grain, but it works well for me. It might work for you, too.
I discovered this tactic while doing a fair amount of ghostwriting—mostly short columns for executives or administrators whose lives and personalities were distinct from my own. It seemed almost comical to assume their “voices.”
Sometime later, my husband, also a writer and communicator, began ghostwriting as well. He always passed his work through me, his personal editor, before submitting it to clients.
That’s when I noticed a familiar pattern. My husband always did his best writing when he wrote in someone else’s voice. It was cleaner, clearer, and more interesting to read than anything he wrote in his own voice. It had more focus and required less editing. I was amused at first. Then I had an epiphany.
As writers, we’re generally told to write what we know. Use our own voices. Be ourselves. That has never worked for me. Whenever I try to write in my own voice, I write with laziness, inconsistency, and lack of direction. When I write as someone else, however, deciding what and how to write is suddenly easy.
It occurred to me that to assume someone else’s voice might actually be the secret to finding my own. I began experimenting—with unmistakable results. Without fail, my best writing is done when I imagine myself writing in someone else’s voice—usually someone whose ideas and communication skills I respect or admire.
Best of all, it’s a great way to overcome writer’s block. Thoughts that simply will not come together in my own mind quickly organize like good soldiers in the mind of my alter ego.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not talking about supernatural channeling. It’s more akin to practical role modeling—maybe the way a gymnast visualizes a successful routine before a competition. Generally my own thoughts are distracted by emotions, desk clutter, undone tasks, dishes in the sink, and unwanted phone calls. I can’t write well unless I shut those distractions out and find a little focus. Assuming the voice of someone else whose distractions are foreign to me allows me to achieve that kind of focus.
Try it. See what you think. I’d love to hear whether it works for you as well as it does for me!
I wrote this as William Zinsser. I hope he would not be offended.