How to Keep Your Self in All Your Writing

What I’m reading: Robert Falconer by George MacDonald
What’s on the iPod: The Way It Goes by Dispatch

How was your weekend? It was hot and dry here. We hoped for rain, saw the lightning and heard the thunder, but nada. So we opted for activities that included air conditioning.

We’re replacing appliances and the countertop, so we decided to start with the one appliance that makes the most difference — the refrigerator. It’s amazing how many different features refrigerators come with (do I really need WiFi on my ice maker panel?), and how those prices go from reasonable right up to nearly the price of a small car. Of course, he loved the one that’s the most expensive. I love the stainless steel everything in that fridge, but I don’t love the idea of paying the price of four Samsung or LG mid-range refrigerators. Yes, that expensive.

So we came away without a clear decision, but with a candidate for a new stove. Go figure.

My daughter and I spent a rare Sunday out at the mall. I’m not a fan of malls — call it mall burnout, if you will. I’d rather be at a local shop or an open-air outlet. Malls are better in winter when you don’t want to freeze while you shop. Or never. Yes, maybe never. But we hadn’t been out in ages together and now is the time to pick up summer things at huge discounts. We spent four hours out and about and came home with three items. Sometimes, you just don’t find anything or don’t care to.

I was looking at one of my favorite clothing brands and noticing an attempt to diversify the style but stay within the taste level that’s become the brand. It’s tough when you’re a well-established name and you need to mix it up to stay current. So there were some wild colors and patterns, but all within the same cuts that this designer is known for. I liked some, loathed others. You can’t win everyone over.

I guess we writers have similar concerns. True, we’re not big-name entities who are so well known that we have to stick within a certain genre or concentration or style, but we have clients who are used to getting from us the same or better quality. If we stray too far from our own particular brand, we could lose some people. Some examples of straying from the brand might be:

  • Losing the client’s voice in favor of your own
  • Using a different format than what your client is used to (like inserting Chicago style in an APA setting)
  • Pitching ideas or projects that simply do not fit
  • Losing professionalism by public gossiping, copyright infringement/plagiarism, whining, etc.
  • Trash-talking about writing competitors, client competitors, or others within the client’s business
  • Having website/brochure/email writing that doesn’t fit with your image 
  • Bad, sloppy, or incoherent writing 
For me, it’s not too tough to stick with my own voice and style when expanding into new areas. I just apply how I treat clients and their needs to everyone. But suppose I went from writing business books to writing for an underground music publication? Doesn’t that mean I have to act, talk, and think with a lot more edge?
Yes and no.
I may need to present a product that has a stronger edge to it, but that doesn’t mean the editors who hire me will accept my being all emo, bad-ass, or rude when communicating with them. Same goes with writing for consumer pubs — I can’t go in acting all Betty Crocker and wearing my virtual apron. That’s not today’s woman, and that’s sure as hell not going to land any gigs.
Do you work in various industries and if so, how do you keep your brand consistent?

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  • Paula July 22, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    Some of my clients are relaxed and informal, others are stodgy, and some are quick and to the point.

    The trickiest one to adapt my voice for is one that's geared to teens and tweens and aims for a Flesch-Kincaid level of 8.9. I think the closest I've come is 9.7 or so. You have to keep sentences short and clear and avoid multisyllabic words. It makes me feel as if I'm talking down to the readers.

    Whatever the forum, I try to use the same language I'd use if I were speaking to that group – just as you speak differently when hanging out with friends than you would in church or at work. We adapt our speech to suit the occasion all the time without giving it much though. Just do the same thing on the page.

    Lori, if you want to avoid headaches with the refrigerator hunt, send me an e-mail. After the problems I had with my gorgeous new fridge, I can tell you what NOT to get.

    Speaking of refrigerators…when my 9-year old nephew was here a couple months ago, he wanted a glass of water. I said it was in the fridge. This kid's grown up with an ice/water dispenser in the refrigerator door. He stood there looking at my refrigerator wondering where the dispenser was. I said, "No, the water is IN the refrigerator." He opened the door, looked around, closed the door and said. "I don't see it." I opened the door and pointed to the filter water pitcher. "Oh!" Poor kid. Everyone burst into laughter.

  • Cathy Miller July 22, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    Like Paula, my writing clients have various styles. Some still fear giving away too much information, which can water down information. And others still believe technical information can only be delivered in text-filled, bullet points on multiple slides.

    Since my brand is keeping it simple, clear & uniquely theirs, I manage to keep my brand for the old school vs those willing to go a different route.

  • Lori July 22, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    Great example about clients being different and needing different things, Paula. Right you are on the voice! If you stay true to your voice and keep it professional, it won't fail you.

    Cathy, having had a recent interview that was so far off topic I was tempted to mail him a GPS, I get your point. 🙂

    I'd be interested to hear the adjustments you make from old-school to current. Are they something you can verbalize, or is it an internal shift?

  • Anne Wayman July 22, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    Lori, I work in different industries… my goal is always to do it in their voice, but do it so the reader gets the message.

  • Devon Ellington July 23, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    Part of for-hire work is being able to match the tone of the brand. If company X hired me to write a PSA, the PSA goes out under the company name, not mine. It will be in their voice, but as strong and clear as I can make it with my skills.

    What goes out under my name(s) has the voice of that particular name.

  • Cathy Miller July 23, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    Lori: When my brand is Keep it simple, the shift is merely using different mechanisms for achieving that.

    Old school may be a white paper that has its multiple references and research, but includes graphs or illustrations for simplicity and has a basic outlined style that is simple to follow – e.g., What's the problem, what are the market drivers, what's the solution.

    Clients willing to go a different route may get a PowerPoint that uses images and fewer words with technical handouts.

    For me, I find I must remind myself to take a bigger editing eraser for the old school writing, but ultimately it's all about keeping it simple. 🙂

    P.S. Thanks- I think you inspired my next post. 🙂