How to be yourself when you write

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Are you still awake?

I made those words up but could just as well have copied them.

The Internet is full of About us texts like these — formal, third person, the same old words.

The facts in such a text are near impossible to remember. There is only one message that sticks: “This agency is just like any other.”

Which begs the question: why, if they bring no benefit, are these texts so common?

Hard to shake off

One assumption is that we deliberately copy from each other. But I don’t believe that. Why should we want to imitate something that isn’t effective?

I think there is a different mechanism at work: we are vulnerable to using this kind of language because it is hard to get words and phrases out of our mind once they are inside.

It is why expert jargon is so persistent. At first, a word like value proposition may not mean much to us. But as as we hear it more often, we grow used to it. When we pick up our pen, it pops back into our mind. We start to use it.

This mechanism makes it hard to find our own style of writing: the things we read and hear are in our minds.

So how we can be ourselves?

We need a counter-reference. Something that tells us how to do it differently. A guide that reminds us which type of language and which tone-of-voice we really want to use.

The good thing about making such a guide is that it forces you to think about your personality. It’s a good idea to explicitly ask these questions: What are you all about? What’s important to you? How do you want others to perceive you?

Big corporations do such exercises as a matter of course (they call it branding). For the self-employed and many small businesses the idea doesn’t come so natural.

But there is something magical about asking those questions. They make you more aware of your strengths, your style and how it makes you different from others. Things become clearer. You become aware of what you want to accentuate about yourself.

A style to match your personality

Once you have this accentuated picture of yourself, it’s normally quite easy to find the style of language that matches it. Now you can draw up your style-guide — your tone-of-voice document.

It doesn’t have to be long. The shorter it is, the more likely you are going to refer to it.

The document can be a page or two — on top, a short paragraph that summarizes who you are and what you stand for, followed by some inspiring samples.

This can include short examples for different communication channels like e-mail and social media-platforms that you may be using.

But that’s not a must.

Don’t make this a bureaucratic exercise. One short paragraph maybe be all you need. The most important thing is that the process gets you thinking, that you are aware about your personality and that you get it across when you communicate.

I dearly recommend this exercise to everyone because, without it, you always risk falling back into a language that is not your own.


About Carsten

Hi, I am Carsten Wendt. I help people make their writing more exciting. I am also a passionate public speaking coach and Humorous Public Speaking Champion of Belgium.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris March 22, 2012 at 8:52 am

sometimes it is hard to be ourselives. my writting style is full with humorous and criticism. so people can relax from reading what i am really about to tell. but one day, a old guy told me, i should be carefull about i am writting. i dont know why should i be carefull, i think we should have freedom to say what we want to say. of couse i accept also the criticism from others. but i will not stop writting about my real feelings. writting with music can help to a better writting, but must the right music for the right emotion.


Carsten March 22, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Dear Chris, I think you are absolutely right to focus on your own feelings. If not everything would become sterile. It is also what people want: they want to feel the writer’s personality and opinion.

It’s more important to be yourself than sticking to rules. There’s a wonderful book by Brenda Ueland called ‘If you want to write’. She says that everyone is talented for writing but that our magic is normally killed by critical teachers and people who tell us how not to do it instead of encouraging our creativity.


Chris April 3, 2012 at 9:16 pm

everyone is talented for writing,which i was not agree when i was in high scholl.Beacause at that time, we must writting accordng to the fixted topic and no negative opionions to pass the examination. But now i have to agree, when people start to think, they can writte. there are some people who dont like use internet or writting on internet, because they think it is not good for their career, they are afraid the potential companies or collegens may read or see their crazy side on themself.what do you think of that?


Carsten April 9, 2012 at 11:56 am

When you write it is good to give yourself an audience. The reason is that your writing will be better if you have an audience in mind. But that doesn’t mean you have to publish anything online. It makes perfect sense to show your inner worlds only to those you want to share it with.


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