As a freelance writer, I tackle a variety of forms and topics – from website content to feature articles, marketing copy to pop culture criticism. I’m often shifting gears among these modes several times in the course of a day.
My friend and colleague Christine asked me how writers effectively juggle multiple styles. While certain elements have to be tailored to the target, others remain consistent across any piece of writing, whether in 140 characters or 140,000.
What should change?
Voice: Whether you’re writing for yourself, a corporate brand, or a publication, your outlet reflects certain values and personality traits that must come across in your writing. This also affects how long or short, how complex or simple, and how broad or in-depth your piece should be.
Perspective: Are you writing in the first person (to express your own opinion or experience), the second person (to establish a conversation with the reader), or the third person (to deliver information neutrally)?
Intent: What is the goal of the piece? You may be trying to educate, to entertain, to spark discussion, or to drive the reader to take action. Different goals require different writing techniques.
These considerations share a common denominator: the audience. Selecting the correct voice, perspective, and intent comes down to understanding who you’re writing for.
There’s no easier or more effective way to get a handle on an outlet’s audience than to become a part of that audience. When I’m preparing to write anything I make sure to read a few pieces in the same style or subject area – whether that’s customer-driven marketing copy, long-form feature articles, or business blogs like this one.
This warm-up puts me in the mindset of the reader I’m trying to reach. It also synchs up my creative process with the tone and the rhythms of the format I’m writing in.
What should stay the same?
Of course, some fundamentals apply to every kind of writing, regardless of where, why, or for whom it exists:
Authenticity: On some level you need to believe in what you’re producing. Very few writers can 1) consistently B.S. effectively, and 2) do so with their spirit intact. And personally, I would not want to be (or even meet) someone who can.
A hook: Express a new idea. Or express an established idea in a new way. Or express an established idea in a tried-and-true way but with some creative flourish. If you’re not adding something fresh to the conversation, why would you (or your prospective reader) bother?
Coherence: This should go without saying, but an alarming amount of word salad on the Internet suggests that a reminder is still necessary. Solid, accessible writing follows basic principles of grammar, flow, and sentence construction. Readers will never respond to what you’re saying if they can’t decipher how you’re saying it.