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How to Make Your Writing Feel More Personal
You have a tale to share with the world. You know that your experiences will make for an engaging novel — or at least an entertaining blog post.
However critical and compelling your message is, few people will read it if your writing style makes them feel like they’re wading through a swamp of literary muck. Plus, you need to strike a delicate balance between giving your audience a glimpse into your life and making them unwilling hostages to your biography. How can you make your writing feel more personal without baring your naked brain — or making readers yawn?
Making Impersonal Pieces Feel More Personal
Let’s start with the type of writing many people perform at their job every day. Maybe you need to write a report for your boss on suggested ways to boost productivity without breaking the budget. Perhaps they want an email on the subject — the primary issue remains the same.
You do your research, and you identify implementing a flextime policy as a cost-effective means to boost productivity without spending much overhead. Since it’s better to show than tell, compare these three examples:
Example one: Since we spoke earlier this week — thanks again for the coffee — I worked hard on the assignment you gave me. I thought it would be nice if we could try a flextime policy to see if that might help? You see, Barb in accounting just had her third baby, and she’s having a lot of trouble juggling telecommuting and childrearing. She gets interrupted all the time during her typical nine-to-five, but she thinks a more flexible schedule could help. She told me that she could be more productive if she could attend conference calls when she puts her baby down for a nap. DeShaun over in tech support has a similar situation, and you know Felicity is always running to one doctor’s appointment or another.
Example two: Flextime policies can increase productivity, according to this highly respected HR journal. Competitor Corporation implemented such a plan last year and increased revenue by 5%. Employees who work for firms with such programs generally report higher job satisfaction and improved work-life balance.
Example three: A method many top firms have successfully implemented to boost productivity inexpensively is a flextime policy. According to my research, many firms that embrace such arrangements increase productivity and enjoy increased revenues. The cost to establish such a system is less than $1,000 per year, and folks like Barb in accounting and DeShaun in tech support feel enthusiastic about the idea, as do I. Could we explore this option together in more detail?
The first one is way too personal for a professional setting. It is inappropriate to gossip about other employees’ lives. Plus, the tone is too informal. The second example swings too far to the opposite extreme. It’s entirely appropriate — but it doesn’t inspire the reader to take action, either.
Example number three, though, much like Baby Bear’s chair and porridge, is just right. It conveys the pertinent facts, but warmly. The writer adds a personal touch by including who is onboard with the idea without going into unnecessary details. Most importantly, it inspires the reader to act — which is the whole purpose of the communication.
Making Your Personal Writing Less Self-Indulgent
“That’s fine for work,” you might be thinking, “but it hardly helps me to pen my memoir.” Fair enough. How can you strike a balance between utterly baring your soul and keeping the reader entertained?
Let’s say you’re writing a 750-word personal essay piece about how you successfully overcame an addiction. You want to describe your lowest point — perhaps so dark you considered ending your life:
Example one: “I thought back to my formative years.” From here, you go on a stream-of-consciousness journey straight out of Joyce. This approach works if you’re a literary master, and your objective is creating art for art’s sake. However, for most blog writers, it will put you way over word count. Worse, you risk alienating your reader when their eyes get tired.
Example two: “It was so bad, I thought about ending it all.” I’m sorry that you felt that way, but I’m not feeling the kind of emotional connection that makes me want to read further.
Example three: “I stood on the edge — not the proverbial one, but an outcropping overlooking a 200-foot drop. I used to cliff-dive, and I remember thinking, just close your eyes, and pretend it’s the ocean.”
Once again, Baby Bear for the win. Why? You form a connection with the reader by including specific details and emotions attached to the experience. You paint a vivid picture of the exact moment you contemplated the worst — but you never mention suicide directly, either. You let the reader draw that inference. From there, you can go on to spread a positive message of hope and recovery. You conveyed the essential information — all without making the reader feel depressed themselves.
3 Questions to Ask Yourself When Personalizing Your Writing
Hopefully, these brief examples give you an idea of how to make your writing more personal while remaining professional and avoiding self-indulgence. Whenever you want to connect with your reader without implicitly treating them like your therapist, ask yourself the following questions.
1. What Is Your Purpose?
At the core of all written communication is the desire to connect, so consider if the information you share will help you build that bridge. It doesn’t matter if your subject matter is as seemingly dry as to how to use SQL to improve website traffic. How can you make the topic meaningful to your reader? For example, if your tweaks increased the click-through rate of one of your sites considerably, that’s relevant information to share.
2. Who Is Your Audience?
If nobody reads what you write, you haven’t communicated effectively. Keep your audience paramount in your mind. Before sharing anything personal, ask yourself, “Do they need to know this? If so, why?” For example, if you’re writing a piece on survival in the wild, your audience needs to know how you managed to start a fire with damp wood. They don’t, however, need a play-by-play of every shiver and teeth-chatter you felt while you tried to get it going.
3. How Can I Say It Succinctly?
Many writers get caught up in a keyboard frenzy when inspiration strikes — yours truly is no exception. However, ask yourself, “How can I say this in as few words as possible?” Read your final draft out loud and see what you can delete without losing meaning. Do you need to say, “During my high school years, when many young bodies are in peak athletic form, I decided to dedicate my life and lungs to track,” when a simple, “I ran track in high school” will do?
Make Your Writing Personal, Yet Professional
Effective writing is much like walking a tightrope. You need to maintain a steady balance between what you want to say and what the reader needs to know. Keep these tips and examples in mind as you polish your magnum opus.
About the Author
Kate Harveston is a journalist from Pennsylvania. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Professional Writing and her work has been featured on sites like Medium and Yahoo News.