Voices in My Head: An Exercise for Ghostwriters
If you work as a ghostwriter, you can’t write in your own voice. You should assume the voice of your client.
That’s not an easy thing to do — especially if you’re not used to it. And if you’re used to writing in your own voice, you must figure out a way to get out of your own head.
Fortunately, there’s an easy trick to assume any other writer’s voice.
It sounds creepy, right? But it’s an essential skill for any freelance writer who operates as a ghost.
When you submit content to a client, it should sound like something the client could have written himself.
Choose Your Reading Material
Grab the nearest book, open an article online, or pull up someone else’s post on social media. It doesn’t matter what you choose as long as it’s written by somebody else.
If you’ve chosen a book, open to any chapter and read two or three pages. For short-form material, read the entire document.
Now read it again.
One more time — you know, for good measure.
I recommend reading out loud. Focus not just on the information conveyed in the document, but also on the writer’s voice. Especially on the writer’s voice.
Note the sentence length. The inclusion or absence of humor. The paragraph length. The transitions between sentences, paragraphs, and sections.
Now open a blank document in Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or any other word processing program. Write a piece of content in the voice of the author of the document you just read.
You don’t want to copy the words themselves. This isn’t transcription.
Instead, you’re writing a completely new piece of copy. Pick any topic you like, but it’s best if it’s related to an industry in which you write professionally.
Mimic the author as closely as possible. Think about the cadence of the writing, the author’s choice of language, the writer’s style.
Maybe the writer overuses a certain word or phrase. Do the same in your own content.
When you’re finished, read over your copy and then read the source material. How did you do?
Would a third party believe that the original author wrote your piece?
Lather, Rinse, Repeat
Conduct this exercise with a few different pieces of source material. You’ll notice that you become more attuned to voice as you attempt to replicate another writer’s style.
Now it’s time to do the same exercise, but with a paying client. When you set out to write a piece of copy — whether it’s a blog article, product description, or some other piece of content — read other examples that your client has written in the past.
You’re looking for the same qualities that you looked for in the practice sessions.
Does the client prefer formal or informal prose? Do other examples from the client include humor? Are there lots of contractions, industry jargon, or slang terms?
You won’t always get it perfect. However, your client will recognize your efforts to mimic his or her voice and to create content that’s true to the client’s brand.
Build on Your Success
Working as a ghostwriter can prove frustrating when you try to switch voices multiple times throughout the day. That’s why I recommend working in batches whenever possible.
For instance, maybe you write five articles per week for one client. Get all those articles written on the same day so you stay in a consistent voice.
If you have to jump from one voice to another, take a break between them. Grab a cup of coffee, take your dog for a walk, or finally clean the bathroom.
Just don’t read anything during this break. Think of it as a cleanse. You’re washing the old voice out of your head so you can replace it with a new one when you return to your desk.
When you get back from your break, go through the same exercise I outlined in the first section of this article. Read a few items written by the new client so you can slip into his or her voice.
I have found that this gets easier with experience. You’ll find it easier and faster to adopt a client’s voice when you embark on a project.
A Bonus Trick
Sometimes, you need a little help with truly adopting a client’s voice. That’s where the telephone comes in handy.
I know, I know… We live in a world in which email and Slack take the place of more arcane forms of communication. But stick with me here.
When you can actually hear a client’s voice rather than simply read it off the page, that voice will stick with you longer. You can even record the conversation and replay it later when you start to work on a project for that client.
Just make sure to tell the client that you’re recording the conversation and why. It’s best not to look like a stalker when you’re trying to retain a paying customer.
This tip works particularly well when you’re writing long-form content for a client. For instance, maybe you’re ghosting someone’s memoirs or a novel.
Slipping into that client’s voice becomes even more important than if you were writing sales copy or an educational article.
If you need practice with this, use a family member or a friend as a guinea pig. Record a conversation between the two of you, then retreat to your writer’s den. Replay the conversation several times.
Now write a piece of content in your loved one’s voice. Practicing in this way will make you more accurate when you try it with the pain client.
It’s Not You, It’s Me
I’ve worked with many freelance writers over the years who have argued with me about style issues in their content. They think that they should have creative license when they’re getting paid to write as a ghost.
When you’re writing for somebody else, especially as a ghost, it’s the client’s opinion that matters. Accept feedback graciously and apply it liberally. Your opinion doesn’t matter.
I’ve ghostwritten thousands of articles over the years and I’ve learned that everyone has a distinct voice. Sometimes yours will slip through even when you’re writing for somebody else. Don’t get bent out of shape.
Instead, recognize when you’re most likely to slip up so you can avoid it in the future.
If you write for a client over a long period of time, his or her voice might change. Remember that you’re not just writing to put words on the page — you’re helping your client achieve a specific goal.
Maybe the existing voice doesn’t work for the audience. That’s something that you have to learn to recognize.
Talk it over with your client. Figure out a way to subtly transition into a new voice so you don’t alienate the existing audience but the copy better serves the brand.
It’s a delicate balancing act. Most people think that ghostwriting simply involves writing content and submitting it to the client. But there’s a lot more that goes on behind the scenes.
Figuring out how to master voice is one of the most important things.
Maybe you’ve worked as a ghostwriter for years or perhaps you’re just getting started. Either way, learning how to adopt any writer’s voice is an extremely useful skill.
In fact, for more than 12 years, I used this skill daily.
How do you master your clients’ voices? Do you have a tip or trick that might help other writers master voice?