One “I” Word to Avoid

I received a manuscript a couple of years ago from a writer friend. She was warm and funny in person, so I looked forward to reading her words. However, within a couple of pages, I put it down. The warm, funny person I knew was nowhere to be found. Sadly, the more I read the less I liked it. I knew this author, but the writing felt unnatural. I couldn’t connect the real person with the author of this work-in-progress manuscript.

Imitate: emulate; follow; copy; parrot; counterfeit; pattern after.

In today’s Tuesday Tip, we’ll examine three ways to avoid the “I” word:

1. Be you

As much as I love Southern literature, if I try to write a nonfiction book with lots of Southern charm and ya’lls, it’s not going to fly. Saying “ya’ll” in my ordinary life feels odd, so it shouldn’t show up in my writing. As much as I love Ann Voskamp, my writing will sound pretentious because poetic prose doesn’t fall from my lips naturally. As writers we read prolifically, but we also resist the temptation to imitate anyone.

Give yourself permission to be uniquely you, for you bring value to the reader.

    • Don’t use words that you wouldn’t normally.
    • Avoid writing styles that are ill-fitting.

(For example, my friend felt like she had to sound like a teacher to be a Christian writer. In truth, she was a great Bible teacher, but her warmth and personality brought her words to life.)

2. Read your words out loud

Reading your words out loud help you hear them as a reader. As you do, imagine a friend sitting across from you. Ask:

  • Would she be confused?
  • Does it feel natural?
  • Do your words capture the heart of your personality and message (or someone else’s)?
  • If you are brave enough, ask someone else to read your words out loud. This is a whole new level of listening!

The goal isn’t to imitate, but to be your best original self.

Your Turn

Share your thoughts on the COMPEL blog on how you remain true to your own writing voice.  Take your current work-in-progress and read it out loud… does it sound like your voice? or does it sound like your take on a popular writer? How do you plan on staying true to your writing voice?


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  1. I am a Virginian, and y’all has always been part of my vernacular. But, for writing, I only use it in dialogue, where appropriate.

  2. I tell stories, in person and on paper (or on screen). But God has called me to keep it simple–short sentences, simple words. I imagine I’m talking with an audience of real people. Included in that imaginary group is a real man from our congregation with learning disabilities. God bless him, he stops me if I use a word he doesn’t understand. So I keep the long words to a minimum and define the ones I have to use. He’s an eager learner and a joy to teach. The voice I use to teach a group he’s in . . . that’s my writing voice.

  3. Lorraine Taylor: December 14, 2018 at 6:16 pm

    In responding to this article on using our authentic voices, I stay true to myself in using my unique way of writing and what I wish to convey to others.

    When I describe images, select words or choose sentences to help others understand my thoughts, biblical teachings and/or responses to issues, I am quite comfortable and at ease expressing my own authenticity.

    What I am learning is how to organize, structure and frame what it is I am trying to get across to others in simplifying and shortening content. I write rather lengthy and realize the average reader may only have a bit of time to browse articles.

  4. This is awesome advice! I “y’all” it all the time and that is how I talk, but I did wonder if that was OK. I found that the more I talked with my voice dripping with humor or raw honesty, the more people related to me and enjoyed my writing. Using my voice makes it feel more like friends having conversations than me teaching and I love that!

  5. I like the idea of keeping our writing authentic. I like it when I feel as though the author is speaking to me. Even in my daily interaction with people, I tend to be very descriptive, and my sentences can be quite lengthy. I realize the need to be concise and edit when we write, but sometimes our own personality gets lost when the editor is done doing their job. What tips would you suggest we practice as we write so that our own voice is heard before and after the editing process? Thank you.

  6. Charla Matthews: December 12, 2018 at 1:37 pm

    Suzie, I am pretty comfortable with my writing voice these days. But only because I practice all the tips you shared in your post!

    When my journey began as a writer I often felt awkward as I penned words. Reading those words out loud revealed the issue. If I couldn’t read my own piece without feeling tongue-tied, I knew it would not appeal to others. Besides, it just plain didn’t sound like me.

    Sometimes I struggle because I change my way of speaking when I am in a super professional environment. Being a true Southerner, “y’all” doesn’t always present well (just saying).

    However, I strive to keep my writing authentically me yet read-able 🙂

    Your tips are timeless, Suzie. Thank you!

  7. Lisa Littlewood: December 11, 2018 at 3:25 pm

    This is a great question (how to stay true to your writing voice?) and good suggestions!

    I often need to give myself permission to write without expectation– to just sit down daily, and write from the heart.

    It’s like the Hemingway quote…“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

    While I admire the idea of sitting down and doing this, I don’t actually do it for fear of what others might think ( I’m often thinking about writing a blog post or something for publication, not just writing to write!).

    I’m going to challenge myself this month to sit down and do this for 15 minutes a day…just to write for no one but myself and see what comes out. My guess is that the more we do this, the more we’ll find good raw material, and begin to both recognize and feel comfortable with our God-given voices!

    Thank you for the encouragement!

  8. I find that this has been a process for me. I feel like after five years I am finally starting to be content with my voice and simple way of writing. More and more I sound like myself as I write and share what God puts on my heart. I love this Suzie!! I continually need to be reminded of this. I am going to print this and keep it in front of me when I write.