November 10, 2016

You probably became aware of a writer’s “voice” as a child, listening to stories read out loud or reading them for yourself. How do you develop your own voice as a writer? Lane DeGregory, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Tampa Bay Times feature writer, suggests these strategies.

Read other writing. Find the differences between an Associated Press story that uses a “just the facts” inverted pyramid approach and the story from a local news outline with context and perspective.

Use editors to hone your voice. They can listen and coach. However, you have to discover your voice. No editor can do that for you.

Get inside the head of the person you’re writing about. Journalists inhabit other people’s lives. Ask the questions that help you discover who they are, what they love, what they fear.

Beware of roadblocks. Avoid bureaucratic writing that relies on news speak or official jargon. Make sure you have enough details or understanding to write with authority. Don’t use too many quotes and facts to simply string a story together. Select the details that let you tell the story for yourself.

Shut out the noise. At some point, you have to quit reading other writing and talking to other people. Your voice is within you. You have to listen for it.

Remember this Dolly Parton saying. “Find out who you are, then do it on purpose.”

Taken from Pulitzer Prize-Winning Writers: Secrets of Their Craft, a self-directed course with Lane DeGregory and other prize-winning journalists at Poynter NewsU.

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Vicki Krueger has worked with The Poynter Institute for more than 20 years in roles from editor to director of interactive learning and her current…
Vicki Krueger

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