I’m learning to both adjust and honor my voice

Written on March 8th, 2018

I have a content marketing internship this semester with a (totally awesome) freelancer here in Madison.

It’s really the first time I’ve gotten to write as a “proper”, paying job.

When I was young, I dreamed about being an author. I loved journaling time in class. I jumped at every chance to put a pencil to paper. I was always scribbling down something in my notebook margins.

But I didn’t realize that there were other possibilities for a career in wordsmanship besides writing novels.

I thought that copywriting positions were mostly for short, quippy advertisements… or boring, giant websites with cookie-cutter paragraphs about an industry.

I was wrong.

There are so many opportunities to use my love for writing in a professional sense, and I couldn’t be more excited that I’m starting to see them.

For a while, I became disillusioned with a lot of writing on the internet. It felt watered down, like it was catering to too large of an audience… like all that mattered anymore was page views and likes, regardless of whether or not the work was meaningful.

But at my job now, I know everything I write matters.

We aren’t doing what everyone else is. We aren’t even really catering to algorithms or all of the tips of how to generate reach. No, we’re just trying to tell stories — in the most authentic manner possible — to connect with other people.

It’s some of the most fun I’ve ever had. And it’s also been some of the most challenging work I’ve ever done.

I’ve always loved writing, and I’ve always honored my own “voice”. I like to write raw, vulnerable pieces with lots of semi-colons and meandering thoughts, because that’s the way my head really is.

And that works fine for me on my personal website. It works in a lot of narrative competitions. I’ve even been able to pull off a few academic essays in this “true Haley” way.

But it doesn’t work all the time.

One thing I’ve gotten to do at this internship is ghostwrite articles for other people. Getting inside someone’s head — and finding the confidence to tell their story — has been really hard.

I’ve had to learn to adjust my own voice and stylistic preferences to better match the client and their audience. Sometimes it means I’m using sentence structure that I normally wouldn’t or that I’m purposefully replacing my natural diction with simpler words.

Sometimes it feels foreign. But I realized something: I’ve never been less happy with a piece after I evaluate and change my voice to fit the circumstances. I’ve always, without fail, liked it better.

Sure, there’s a balance — I want to maintain my integrity. I have opinions about writing, and there are things I won’t compromise. But I’ve come to see the importance of writing for others.

And I’ve come to see that writing for others isn’t mutually exclusive with writing for myself.

I can find a balance between using a voice that fits the client and their audience and also that fits me as an individual. I don’t have to throw everything I know and like to the wind… but I also don’t have to cling to it like a child with a blanket.

There has been freedom in opening my eyes to the possibilities in writing. I feel liberated knowing that I can write to make money while still writing things I enjoy and feel passionate about. Things that matter.

I used to think I’d have to somehow lose part of myself to fit into the commercial writing world. But now I know it’s not about abandoning any piece of me — it’s about employing the right facets at the right time, in the right way.

I have so much still to learn about being a better writer. Just because it’s a passion of mine doesn’t mean it’s not a struggle… but I’ve never loved any challenge more in my life.

I’m so excited to see how this internship — and my future career — continues to evolve my relationship with language.