Friday, October 2, 2009

Being the Go-To Writer

You’re probably the go-to writer for everyone you know. Aren’t you?

If someone needs a resume cover letter, a complaint letter, a business letter, an admissions letter, they come to you.

But here’s the catch—each type of letter requires a different voice and tone. After all, the letter is supposed to be coming from our friend. We know what they sound like: their own, unique voice.

The important business email for your friend? The employee’s coworkers are expecting business-language speak and a brusque, professional, confident attitude. You’re using silly, business words and phrases like “going forward,” “leverage,” “out of the box,” “big hitter,” etc. It should sound like your friend, being professional.

The complaint letter? A well-documented tale of woe with just a tinge of sarcasm or irritation. My favorite thing to do for friends who ask me to write their complaint letters is to take the corporation’s slogan off their website, transplant it to the top of the letter, and outline how the company failed to live up to it. Your friend's voice, but frustrated.

A letter to the principal of your friend’s child’s school? Very much like a complaint letter, but scattered with insight into the friend’s child, casting the child in a sympathetic light. The tone is of concern for the child. Write these letters in a nurturing voice—your friend--the responsible, concerned parent who is partnering with the principal in an important role.

Sometimes I think as writers we over-think voice. It comes naturally to us---voice is that voice in our heads when we’re thinking or reading. We’ve changed in it the above examples because of the situation and because the letter is supposed to be coming from our friends, not us. Our friends don’t sound like us. We made the voice in the letter sound like them…with a problem.

But our books are from us—unless we’re ghostwriting. Our voices, telling the story, on paper.