I’m Lou Franco, and this is Episode 7 of Write While True, which is a writing program for programmers.
If you follow it literally, you’ll be in an infinite loop of writing. But I mean program as in a training program.
So, in each episode, I’ll challenge you with an exercise that will help you build a writing habit. This is Season one, which is about foundational exercises.
Listen to Write While True at your desk, and when it’s over, start writing.
Thinking about how this podcast sounds
I’ve been thinking a lot about how this podcast sounds. I’m new to podcasting, and I’m very aware that I have a lot to do to sound more natural, but that’s not what I’m talking about.
What I mean is how the podcast is specific to me — if you listened to a several different podcasts about writing, what would make this one mine.
For the last two episodes I’ve focused on having a specific reader and a specific message that you are trying to convey. But now, I want to turn attention back to the writer.
This is something I am still trying to figure out. In fact, just as I was writing the script for this podcast I was both figuring it out and trying to apply it.
I’m approaching it by starting with sweep editing.
Sweep Editing Breaks Down the Editing Process
I talked about sweep editing last episode, which I learned from a Joanna Wiebe talk.
In sweep editing, you are editing in a series of quick sweeps through the piece, looking for just one problem.
Joanna has seven sweeps in her system, but they are very tuned to sales copy writing, so I do sweeps, but not necessarily the ones she talks about.
In the last episode, I talked about the three sweeps I do to get from a first draft to a second draft. The goal is try to make the piece address a reader’s problem, to try to make it valuable.
Once I am done with the sweeps, to borrow from programming term, it has the right architecture. It should be basically good on a macro level, but has lots of problems at the detail level.
Within that architecture there are several things that could still be wrong with it.
It could have spelling mistakes. It could have needless words. The sentence construction could be confusing.
These are all important and we’ll get to them, but, like I said, the problem I am having the most right now is how to make the piece sound like me.
Joanna’s Voice and Tone Sweep Seems to Fit
In this case, Joanna Wiebe does have a sweep that seems to fit perfectly. She calls it the voice and tone sweep. She has a video lesson on her site. I linked to it in the show notes:
In order to do a voice and tone sweep, you first have to have defined your overall voice and this piece’s tone.
Joanna says that voice is more constant throughout all of your work and tone is dependent on the specific piece. I think of Voice as mapping to your personality and tone to the specific feeling and emotion you are trying to communicate in the moment.
To describe your voice, she suggests picking from a word list that she points to. I put link in the show notes.
Tone and Mood
Here are some examples of adjectives from that page: calm, casual, cheerful, silly, or straightforward. There are also somewhat negative ones like: condescending, pretentious, and sarcastic.
Like I said, this is still developing for me. One thing I will say about voice is that you should try to pick an adjective where the opposite choice is also valid.
Here’s an example of what I am getting at. In Joanna’s video tutorial, she is editing for a voice that is calm and smart. I actually don’t think smart is a good choice because the opposite of smart is very rarely appropriate. Everyone would choose to sound smart.
But, calm is different — I could imagine two equally good versions of a piece where one was calm and one showed more excitement.
But, I see what she is getting at with smart — I would describe the voice as expert vs. a learner. Each is valid. In fact, I use both of those voices, but in different places.
In app-o-mat, my Apple developer tutorial site, I write as an expert. But, in this podcast, I try to express that I am a learner. I hope that in both places what I say is smart, but they are different voices.
Another way to express smart is to think about whether the voice primarily offers good advice or primarily asks good questions that gives the reader a perspective.
Again, both choices are valid — both could be said to be smart.
Let me take you through my thought process for developing a voice for this podcast.
When I created it, I named it “Write While True” because I wanted to express that the podcast is for programmers, and that I’m a programmer. So a part of my voice is that I use analogies from programming when trying to describe something.
For example, I might talk about repeatable processes or architecture.
When I talk about programming, I do that with a expert’s voice. But, when I talk about writing, I want to express that I am a learner. That I am not an expert. I talk about my struggles, I point to others who are experts that I am learning from and talk about how I am applying the lessons to my own work.
If you watch the videos I point to, like Larry McEnerney on the Craft of Writing, Joanna Wiebe on Copywriting, or listen to Aliya S. King’s writing podcast, when they talk about writing, you will hear the voice of experts. They can speak from deep experience.
I try not to do that — I am trying things out and reporting how it works for me.
To describe this as a voice: I am someone who is exploring, I’m open to new ideas, eager to share them.
Another aspect of this podcast is that it is short and action-oriented. My intention is that you listen to me for at most 10 minutes, but then maybe spend a few hours watching the videos I point to and trying the exercise on your own work.
So, I am curt. I try to get to the point quickly.
These aspects are relatively constant throughout the episodes.
And another thing to notice is that choosing the opposite of these choices is also valid. My choices are what make this podcast in my voice.
I haven’t experimented with tone on this podcast because with only 7 episodes, there haven’t been many different kinds. At some point there will be guests, and I think the tone of those episodes will be quite different.
In my intro, I asked you to listen at your desk, ready to write when I am done speaking.
But first, I want to thank you for listening so far. As a new podcast, I am depending on you to spread the word if you found it valuable. I also want to encourage you to send your feedback email to firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on twitter @loufranco or look for me on LinkedIn.
I would love a review or rating in the Apple Podcasts app, stars in Overcast, or whatever else your podcast player allows. And subscribe if you want more episodes.
If you write publicly, please send me a link.
Sweep for Voice on Tone on Your Work
Ok, so now it’s time to think about your voice and tone. Remember, voice is something that’s going to be more constant over a body of work. For me, since I have different outlets, I am ok with the voice being different on each one.
Start with the word-list that Joanna pointed to. I put it in my show notes. I would say to think about the opposite of the words you choose and if they don’t seem like a valid choice, then to get more specific about the attribute you are choosing — can it be described in multiple ways? And if so, what’s your take on it?
To do a voice and tone sweep, you go through the piece sentence by sentence looking for too much or too little voice.
You can watch the video of Joanna’s lesson to get more details.
One thing that she says is to try reading your piece backwards so that you aren’t caught up in the flow of the piece and can concentrate more on the voice.
Thanks for listening, this has been Write While True and since true is true go do a voice and tone sweep on your drafts.