Sound Like Yourself

Posted by on Feb 17, 2012 in Guest Posts, Inspiration | 6 comments

Sound Like Yourself

Al Geremonte, the old Guadalcanal platoon sergeant who taught me to write nearly 50 years ago, said it over and over in that Boston drawl: “Kid, you write like you talk and you learn to talk right. Simple as that.”

And it is. Simple, I mean. Simple when you aren’t being pulled by every teacher you’ve ever had, every parent, every friend–hell, everybody–to sound like somebody else. The temptation to teach us to write in a manner that sounds like somebody else is entirely too much for the school system and my experience is that the more schooling one has, the worse the writing.

Occasionally, in those rare educational oases where a teacher takes a moment to consider what she is doing (Hollins University comes to mind), a teacher will mention “voice” and its importance. To my mind, “voice” is writing and writing is “voice.” Without it, everybody sounds like he’s writing for the local daily newspaper. It’s writing without soul, without feeling, without purpose other than who, what, where, when, why and how. Just the facts, ma’am.

At our little magazine, Valley Business FRONT, we often use writers nobody else wants, people without the resume telling the editor that a writer sits on the other side of the desk.

I don’t care what the resume says. Generally, about a third of it’s made up, anyway, and it can’t tell me if you can write, if you have enthusiasm, curiosity, drive and tenacity. So, when somebody comes in and says, “I’ve never had a job writing before, but I have this real need …”, it isn’t necessary to go farther. We can negotiate from there. It’s a great starting point and most often, our magazine’s readers have been the beneficiary.

When a writer has “voice,” you can see him in every word, hear him speak to you, feel the experience he is relating. That’s when it becomes fun for the reader and the writer. It’s the level real writers–and not chroniclers–seek when they write, that deep connection with the reader.

Sound like yourself and you get the reader. Simple as that.


Dan Smith is the kind of guy we like breaking bread with – he’s great in a conversation, easy with a laugh and has just the kind of smart ass humor that we love here at No B.S. Oh, he’s also an award-winning journalist, editor of Valley Business FRONT, author, photographer, blogging Pampa and, occasionally, a wonderful home cook who goes by the name of Mother Smith.


  1. Great advice Dan! Glad to hear there are publications willing to give emerging writers a shot. I agree with your sentiments about education, as it seems that the deeper I’ve gotten into a writing “career,” the less confident I feel about writing creatively. Look forward to hearing more from you and Nary Ordinary. Amazing local resources.

    • Thanks for your comment, Ruth! I know I’m biased because I write for Dan but I do think it’s notable that his is a business publication that cares about the human element, which is just as unique as one that doesn’t care about standard writing credentials.

      (And, shameless plug, I hope you’ll return for Writing Prompt Wednesday which is all about bringing more creativity to our written words!)

  2. I’ve just sent book #4 to my editors for review. Won’t be long now. One of them said something like, “Your dialogs often sound like monologues. People talk with more staccato, more give and take. But you talk in monologues. Your characters sound like you.” Good.
    On a related topic, a writer/friend said my book is too long. “Too long for what?” I thought. Most novels at the bookstore are 50,000 to 90,000 words. This one is around 145,000 words. So perhaps mine is longer than contemporary commercial standards. So what? I can’t see that it’s relevant, at least for me. I picked up a novel the other day and by page 40, I was asking myself why I was bothering to continue. If a story grips me, 500 pages isn’t enough. If it doesn’t, then 40 is too many.

    • I completely agree with you, Michael, that gripping material can get away with being longer. Interestingly, a friend of mine is a very successful blogger (we’re talking honors online, free trips by companies who value her, free products for reviews, etc) who says her longer blog posts – the ones that go way beyond blog length standards, were the ones that got the most comment action. You never know!

  3. Hmmm….interesting. I believe that the writer needs to leave space for the reader to fill in some of the story for himself. Active engagement on the part of the reader is essential. If the writer spells out everything in complete detail, what’s left for the reader to do? If I want a sermon, I go to church. In fiction, I want to be led through the forest but I need to find the path myself using the clues left by the author. Sometimes the part of the story that is not said is the most important part of all. Verily I say unto you, “Less is more.”

    • Don Quixote should have been 350 pages rather than 1050, no doubt, but The Satanic Verses couldn’t lose a word. And I say unto you, “It’s not the size of the boat but the motion of the ocean.”