My best advice on writing goes against the grain, but it works well for me. I discovered this tactic while doing a fair amount of ghostwriting—mostly short columns for executives or administrators whose lives and personalities were distinct from my own. It seemed almost comical to assume their "voices."
Sometime later, my husband, also a writer and communicator, began ghostwriting as well. He always passed his work through me, his personal editor, before submitting it to clients.
That's when I noticed a familiar pattern. My husband always did his best writing when he wrote in someone else's voice. It was cleaner, clearer, and more interesting to read than anything he wrote in his own voice. It had more focus and required less editing. I was amused at first. Then I had an epiphany.
As writers, we're generally told to write what we know. Use our own voices. Be ourselves. That doesn't always work for me. When I write in my own voice, I often write with laziness, inconsistency, and lack of direction. When I write as someone else, however, I write with more focus. My interest is piqued by viewing some aspect of the world through someone else's eyes, which seems to make what I write more interesting to others.
Later, it occurred to me that assuming someone else's voice might actually be the secret to finding my own. I began experimenting—with great results. I've found that my best writing is often done when I imagine myself writing in someone else's voice—usually someone whose ideas and communication skills I respect or admire.
Best of all, it's a great way to overcome writer's block. Thoughts that simply will not come together in my own mind quickly organize like good soldiers in the mind of my alter ego.
Don't misunderstand me. I'm not talking about supernatural channeling. It's more akin to practical role modeling—maybe the way a gymnast visualizes a successful routine before a competition. Generally my own thoughts are distracted by emotions, desk clutter, and undone tasks. I can't write well unless I shut out distractions. Assuming the voice of someone else whose distractions are foreign to me allows me focus. It also lets me know I'm in the right profession—helping others market and communicate value.
Try it. See what you think, and let me know how it goes!
(I wrote this as William Zinsser—one of my favorite authors.)