Many rules have exceptions, and so do most pieces of friendly advice. The following is not a disclaimer so much as it is a qualifier.
Despite the fact that “just be yourself” has been my go-to, default recommendation whenever any writer asks me what my number one “rule” for writing is, the fact is that isn’t always the case.
To be more specific: I really only mean that this “rule” should be applied when exploring and expressing your own unique voice as an author, whether fiction or non-fiction. The best thing you can do in a crowded field is stand out from the pack, and you can’t do that if you’re simply mimicking or repeating what everyone else is doing. At a certain point, even fans of these color-by-the-numbers genres burn out on the formulaic predictability.
In a nutshell: I believe it's always wise to make and break your own mold as an artist. But if your goal is to be a paid professional, then your own style can sometimes work against you. This includes fiction. While it’s creatively satisfying to experiment, if you really want to reach as wide an audience as possible, as quickly as possible, you probably will have to “play the game” until you establish yourself. Just jumping in and saying “hey you, over here, look at me, I’m so different” may not work right away. Or honestly, ever, because for one thing, you may simply never get noticed. Bold individuality is a risky strategy, regardless of your your agenda.
Outside of the quirky realm of fiction, there are many times when an ambitious, conscientious freelance writer should strive to be anything but “just themselves” – unless, of course, their personality and style just happens to perfectly match the material or assignment at hand.
If you’re commissioned to write a piece, such a coincidence is rare, unless the person employing you is specifically requesting that you be plain old “you,” unfiltered, unadulterated, and uncensored, because that's exactly what they're paying for.
But generally, it pays best to be flexible.
Naturally, it’s easiest when you can just fall back on your own voice to complete a writing task, especially if it’s for money and not passion. But the reality is, most writing gigs require you to stretch a bit, or conform to a particular tone. This is especially true of many blogging jobs, no matter the topic, because the goal is to appeal to as many people as possible, either within a target audience or not, as opposed to you just “selling yourself” on someone else’s dime and time.
I’ve been lucky enough to have several paid gigs where I was actually required to bring as much of myself to bear on the project as possible. Cases in point: my two science fiction novels commissioned by Scott Fulks, It Came from Hangar 18 (2012) and The Space Needler’s Intergalactic Bar Guide (2015), for which he supplied skeletal outlines, scientific formulas and in the latter case, original cocktail recipes, and I was given a free hand with the bulk of the texts; my regular movie column for Bachelor Pad Magazine, just about to publish its 37th issue (and I’ve contributed to every single one!); and frankly, the blog you’re reading now – though it took a while for me to “earn” this rare responsibility and honor.
But even in this case, I am not completely “myself.” I can’t resort to my usual “tricks,of the trade," or use unacceptable (foul) language, or otherwise conduct myself in a manner inappropriate to the forum and audience.
Over the years, most of my paid writing assignments have required that I “rein in” or “censor” my inclinations as a pulp fiction author, and “curb” the excesses and flourishes normally associated with my “brand name.”
While it’s true the exposure of your skills on someone else’s website or publication may be conducive to your overall career, you’re not there to sell some of your own books or brand in the process with a subversive, self-serving agenda. If you’re being paid to write a blog or article or what-have-you, it’s imperative you follow the guidelines as provided by your editor or employer, without trying to sneak in any fancy stuff, just to show off.
This often means writing in very plain, even “boring” language, especially if it’s for mass, online consumption. Most people surfing the Web for basic information don’t have a lot of time for your stylistic dilly-dallying. Just get to the point, and then stick to it.
Two things: make sure you get paid (in dollars, not "love" or “free exposure,” unless you’re doing some kind of promotional swap, which is fairly common); and two, when crafting a professional piece, it's very important to know when it's time to stop.