It’s one of the hardest but most important things that you need to do as a writer, especially as a writer of fiction. There are so many things that contribute to and influence it, but at the same time it has to be uniquely yours somehow. And the truth of the matter is that there is no miracle cure for finding your writing voice – it takes a long time, and a lot of effort.
I’ve been writing for most of my life in one way or another. I turn 28 next week, and I know I was about 8 or 9 years old when I wrote a story around the length of 20 pages that my wonderful teacher at the time typed up and bound – essentially “publishing” it for me. That probably had a lasting effect on me, no matter how silly that story about robots and the end of the universe actually was. Although my writing came and went at different points throughout school and then university, it also came back often with more ferocity.
Then about five or six years ago I started taking my writing more seriously. I started reading more books, better books, harder books that pushed me out of my comfort zone from time to time. I started looking for different styles of writing, started learning what kinds of writing I was drawn to as an adult – something I had not previously assessed consciously. I started writing. A lot. Things like NaNoWriMo helped me with that (I have reached my goal on NaNoWriMo every single year since 2009, something I’m quite proud of actually). I started writing poetry regularly again, tried my hand at script writing, and this year just now I got back into short story writing. To top this off, I’ve been blogging now for almost two and a half years, and have recently put some regularity back into my posting schedule as you might have noticed.
Despite all of this, I feel like only just now with five novel drafts, two novellas, a movie script, hundreds of poems, a bunch of short stories and some 350 blog posts, only now do I feel like my writing voice is starting to shine through. I noticed it when I was writing my short stories last month in particular – I was not only thoroughly enjoying writing them, but I was liking them when I reread them. It’s not that they’re perfect, far from in fact, but there was something about these stories that really felt like me. Yes, my influences in them are quite clear, but I haven’t just copied someone else’s style or idea and then changed it to suit myself, it’s just that my voice has picked up similar traits to these other writers. The characters in the stories were likeable, the language was more sophisticated without becoming cluttered up, and the humour was natural – I didn’t feel like I had to force things to be funny much, because the situations themselves just became funny. Most importantly, the whole feel of the stories was very me – there were elements of me and the way I think permeating so much of the writing, and it’s the first time I’ve ever strongly felt that.
What I am getting at is this: don’t stress if you feel like you’re struggling to develop your own voice, or if you feel like your voice is too similar to the voice of another writer(s) you like. At some point, your own voice will come, something that carries your influences with it but more importantly bursts with elements that are very much who you are at your core. And nothing can magically make that voice appear – all you can and need to do is to just keep reading and keep writing. Read broadly, across a range of genres if possible (even if you only intend to write in one, you can pick up so much from others), and write broadly, across a range of different forms, as you’ll learn lessons from one form you can apply to another.
Keep reading, keep writing, and be patient. You’ll find your writing voice when it’s time. And then nothing will stop you!