I recently came across a blog post with some tips for writing that included a few phrases that sounded strange to me. It offered some good basic tips and tricks for those looking to get started, but these phrases struck me as a bit unhelpful: they were headings that advised to “choose a writing style” and to “choose what kind of writer you are.”
I find them unhelpful because they presume that these are things you can do easily at the beginning of your writing journey, like picking items off a menu at a restaurant. “Yes, I’ll have the declarative style and my two sides will be an analytic approach and a dry humorous undertone.”
In reality, finding your own writing voice is a process of discovery. You may have an idea that you want to be declarative while using analysis and humor, but it will still take time to develop your unique approach that will make use of those things. Or, on the other hand, you may discover that one or more of those don’t work for you; that they aren’t really you after all.
And so, rather than making such decisions about your writing voice from the outset and striving to make it happen no matter what, the process of discovering your own style may take you someplace you never expected. It may include some of your original aspirations, but it will likely also bring in elements you never expected. Please note: this is a good thing.
So what does that process of discovery entail, anyway? Here are some of the most common features and necessities.
Write, write, write. There’s no getting around this. To call yourself a writer, you actually need to write. And the more you write, the more you’ll discover the type of techniques that most suit you. And I don’t mean that you need to churn out masterpieces every time you sit down…far from it. Get a cheap notebook, set a timer, and just write whatever pops into your head for a while every day. A popular version of this is Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages, but it doesn’t have to be that specifically. The point is that writers need to practice as much as anyone else, and practice is how you figure out your own personal style.
Imitate your favorites. A big part of the reason you initially set out to be a certain kind of writer likely is because you enjoy reading that style from others. The main thesis of Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like An Artist is that all artists steal concepts and techniques from others–they were first inspired to create from others, after all. Most musicians begin learning by sitting in their bedroom playing along to their favorite bands, and in a similar way a writer may begin by “playing along” with their favorite authors, essayists, and poets.
Tweak according to your own taste. The more you write (see Point 1), the more you move away from imitating others. As time goes on, you figure out what works best for you and what you can’t quite pull off. At the same time, you discover new separate things that you like doing and mix those in as well. All of this together contributes to your own evolution.
Choosing your writing voice up front is a nice aspiration to have. But where you start will most likely not be where you end up. But that journey of discovery is necessary and will lead to you finding your own unique voice, which the world needs much more than 1) a mere imitation of someone else, and/or 2) a writer who doesn’t actually enjoy or believe in their own style.
Embrace the journey, and see where it takes you.