Quiet, and quite impish, yet shy. That was how I felt for years. Writing did not come to me naturally. It took quite a bit of time for me to find my voice. Indeed, I have only found it quite recently.
Developing my voice was a series of trials and errors over the span of nearly a decade. What was always most troubling is sometimes I didn’t even have a voice. Early on in any writer’s career, the voice one has cannot be their own. We are far too susceptible to external influences — the things we read and the content we consume — to be able to develop our own voice yet.
But even when this voice is not yet our own, and nothing arises when you sit down at the computer/notebook to write, it can be extremely discouraging. In any case, the origin of developing a voice is to try other voices on for size.
What does this mean? You must read. Indeed, you ought to be reading more than you write — even when you have developed your own voice. Merely having a dialogue with yourself is not enough to produce content that people will be willing to read. No. You need to be engaging with the ideas and imagination of others — even if they are long gone now. You need to treat the works you are engaging with as if you are in conversation with them. You need to register their ideas as propositions being posed to you in particular. Don’t merely adopt their ideas blindly: analytically critique them and if it is warranted, give credit where credit is due.
And above, is truly where one develops one’s own voice: conversationally. Have you ever sat down with a close friend or partner at a coffee shop and had a serious conversation about serious matters, like politics, philosophy, or science? Yes? Think about the way you comport your language in such a conversation. Such a conversational style of talking ought to be your style of writing.
I learned this from Christopher Hitchens — the person who ultimately inspired me to pursue a career as a writer. There is a second aspect to this, however, that I have found helpful most recently — i.e. ever since I have actually found my voice as a writer. In Friedrich Nietzsche’s later writing, he can often be found to say that a writer ought to quit reading altogether; insofar as one is enveloped by the ideas of others in such an intimate manner, the less oneself will be conveyed in one’s writing. There is a lot of truth to this, but I wish to add one small caveat.
One should spend a great deal of time reading the greatest works of writing on as many topics as they can; after, and only after doing so, should one spend a great deal of time not reading anything at all, and only writing. Why is that?
If you only take Nietzsche’s advice, you will certainly be writing in your own voice, but your own voice will be one that is completely uninformed. Preceding intellectual isolation with intellectual engulfing allows your unique voice to also be one that is quite informed, and thus, in a better position to convey clear, accurate, and well-thought-out ideas.
Throughout all of this, though, you must write and you must converse.