What if were to tell you going in search of your voice is a fool’s journey?
When I first started writing non-fiction, I spent a lot of time trying to find my voice. I worried about writing in the first person and about using personal stories in my work.
I tried to figure out how much of myself I should inject into my articles and how much I should hold back.
And I mimicked the style of other writers I admire.
Here’s the problem with my approach:
I spent too much time fussing about what my writing sounded like.
The voice of a writer is not the Holy Grail.
I learnt the hard-way that great writers develop their writing over time.
They don’t waste time on fool’s errands.
Why Your Writing Voice is Like Lifting Weights
Go to the gym once a fortnight and try to benchpress bodyweight.
It’s just not going to happen.
You won’t be strong or fit enough to lift heavy weights.
A good gym coach will say that you must gradually increase the amount of weights you lift session after session.
You must make gradual and consistent progress towards your goal.
You must develop your body.
But you’re a writer, not a weight lifter.
I get it.
Your goal should be to develop your writing by making gradual progress or through small daily wins.
What You Can Learn From Marcel Proust’s Great Failure
Marcel Proust was a French novelist, critic and one of the greatest writer of the late 19th and early 20th century.
At the beginning of his writing career, Proust was determined to become a famous fiction writer.
His first novel Pleasure and Days was a commercial success, but Proust’s critics dismissed it as all form and no substance.
They said this portrait of French society was the efforts of a man who wanted to impress.
An unhappy Proust, set out to write a more honest work based on the many stories, character sketches and lessons about psychology and life he’d collected over the years.
That novel became In Search of Lost Time and is one the 20th century’s most respected works.
Proust overcame failure, he stopped trying to impress, and he developed his writing voice.
He concentrated on making gradual and consistent progress and on developing his writing.
Here are four strategies you can use to develop your writing just like Marcel Proust.
1. Know Your Purpose as a Writer
It took Proust more than 18 years to finish the eighteen volumes of In Search of Lost Time.
And that’s to say nothing of the research beforehand.
Proust regarded almost every setback as challenges that he had to overcome.
He knew what he wanted to accomplish, and he kept connected to his idea of writing the ultimate portrait of French society as a whole.
Consider the topics you’re passionate about and always ask yourself if you’re writing about these types of things.
2. Use Everything
Proust spent much of his life reading books, going on long walks, writing letters and going to parties, without actually accomplishing much.
His friends and even Proust bemoaned the time he was wasting.
Proust, applied or used almost every lesson he learnt from these activities. And he included all of these lessons in In Search of Lost Time.
Proust used everything for his greatest work.
Consider what you’re writing about today and the last thing you learnt about this topic.
How will you use your new-found knowledge?
3. Go Wide and Go Deep
When Proust wanted to write about plants and flowers, he drove into the countryside and studied them for hours.
When Proust wanted to a character for his work like a wealthy débutante, he found her equivalent in French society.
Then, he got himself invited to the same events she attended.
He even went as far as to gather his friends for a dinner party where he studied them intensely and recorded what they said.
Yes, Proust’s approach was extreme.
However, if you’re passionate about a topic, make a point to dive deeper into this topic than superficial reading online or a simple Google search allows.
4. Do the Work
Proust saw his writing as a lifelong pursuit.
He finished this 18-volume memoir just two days before he died, and he never saw the final version of his masterpiece in print.
I’m not suggesting you write into your death-bed.
Instead, doing the work and succeeding often means going at it longer and harder that what feels like normal.
It means seeing through your ideas and your writing projects through to the very end.
What was the last project you finished?
Don’t Search For Your Voice; Develop It
I learnt through publishing my work, writing articles and through reading great books that writers don’t need to find their writing voice.
I stopped searching for my writing voice, and I stopped trying to write like other bloggers and writers that I admire.
Now, if I see a piece of writing I admire, I try and learn what I can from this writer.
Then, I go back to writing, doing the work and pressing publish.
Like the weightlifter who finally crushes it on the benchpress, you can develop your writing by making gradual and consistent progress.
Anything else is just a waste of time.