Your “voice” is just your personality on the page.
In life, you are born with certain behavioral patterns. Within a few years, your parents can already see the outlines of who you’ll become. As you get older, you feel the itch to leave the house because you know that lived experiences will help you grow into yourself. You fall, get hurt, get back up, and keep going. Just as you don’t wait to leave home until you’ve found your personality, you shouldn’t wait to start writing until you’ve found your voice.
Maybe you don’t write because you don’t feel talented enough. Maybe, you got a C in high school English class and think that just because you can’t write like Joan Didion, you shouldn’t write at all. But that’s like going to the driving range, hitting a bad shot, and never golfing again just because you can’t play like Tiger Woods.
Or maybe, you don’t feel unique enough. You say: “All my interesting ideas have already been written about.” I’ve heard that line from some of the most creative and idiosyncratic people I know, and it’s nonsense. In person, they know they’re unique. They’re even proud of their differences. But once it’s time to write, they develop an existential fear of not being original enough and compensate by writing like a try-to-impress-everybody consultant with the personality of a doorknob.
Your voice won’t reveal itself until you drop the consultant-speak and listen to the whispers of your intuition. Somehow, it already knows who you want to become. As economist Tyler Cowen said:
It’s the weird that’s truly normal. It’s how people actually are—what they really care about. In a sense, you’re getting them out of the weird. The weird is the stage presence we put on—all the ‘puffery’ and unwillingness to say what you really think.
I have yet to meet somebody who isn’t exceptionally weird once I’ve gotten to know them. Sure, some people are weirder than others but everybody is strange and one-of-a-kind. The difference between them is that some lean into their quirks, while others run away from them. Once your compass points in the “I want to be less like other people” direction, you’re on your way to finding your voice.
Everybody has a voice, just like everybody has a personality. Both are a collection of all the ways you’re different, but they’re invisible until you socialize. Your best readers will be drawn to your voice, so nurture it with unique experiences and a cocktail of obscure influences. But your voice won’t reveal itself if you just sit back and think. You have to write and publish frequently. When you do, pay attention to the articles people resonate with and the compliments they give you. When they align with the voice you already have and the one you want to develop, double down on what worked.
Sign up for my free writing course if you want to learn more.
You’ll learn about Personal Monopolies, the Netflix Principle, and how to build your email list.