Make a little something for yourself.
Finding your voice doesn’t always mean finding the right words, because your voice isn’t always about talking, is it? You speak through your music. Your knitting. Your dancing. Your sketching. Your gardening. It’s all an expression of something – love, hate, desire, frustration, kindness, sadness, happiness, loneliness.
For writers, it is about the words. Which ones do you choose? How do you string them together? How do you make them make sense? How do you make them resonate?
How do you get people to listen?
You don’t, really. You can’t make people read, not even in school (my 11th-grade history class is proof of that). All you can do is fling those words out into the world and hope that they find a place to land.
Sometimes, you don’t need to fling them out there at all. If you knit a thousand scarves for other people, shouldn’t you make a few for yourself along the way? The same goes for writing. Writing just for yourself can be very freeing. Nobody’s watching, so you can let ‘er rip without worrying about what other people will think. It’s a safe place to go wild and experiment with different things. Tell yourself stories that make you happy. Fill up pages and pages with words that you’d never in a million years show to anyone else.
And no, it’s not a waste of time. It’s practice, and practice is a good thing.
Besides, you never know when that off-the-wall idea might turn into something else entirely. When I decided that I was going to quit screwing around and just write a damn book, the first drafts looked nothing like what I ended up with. I mean that literally. Initially, I thought I’d write a sword-and-sorcery fantasy novel that was heavy on the backstabbing and political maneuvering (hey, write what you know), but it wasn’t working for me at all. It was awful, but it served a purpose: it showed me what I didn’t want to write.
At least, not yet.
No, it was the bloody, twisted, and honestly quite insane short story that I wrote for myself that sent me down a different path. It didn’t have much to do with the books I’m actually writing, but it gave me a solid nudge in that direction. That story may never see the light of day, but it doesn’t matter. It helped me along the path to finding my voice, and that more than makes up for the fact that every time I read it, I wonder what the hell is wrong with me. (Lots. Lots of things are wrong with me. But that’s ok, too.)