The poet Billy Collins was speaking at a White House poetry student workshop and was asked about “finding your voice”. Here’s a portion of his response as shared by Austin Kleon:
Your voice has an external source. It is not lying within you. It is lying in other people’s poetry. It is lying on the shelves of the library. To find your voice, you need to read deeply. You need to look inside yourself, of course, for material, because poetry is something that honors subjectivity. It honors your interiority. It honors what’s inside. But to find a way to express that, you have to look outside yourself.
Read widely, read all the poetry you can get your hands on. And in your reading, you’re searching for something. Not so much your voice. You’re searching for poets that make you jealous. Professors of writing call this “literary influence.” It’s jealousy. And it’s with every art, whether you play the saxophone, or do charcoal drawings. You’re looking to get influenced by people who make you furiously jealous.
Read widely. Find poets that make you envious. And then copy them. Try to get like them.
This is so good and rings true for me, not just for poetry but for any creative endeavor.
Consume everything you can about what grabs you. Be voracious. Read and explore and scour every curiosity.
Find the very best people in the field you want to be in and soak up their insight and their style. Follow them on Twitter. Read what influenced them. Act as if you were a peer of your creative heroes.
And don’t wait to get busy making your own stuff, even if at first it seems like a derivative copy of those you’re aspiring to emulate.
Your voice will come only from using it.