To me, the most important step is finding your own original voice.
I went for years following the guidance of teachers, blatantly mimicking the cadence of writers I admired, trying to be the next [insert name of cool author or poet]. And don’t get me wrong - studying the work of others and incorporating parts of their style into yours is good for growth. But it cannot replace the spark that happens when you find your own voice as a writer.
Voice in writing blends several factors: word choice, formality, sentence length, the proportion of dialogue versus description. It involves every aspect of writing. These choices all mix together to create both pizazz and substance.
So developing a writer’s voice - in general and for individual characters - can be a struggle. One thing that helps is reading as much as you can from varied authors. Check out a variety of strong voices - like sampling a bunch of ice cream flavors from a tiny spoon. Identify voices you like, try to reverse engineer their essence, and then sprinkle in your own peculiarities.
Once you have fine-tuned your own voice, you are no longer pretending. You will be confident, free, and authentic. To find your voice, you must shed any fears being different. You want to be different, to be more than another creative writing clone. The literary world needs originals. Originals who dare to produce value. Originals who bring out our better nature. Originals who connect us with something larger than ourselves through the conduit of their wordplay.
Some folks find their voice right away. For others, it takes years of hammering away at their craft. But once you discover your creative voice, you will have taken a huge step towards becoming the writer you’ve always wanted to be.