Advice for aspiring writers


Writers think they are somehow exempt from rules of learning their craft. All this nonsense about “finding your voice” has completely mislead and ruined many recent generations of writers. You write by mastering technique, and by being able to read others and identify theirs. Nabokov’s criticism is good because it shows you how to read, how to identify aspects of style. When you write with “your voice” it will be indistinct because the voice we are born with is something handed down to us. It is not our own, and this can only be developed by meticulous refinement. Very few people are unique enough by nature to warrant none; and it is pretentious to think you might be one.

Flaubert’s style is not his voice. It is something he meticulously created. Compare his letters to his prose. They are two things completely at odds with one another. He is not a good writer by nature; yet his prose is some of the best ever written down.

Proust spent most of his young writing years on pastiches.


Most modern writers have been mislead by this bad advice. Most have not bothered to read the cannon. If you pay attention to most great writers, almost all begin their careers as derivatives of their favourite writers. Modern writers write in “their voice” and end up sounding like everyone else writing around them.

Writing is a craft like any other. I would not trust a carpenter who had not been taught. I would not trust a carpenter who had said he was “following his voice.”

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