Not everything is a useful read. I learned that the hard way. The wrong way? The tedious way? However I learned it, I did. The summer of 2015, I convinced myself that I had to be well-read in the "classics" in order to truly learn how to craft a story. I did learn a bit. (Dickens' David Copperfield, although long, is a useful lesson in creating a wide array of characters)...but mostly I was trying to extract lessons from authors whose worlds were completely different from mine. Their struggles, triumphs, and ambitions were set in different contexts, and so their stories breathed differently from the way mine would naturally breathe.
Despite this talk of finding a "natural" voice, I still don't know if that's the right way to go. I haven't sincerely tried to get anything published, so I don't know how my various styles will be received by the publishing world. What I do know is that the words flow faster and more freely if I stop trying to write like Dickens, Woolf, or Wilde.
A sentence that might naturally follow would be "I have to start writing like me." And sure, that's true. But I still need guidance. I was just getting it from the wrong authors. My audience lives today, not a hundred or more years ago.
Present-day authors I've learned from include Victoria/V.E. Schwab, Tahereh Mafi, Scott Westerfeld, Jay Kristoff, Rainbow Rowell, and as a musical sidenote, U2. These pens are still writing today. They've created fantastic worlds that have drawn me in and awed me, and that's what I want to create. How did they make me believe their world? How did they make me sympathize with (or hate) the main character(s)? How did they bring me to tears? How did they make my heart clench in fear? How did they create perfect moments of happiness? How did they weave in surprising plot twists? How, how, how? That, aside from the enjoyment of it, is what I read for.
UGA Creative Writing Club for a great roundtable discussion on this topic.