As a kid the Olympics inspired me to reach for great human heights, and to strive for my personal best. As an adult, they just remind me of how potato-ey I have become: starchy, round, everyday. It’s not such a bad way to be; I mean, everyone likes potatoes. And you’ve never heard of someone with a potato intolerance. “Sorry sir, you can’t bring that potato in here. You’ll have to leave it outside.”
I’ve been reading a lot of David Sedaris lately. For me, he’s the Usain Bolt of creative non-fiction writing. Perhaps this brings up the wrong kind of imagery, for Sedaris is the polar opposite of Bolt. Whereas Bolt is a massive extrovert – or as my mum would say, “a show off” – Sedaris is a world champion introvert, confessing to hiding under furniture when there’s a knock on the door. His writing is clever and witty, his stories bizarre and hilarious, and there is no one comparable to his gigantic talent.
Sedaris is so good, whenever I sit down to write all I can hear is him doing laps in my head, his corduroy pants shooshing by as he runs from an old lady with penny-coloured hair and a foul-mouth. His stories make me feel potato-ey too, like my writing has the clarity of a lumpy mash. With Sedaris in my head, I can’t hear my own writing voice, or at best, she sounds a little like a gay man from North-Carolina.
While I might aspire to be like Sedaris, no matter how hard I work, my writing will never sound like him. That’s the thing with voice: everyone has one, and no one voice is the same. Was it Dr Suess who said “There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” You’ve got to own what you’ve got: comparison is futile and will only lead you to feeling like a potato.
Sedaris’s writing, though brilliantly crafted, is for me best enjoyed in small bites. And definitely not one to read while I’m working on short stories, because the words that come out are anything but pretty.
Do you find yourself unintentionally mimicking an author’s voice in your writing? Which great writers make you feel like a potato?
To listen to some readings by David Sedaris, visit This American Life. You can even download them and listen to them on the move. I’ll be doing that when I head off to the Melbourne Writers Festival next week. Eep!