That prams and art are not mutually exclusive.

Me Talk Pretty: Using Your Writing Voice, and Hearing Someone Else’s

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!

8 Responses to “Me Talk Pretty: Using Your Writing Voice, and Hearing Someone Else’s”

    • the rhythm method

      I love Bird by Bird. You’re in good hands with Anne. I cried when I read the blurb. I may or may not have been hormonal at the time.
      You’ll be fine as long as you listen to your gut. And man, you’ve got guts! x

  1. cowboycowden

    Feeling like a sweet potato on the other hand is fantastic. This post is like an excerpt from my own daily metacognition, although I’m a musician. Have you read Art and Fear?


  2. Green Mama

    I feel the same way about Helen Garner… having said that, if I’m going for a particular feel for a story (more applicable for fiction than non-fiction), I read and reread similar styles- ie if I want my narrative dripping in language I read God of Small Things. Have fun at the Writers Festival- the first year I went I attended 10 sessions in 4 days, was a total festival junkie! Helped by the fact that there were some absolute dead set gods that year… China Mielville… swoons and blushes.

  3. loulouloves

    I just love David S, I’ve been a longtime listen of TAL and they have a great app so you can listen to everything… Apparently they are going to make one of his stories into a film..I wonder if his tone of voice will work in that format??

  4. Deb @ Bright and Precious

    Yes, guilty – of both. Mimicry and potato-ey. I used to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez and unintentionally emulate him. Which was a disaster AND ridiculous really because I’m not an old Columbian man. I have not read Sedaris yet. Must put him on my long list. 🙂

  5. Morning Read with Sloane Crosley, Zoe Foster and Majok Tulba « rhythm & method

    […] Foster takes a similar approach to her fiction, working in the morning for 3 to 4 hours, or until she has met her word count goal for the day. She tends to begin with a rough plot structure, but never plans the ending. The ending, she said, reveals itself to her through the writing process. Foster admits to not reading other novels in her genre while she is working on her own (a genre she reluctantly refers to as ‘chick lit’), confessing that she has been known to unintentionally mimic the work of other writers. […]


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