There’s a great story about the writer John Steinbeck my friend Jed likes to tell, especially to me when I begin slandering my own prose.
Seems Mr. Steinbeck sent some freshly written pages over to his publisher. After the man read them he said to his secretary,”How peculiar…this doesn’t even sound like John.”
The secretary said, “I corrected all of his grammar and cleaned up his sentences before I gave them to you.” And her boss said, “Well, you just took the Steinbeck right out of Steinbeck.”
How I love that story.
It reminds me to respect my own voice regardless of outside opinions.
We all have our own unique way of expressing even if we’re influenced by others and I like to view that as raw admiration urging us onward.
Every writer I love has a distinct dash I can automatically identify: David Sedaris, Paul Rudnick, Sarah Vowell, Anne Lamott, Nick Hornsby. They talk to me from the page in voices that I know.
If someone decided to tidy up Me Talk Pretty One Day or Assassination Vacation you’d have some pretty boring prose on your hands. The humor, the quirkiness, the way it’s told so differently from anyone else is where the treasure lies.
I know I don’t write like other people. Sometimes it distresses me since I feel I’m just too light and ridiculous and why don’t I get serious for heaven’s sake.
I’ve been reading essays by Slate writer Katie Roiphe that have me on my knees. They’re profound, they’re provocative, they scare the shit out of me. When I told this to my friend Bill he said, “But you don’t write like that, nor do you want to.” This was like dousing me with cold water. He’s right, I don’t want to be that intense…I’m more after the wry and silly. Not that she can’t be equally as funny at will…I’m convinced she can rule the world that Katie…but she’s so smart and dead on that there’s no wiggle room for anything but perfection. She reminds me of guitar strings that are strung just a tad too tight.
Perfection, the dreaded P word, something I couldn’t achieve even if I wanted to since I simply do not possess the gene. Whatever I’m writing comes out like it was put through a spin cycle first. It’s creased with lots of static cling, but with a fresh scent that lets you know it’s me.
I never went to college…when people start boasting of their various degrees this is usually the time I flag down a waiter for another cocktail. I can’t say I went to Smith or Yale or took class with John Updike. I was too busy globetrotting high in high heels. Rather than a degree I got a coke habit which let’s face it, is a lot funnier.
Who said tragic? Only if your nose fell off.
But I can tell you this, one can always learn technique and punctuation, but what you can’t glean from a scroll on the wall is how you see things and in what way you can make me see them… and so what if you wrote who instead of whom…
David Sedaris is the only writer that ever made me laugh out loud on the subway.
Sarah Vowell, after reading her tour of assassination sites across the U.S. made me want to pack and trace her steps.
When Paul Rudnick goes off on something in The New Yorker, I text all my friends to go read it now…don’t wait for it to come in the mail…there’s laughter at stake for goodness sake.
I hope one day someone will text their friends and say, “Did you read that piece Susannah Bianchi wrote on unsolicited criticism?
Don’t walk to the newsstand, run…because nobody, and I mean nobody sounds quite like her.”
But that’s the point, isn’t it?