“I’m not the next anyone. I’m the first Maria Sharapova.”
“Become yourself” is an inspiring slogan I once saw emblazoned on a bus. While it was touting the benefits of a college degree, it seems like the perfect motto for us as writers. Finding our voice and sharing it is all about becoming ourselves. I was reminded of this when I read a wonderful little story in a book called Everyday Sacred: A Woman’s Journey Home by Sue Bender.
During the five years it took her to write her first book, Plain and Simple (which went on to become a New York Times bestseller) she said that she had to remind herself every day not to spend any time “wishing I could write like Joan Didion.” She goes on to say,
“Recently I was in New York for an American Booksellers Association convention and a friend introduced me to Joan Didion. I told her that story. ‘And I always wish I could write like Henry James,’ she said.”
Ah, the thrill of the chase! Writers are also readers — and it seems only natural and all to the good that we have authors we especially admire and would love to emulate. These writers give us a standard of excellence to aspire to and show us qualities that we want to nourish in our own work. They also hold up a mirror to our own desire and longing to be read and adored.
Fascinating, isn’t it: even accomplished writers have a yen to slip into another author’s skin. I guess this just another version of the age-old itch to be someone we’re not. Joan Didion’s spare prose is just about as far away from the lush, intricately woven language of Henry James as you can get. Wonder why she picked him. No matter. Become yourself and write on!