21 July 2011

you know who you sound like?

I hate Anne Lamott.

Not really.

But isn't that a dramatic beginning?

Here's the non-drama truth: People often tell me that my writing reminds them of someone else's writing.

“Oh, do you know who you sound like? Anne Lamott. She had the funniest story...well, yours is funny, too. You're both so sharp about your faith.”

And that's why I hate her.

I also get: “You're just like David Sedaris, only maybe less bitter and without the slightly frightening ability to impersonate Billie Holiday.”

I take these comments as compliments because I'm sure the people saying them mean them as compliments. Besides, if you have to be compared to someone, Anne Lamott is pretty good company.

I also choose to take these as compliments because if I don't I will scream. And maybe cry, although I'm not known for that. I will cry and scream and wail and generally gnash my teeth because when I read writing that sounds like my own—but better and published—the inevitable question comes up: so who cares about what I have to say?

That's an unfair question, mostly because it's based on comparison, which, if you ask me, is the root of all evil. {Adam and Eve wanted something God had, so I may be on to something there.}

Comparison never gets you anywhere but frustrated. I tried to remember that when I showed my mother the piece I had written on her tattoo, and she said, “Oh, I read the most hilarious book called Why Is My Mother Getting a Tattoo? And Other Questions I Wish I Never Had to Ask. That's just like your story!”

Yes. Just like my story but with a snappy title that encapsulates everything I ever wanted to say about my mother's tattoo, and in fact my working title for my story was "A Question I Shouldn't Have to Ask."

I decided to face my nemesis, Jancee Dunn, this woman who had stolen my writing and my specialness {if I can't be known as the straight-laced girl who over-reacted to her mother's tattoo, what can I be known as?}, head-on: I checked out her book from the library. And I laughed my way through it, but also grew in my hate for Jancee. Her stories all sounded so...familiar.

She wrote about parents who send newspaper clippings with short notes attached; I've written about that, too. {Twice, actually! Once in relation to my mama's new iPad and once just yesterday when I talked about some of the articles I've gotten from my mama.}

She talked about her parents moving out of their home—the one she was raised in—and how she fought that; I've been mulling over a story on the same theme. {Not that my parents have left my childhood home, but the threat of it a few years ago, along with the promise that they're retiring to Canada, was enough to upset me.}

She talked about an obsession with bad-for-you-food; I'm known for my obsession with hot dogs.

Basically, I love Jancee because she's familiar, but I hate her because I can hold her book in my hands. But I did realize that Jancee's writing could be a good role model for me.

Reading good writing makes it easier to write good writing {that isn't a very good sentence, but you get the idea}.

And whether you want to write poetry or a novel or a memoir, you should be immersed in good writing from that genre. It'll teach you, both subtly and overtly, what works well and what you want to avoid.

Coming tomorrow: What I Learned from Envy. Or Jancee.

{You can jump ahead to part 2 here.}


  1. In a college writing class once, someone told me my essay made him think of Anne Lamott. I was flattered until he added, "Not the writing quality so much as the neuroses." Sigh.

  2. Very funny, Alyssa! And I think you sound like Anne Lamott, which is a compliment in my book. There are no addendums coming to that statement.

  3. If it makes you feel any better, I happen to think you sound like you in your writing. Which is very much how I wish I sounded when I write :)

  4. You want to sound like me when you're writing, ec?


    Actually, I was re-visiting our drive-across-the-country blog the other day, and dang if I couldn't tell the difference between the two of us sometimes. There's enough distance now where I can't really remember which ones I wrote...so when I'd start reading, I'd be all, "Ooh, I'm so funny! Wait, no! Oesa is funny!"



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