You know how when athletes are in training they are strict about their diets?
No carbs. Densely nutritious snacks. Broccoli for breakfast. Flaxseed oatmeal.
"Food is fuel," they might say, sliding a dozen raw eggs down their throat. "You are what you eat."
* * *
In January I read Winter in Sokcho. It's a small story by Elisa Shua Dusapin that takes place in an off-season beach town on the border of South and North Korea.
Gloomy and moody as it was, I liked the book.
I loved the vibe of the writing, translated from the original French. The stripped-down, spare sentences matched the stripped-down, spare feeling of a tourist town in off-season.
The story was small but heavy, if you know what I mean.
Even now thinking of it I shiver a little, sitting here at my desk on a warm day in June. Can words feel cold?
Winter in Sokcho's did. Here's what I mean:
The wind was sweeping the clouds over the surface of the road. Late afternoon light. Skeleton remains of villages on either side of the road. Cardboard boxes, plastic waste, blue metal sheets.
It's like the sentences themselves were hunkered down, conserving energy.
I read the book near the start of the year. One entry that month in my diary reads:
Weak light. No snow. Just endless cold. Cracked ground. Empty sky. The bare trees look like they want to book a flight to Florida.
All my daily entries for a few weeks are like that. Staccato sentences. Stripped-down and spare. A little gloomy.
It was as if Elisa Shua Dusapin had moved into my head and set up an office. She'd rewrite my sentences before sending them out to my notebook.
* * *
I read Winter in Sokcho
just as I was starting (half-heartedly, procrastinating-ly) the 2nd edition of Everybody Writes,
due out this October.
I'd open up a new chapter to work on. I'd start thinking and writing: Content marketing. Copywriting. It's all changed in 2022.
Why am I in Sokcho? Whose voice is that? Get out of my head, Elisa Shua Dusapin!
It would take me a bit of time every day to evict Sokcho from my brain. Elisa was corrupting my voice, even if briefly. It was taking me too long to get back into my groove. AND I WAS ON. DEADLINE. DAMMIT!
You are what you eat. I needed to change my diet.
So I changed my diet. I started reading voices closer to mine. I started reading stories just for fun—stories I knew wouldn't worm their way inside my brain and corrupt anything. Stories that would stay on the outside.
I reread all of David Sedaris's essays from his first book to his more recent work. (First-person + humor = my sweet spot.)
I also read the first few Bridgerton novels for pure fun. No shade to author Julia Quinn… but I didn't read Bridgerton for the prose. Anthony Bridgerton never rented any 18th century London flat in my brain.
* * *
Even as I write this, I'm aware that I'm making this thing called a writing voice sound precious and easily influenced, like it's a teenager falling in with the wrong crowd.
Like if we read an instruction manual for a new grill we'd start to sound like GrillKing explaining how to ignite the rear burner.
It's not like that, exactly. But voices evolve, just like any other part of us.
In my case this year... with the deadline, the rewrite, the need to bring my 2022 voice to the 2014 first edition: well, I felt pressure. I needed to keep my writing voice loose and limber and crackling with my own energy—I couldn't waste a minute kicking the likes of Elisa Shua Dusapin out.
I had to show up at my desk and connect as quickly and automatically to my own voice as my laptop connects to my home Wi-Fi. No time to waste.
Maybe this point is obvious to you:
You are what you eat. You are what you read.
It took me a minute to realize that.
* * *
Now, the writing of the 2nd edition of Everybody Writes is done! My diet can be more varied.
Here's our summer reading list, with a specific intention to making our own diets more varied. (Especially important today on Juneteenth.)
I hope you discover a new author or two.
If you have your own suggestions, hit reply and let me know.
Honey and Spice by Bolu Babalola
A debut novel from a very funny writer of short stories. If you enjoy Young Adult fiction like I do, you can read her YA short story here
. Caution: it's long. If like me you don't enjoy reading fiction on a laptop... well, buy her books instead.
The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid
Mohsin's 2013 novel, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia,
was one of my favorite reads of all time.
I still think about how he used the second-person narrative (you) throughout in a way that stuck with me as fresh and unique.
Also: Mohsin is a marketer turned novelist. So.
In truth I've already started this one as an audio book. But I set it aside because I decided to read it instead. I like to read the good ones.
I haven't read Morgan's work before, but it has all the elements for me: Maine. The Penobscot Indian Nation in the 21st century. Twelve short stories. Why am I writing this one like Elisa Shua Dusapin LOL.
You are what you read.
* * *
EVERYBODY WRITES 2: NOW ON BOOKSHOP.ORG
There's still no cover.
In discussion with the publisher. But the 2nd edition of Everybody Writes is now on Bookshop.org!
If you have ever gotten anything out of my work and you can afford it, I ask you to consider buying this 2nd edition.
It's on Amazon US here.
If you can't afford to buy it, ask your local library to pre-order it.
Thank you for your support! It means a lot to me.
DEPARTMENT OF SHENANIGANS