Finding Your Voice

I wanted to write a novel a long time before I ever actually succeeded in writing one (I’m coming down the home stretch on my 4th one now).  Can’t exactly explain why; it was just one of those itches that demanded to be scratched.

The problem wasn’t too little time or too many distractions.  The sad truth was, everything that went down on paper was awful.  I couldn’t even stand to read it.

The problem was, I hadn’t found my voice yet.  I was trying to write literature.  Not sure why.  When I go into a bookstore, I don’t charge to the literature section first to see what’s new.  But somehow, it seems . . . well, significant.

My breakthrough came when I first read the Prologue to Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume.  Robbins is one of my heroes; if you look at the blog heading, you’ll see Jitterbug Perfume near the left end, along with some novels by Vonnegut and Christopher Moore (some more of my heroes).  When I finished it, I closed the book and just savored it for a moment.  Thinking as I did, “If I ever wrote something that good, I’d be content.”

Then a little voice in my head said, “Duh.  Why don’t you try writing like Robbins instead of like Tolstoy or whoever it is you’re trying to emulate?”

Ever since then, writing has been easy (well, relatively speaking).  Don’t know that I’ve ever written anything that good yet.  But I’m working on it.  I’ve given the complete text below for your enjoyment.

from Jitterbug Perfume, by Tom Robbins



The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.

Slavic peoples get their physical characteristics from potatoes, their smoldering inquietude from radishes, their seriousness from beets.

The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip . . .

The beet is the murderer returned to the scene of the crime. The beet is what happens when the cherry finishes with the carrot. The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies.

The beet was Rasputin’s favorite vegetable. You could see it in his eyes.

In Europe there is grown widely a large beet they call the mangel-wurzel. Perhaps it is mangel-wurzel that we see in Rasputin. Certainly there is mangel-wurzel in the music of Wagner, although it is another composer whose name begins, B-e-e-t——.

Of course, there are white beets, beets that ooze sugar water instead of blood, but it is the red beet with which we are concerned; the variety that blushes and swells like a hemorrhoid, a hemorrhoid for which there is no cure. (Actually, there is one remedy: commission a potter to make you a ceramic asshole—and when you aren’t sitting on it, you can use it as a bowl for borscht.)

An old Ukrainian proverb warns, “A tale that begins with a beet will end with the devil.”

That is a risk we have to take.

jitterbug perfume cover



5 thoughts on “Finding Your Voice

  1. The happiest day in my writing career was the day I decided to write for me first. Finding your voice is probably the hardest thing for a writer to do when it should be the easiest. Why is that? LOL

    • That’s definitely possible (although in your case, not gonna happen). But “the world” — or at least enough readers to count — are a lot more likely to like your voice than a) when you fake or force someone else’s voice, or b) when you don’t write at all because you’re trying to fake/force it.

  2. Finding your voice as a writer can be difficult, but for me it was because wasn’t being true to who I am as a writer.The toughest times for me have been when I tried to write like someone else. That’s not me.
    I had to yield to the part of me that has a story to tell. Then it flowed. That’s not to say that the dreaded writer’s block doesn’t hit, but when it does hit me, it’s attributed to my lack of intimate knowledge (not to be confused with biblical knowledge) of the character. When I don’t have clear focus of what my character wants and IS, then how can I expect to write about them?

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