I learned a new word today.
According to the definition in my Kindle dictionary (what a time to be alive, eh?) ersatz is an adjective that means “made or used as a substitute, typically an inferior one, for something else.”
Ersatz usually refers to an object, like the ersatz vegan pizza I force myself to eat. A knockoff, basically.
You can tell just by saying it — ersatz — that it’s not something you want to be.
Doesn’t it feel like an insult?
I keep wanting to use it as a noun. Like “ugh, you’re being such an ersatz, Karen!” Like how you’d use “putz.”
(It’s not, though. Don’t use it like a noun. I don’t know why I want to do that.)
There are some words that feel so lovely to say — mellifluous. Serendipitous. Felicity. Tom Hiddleston. — that even if you have no clue what they mean, they make you feel lighter.
It’s like the blubberfish of words.
So why, then, despite how yucky the word feels, do so many of us use an ersatz voice when writing?
Why do we try to sound like someone else?
The thing is, I get it.
I’ll read a piece from Nikki Elledge Brown and say “yes! My copy should be quirkier!” Or Laura Belgray and ask “why are you not funnier, Whit?” Or JK Rowling and think “writing about teenage wizard tournaments is pretty dope. I should do more of that.”
It’s hard to see something that’s done so well and not want a piece of it for yourself.
But it’s like a great outfit.
Kim Kardashian could look absolutely flawless on the red carpet.
But if I squeezed myself into her dress, if I hired her glam team to give me the Kimmy K treatment, it would be so completely ridiculous it’s painful to even imagine.
I don’t have the curves or the coloring or the confidence (my god, the confidence!) to pull off her look. It wouldn’t fit me, literally or figuratively.
And I wouldn’t feel like me. I’d be totally uncomfortable. Every step I took down the red carpet would feel forced and fake.
I’d look a million times better with a messy french braid, a white tee, and my favorite pair of jeans because I’d be me.
And yeah, my ozone-friendly hairspray doesn’t give me as much volume. And I’d undoubtedly have a tea stain somewhere on my shirt. And I’m pretty sure t-shirts and jeans aren’t allowed on the red carpet in the first place. (Are they?)
But I’d look so much better stepping out as me than walking around like an ersatz.
(Again, not a noun.)
Because what works for her won’t work the same way for me. Or you. Or anyone.
The best look you can ever have is “you.”
The best voice you can ever create is yours.
So let’s just be ourselves, okay?
This whole ersatz thing is the worst.
I won’t try to make my copy quirkier or funnier or magical-ier. And you don’t either.
Let’s just show up as ourselves. Completely, fully, unabashedly ourselves.
When you sit down to write, don’t tell yourself the words need to come out a certain way. Just let them come out. Don’t judge.
Don’t try to squeeze them into a tight little dress. It won’t look good on them.
Take the pressure off completely for your copy to BE anything.
Just let it be.
I can’t wait to see what comes out for you when you stop forcing it. (Come back and share in the comments so I can read what you create.)
All I know is that it’ll be as un-ersatz as it gets.
join the convo
Have you ever felt like an ersatz when writing?
What does it feel like when you think about giving yourself permission to just BE? Freeing? Challenging? Scary?
Which writers give you the strongest sense of copy envy? Who are your Nikkis / Lauras / Jos?