What the F*** Do People Mean When They Say "Write Authentically"

Do you ever wonder what people mean when they say, “write authentically?” It’s one of those phrases that makes perfect sense in the abstract, but isn’t always so easy to execute on. Here’s my take.

Go There … You Know, There

If you’ve decided you want to write and to do so with authenticity, it’s important to go there. You know, there. That place just below the surface.

It’s so easy to skim the top of a subject when we write, but the really good stuff lives just below. That doesn’t mean you have to tell the world all your dark secrets or every detail of your life. It only means that you ought to fully service the subject you’re choosing to write about if you truly care about authenticity.

So, what does this look like in action? Break out of the formula. Stop being a slave to the structure of a typical blog post or essay or whatever you’re working on. And don’t focus on the five things you did to achieve a goal or the ten ways you can do whatever. Talk about what happens in between those things. Dig deeper and tell the whole story.

Ask Yourself All The Questions

If you’ve been writing on the Internet for a while, then breaking out of the formula is a lot easier said than done. The formula becomes second nature. After all, it’s what most editors are looking for, and it makes for more efficient productivity for you.

But, again, if authenticity is your aim, then the formula isn’t good enough. Let everyone else focus on the formula while you talk about what people really want to know.

The easiest way to break out of the formula is to write the way you feel comfortable writing for the first draft and then, in the second draft, ask all the questions. Interrogate yourself.

Why did you highlight the points you did? What scares you about the subject matter, or makes you nervous or insecure? What questions would you have if you stumbled on this post for the first time? What questions do you feel other people writing about the thing tend to skip over? Where does other content fall short, and are you willing to fill those gaps?

Leave no stone unturned. And if you find that what you wrote seems easier said than done, then you need to dig deeper still.

Authenticity in Action

I understand the importance of digging deeper because I’ve always struggled so much to do so. I package things when I don’t even realize I’m doing it. I constantly feel the need to wrap things up in a tight knot, and I’m constantly being reminded by my close friends when they can tell I didn’t fully go there.

But it’s so hard for me to stop because it’s so hard for me to know I’m doing it. So, when I’m finished with a piece of writing, I try a few different things:

  • I ask myself if there was more I could say, but I felt too uncomfortable doing so because it made me feel vulnerable. Then I add that in, even if I feel squeamish hitting “publish.”

  • I read my early drafts to my husband, as he will always be the first person to call me out and tell me I glossed over the deep stuff.

  • I take a look at any sentences or passages that I like maybe a little too much. Then I ask myself if it’s because they service the message well or because I simply like the writing. If it’s the latter, I force myself to cut them out.

  • I try to put myself in the mind of someone who doesn’t know a great deal about the subject matter, and I try to anticipate the questions they would have after reading my work. Then I go back in and add or flesh out those parts so I can answer the questions before they’re asked, hopefully creating work that is that much more useful.

  • I think about other writing on the subject matter and when I felt that writing fell short. Then, I make sure I address what was missing and dedicate space to that in my work.

For me, there’s nothing more frustrating than hoping a piece of writing might help or move me, and then realizing it did nothing at all. It’s a let down when someone glosses over the parts we crave to learn about or the messy bits that validate our own experiences, and I strive not to do that in my work. But I will at times because it can often feel like we’re writing authentically when we’re, in fact, skimming the surface.

Hell, I might even be doing it here. This is a post in which I talk a lot about how to do a thing, but I don’t talk much about how I struggle through it. I’ve structured the post this way because, at the moment, it feels right. But tomorrow you might read it and think the opposite. As with all things creative, this process isn’t perfect. It’s often messy and incomplete and frustrating.

If you’re reading this and feeling that your attempt to write authentically is messy or uncomfortable or unpleasant, I say welcome. It means you’re in the game — you’re doing the damn thing! Keep doing it. The only way out on this one is through, but it will get easier as you go along.

Photo by Teddy Kelley on Unsplash