If there was only one piece of advice I was allowed to dole out to writers and potential writers and kids who want to grow up to be writers, besides the obvious “don’t!”, it would be this fancy pants line from Shakespeare: This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.
I dunno if I’d push it as far as not being false to any man, I mean, that’s on you, but I definitely support being true to yourself. That goes double for when you’re writing. There’s a certain rhythm that you develop as you go along, some people refer to this as your “voice,” but if you’ve done this for long you know that your voice can kind of slip along with whatever you’re banging out.
Sometimes you get bits of other voices stuck to your own. Gross.
That’s what this blog post is about. Shaking that shit off and just being you. Because your audience can tell. They can see when you’re phoning it in, they can tell when you’re trying to write someone else. There are always tells.
What Does it Mean to be Genuine?
Being genuine is one of those things, like being in love or being an asshole, that’s a little bit hard to define. We seem to basically know it when we see it, but explaining it to someone else is difficult. Yet, Writers, we’re the masters of written communication, so let’s give it a go. Merriam-Webster defines “genuine” like this:
- a : actually having the reputed or apparent qualities or character genuine vintage wines
b : actually produced by or proceeding from the alleged source or author the signature is genuine
c : sincerely and honestly felt or experienced a deep and genuine love
d : actual, true a genuine improvement
- a : free from hypocrisy or pretense : sincere His apology seemed genuine.
I’m going to assume we’re talking about 2a. I think that’s the one I mean. Free from pretense. Yeah. That. So, thanks, dictionary!
Anyway, what it really means in a functional sense is that you’re not trying to write like anybody else. Because it doesn’t work that way. You can only write like you. If you try to write like Douglas Adams or fucking Thomas Jefferson or whoever you please, it’s not only going to sound awful to the ear, it’s going to be an assault on the person you’re trying to imitate.
Readers can tell when something’s just a little off, especially if they read a particular author often. They might not be able to put a finger on it, but something… maybe in the way you use commas or how you punctuate phrases, or where you find paragraph breaks to make the most sense. They just know. It’s intuition.
And this sort of goes back to the post on ghosting from last week, too, I guess. I never try to write like the person I’m ghosting for, I try to write like a version of me that’s in their pants. For example, I write for a successful marketing professional who shall go unnamed. I’m certain he and I have very different writing styles in reality, which is probably because he sells commercials and I write words. But when I write for him, I just do my best to sound like a version of me that knows a lot about selling commercials. I don’t pretend to believe I can write exactly like him.
Benefits of Being a Genuine You
Believe it or not, writing like you has some pretty massive benefits. Yeah. Being yourself can be cool, who knew? This is the part of the blog where I list some shit and you read it. So, here we go! Benefits of writing like you!
Increase your writing speed. This is probably the most important for us, especially considering how many of us work by the piece. Writing speed is vital, if you can’t crank a blog in an hour, you’re not going to survive. When you write like yourself, it’s almost effortless. You know what you want to say about the top ten travel destinations in Texas or the six most infectious types of parasites or five ways that turnips changed the world. So just say it! Don’t worry over every word, use the words you’d use. Just get the tone right and you’re glorious.
Improve engagement with the audience. As I stated above, your audience can tell when you’re not quite yourself. There’s something wrong with the cadence of the sentences, the paras don’t flow properly and everything is just a little… skewed. It’s obvious that you were trying too damn hard, so stop. Just stop. Instead, be genuine and invite your readers in. They’ll be more likely to become engaged because they won’t smell a rat. Or a turd. Whichever applies.
Create a thing that’s never been. Here’s the ultimate goal of every writer, creating a thing that’s never been. It’s the ultimate goal of all creative types, really. And you can make a thing that’s totally new by taking a topic and infusing yourself and your special little brain into it. So go marrying some shit together, go fuse stuff and see what you get. I never said it would always be great, just that it would be new. New is new.
If you’re struggling to tap into what makes you you, you may want to try a really basic writing exercise that many young writers spend hours and days and years at. Freewriting is a technique where you just write, whatever comes to mind, for five or ten minutes and you don’t stop. You just write. You don’t edit, you don’t erase and for fuck’s sake, you don’t try to be anybody else. It’s stream of consciousness and it’s a delightful way to yank your own youness out of you.
Go getya some words, my word warriors. You can do the thing!