Rule #1 for Writers: Always Be Genuine

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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!

What’s This Work/Life Balance Everybody’s Talking About?

I’m about to posit a potentially unpopular opinion.  Are you ready for it?  Brace yourself.

There’s no such thing as a work/life balance for writers.  There’s only work, more work and less work.  We live in a world that’s either all on or all off.  You’re totally in or you’re totally out.  And that makes it nigh on impossible to really have anything like a work/life balance, even with a staff.  Sure, you might be at your kid’s ballgame, but you’re on your smartphone looking up information for your next article or you’re outlining marketing plans for the future or you’re searching for new clients.  The point is that you’re not really all in your real life — your non-writing life.

Instead you’re outlining, you’re world-building, you’re doing anything but living your life.  I think this is why the writing life is so difficult for us, and why it ruins relationships and why it fucking kills people.  There’s no stopping it, or slowing it down.  You’re just always on to the next project.  There’s no leeway.  if you’re on social media to keep up with real life friends, you’re also there performing for your audience.  You’re participating in groups with the hopes that someone will need your services.

Everything. You. Do. Is. A. Lie

Becoming More Present With a Writing Life

Although we tend to go tits-deep with the Writing Life, there’s hope for a work/life balance.  I know, I was shocked to learn this, too.

The truth is that the non-stop world of work is a fiction we’ve created for ourselves because we believe the task is so overwhelming it can never stop.  The truth is that we can and should take time off, slow down, spend time with our families and friends in real life and get out of the fucking house and get some of that sweet, sweet Vitamin D.

I’ve been pondering this a lot lately, and I think — I believe — I have a solution.  Or at least some suggestions, so here we go.  I believe these tips will help you get a little balance in your life:

Give yourself permission to stop.  All of this, I think, starts with the myth that any small business owner needs to be invested in their business all the time, that every moment should be spent working your butt off until you die.  So, let’s start with that.  It’s fucking wrong.  You’re fucking wrong.  Do you hear me?  You’re fucking wrong.  You can run a successful business and still golf three or four times a week, go to your kid’s ballgame without second screening, have a fucking life in between assignments.  Give yourself permission to stop.  Do it right the fuck now.

Schedule regular and significant vacations.  Get out your calendar, bitches.  Schedule two things right now.  First, pick a week or two every four to eight weeks and schedule them off.  Do it now before you fill the rest of your schedule out.  Next, schedule a few days for overflow.  We all have those days where nothing comes together and we suddenly lose our precious days off to make up for that lack of production.  Go ahead and give yourself permission in writing to have both types of days.

Put the computer away.  On those days you’ve scheduled off, get the fuck away from the computer.  I find myself coming in here and fiddling with my calendar or doing something on my laptop when I should be decompressing.  This world is a pressure cooker and the only way you survive it is to go cold turkey.  That includes me.  Get the fuck away from your computer.  Run, don’t walk, on your days off.  Don’t even think about opening up productivity programs or looking at your work schedule.  I swear I’ll find you and cut you.

Find a non-digital hobby.  The way I was raised having a hobby was sort of a secondary or tertiary priority.  But the reality is that it’s not, this is something vital to living an enriched life.  Whether you’re a woodworker or a gardener or you fly kites or ride mountain bikes, you need time away from the computer.  Exercise.  Go outside.  Do competitive sports with your dog.  Anything, just do it in real life, even if you also talk about it online.

Bitches, burnout is a real thing, it’ll crush your heart and soul, it’ll make you feel lost and angry and bored and it’s hard — so hard — to overcome once you’re all in.  So, listen to me now when I say you need to get a little more balance in your life.  Everything has to balance eventually.

God knows you don’t want to find that balance after a mental breakdown and months of not working.