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Grammar Is Sexy

How to Be Authentic in Your Writing

I’ve been struggling lately. Even though I got two weeks ahead on blog content, I’ve been fighting to put words on the page. It’s not writer’s block per se. I can get the words out and form thoughts that make sense. It’s a kind of ”style block” if you will. I don’t feel like myself.

When I write for other sites such as College Info Geek or Listen Money Matters, I feel like myself. Which is odd, since those sites are run by other people and require me to contribute content on specific topics. Even though this site is ostensibly about grammar, writing, and editing, I can write on whatever topic I want, but somehow the constraint of writing for someone else’s site allows me to be more creative and show more of my personality.

Maybe I shouldn’t worry. Maybe this is just ”the dip.” This blog has been going for almost six months now, and it’s only natural that I find myself questioning it.

I’m sure that you’ve experienced the same with your writing, so I thought today I’d take you inside this struggle and offer some ideas for overcoming it. Hopefully I can help both of us in the process.

Impostor Syndrome

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Nothing says ”keep out” like a padlock.

”I feel like a hack. I feel like a fake. This blog, what I’m writing, it isn’t me. At least, that’s what I’m afraid of. Who am I to talk about editing and style and writing as if I know what I’m doing? I’m only twenty, after all. I’m hesitant to mention my age when I talk with other professionals or with potential clients. I know I should be proud of it, own it, but I hold back, for fear that I’ll just seem like a kid. Who would want to work with someone who’s still a student?”

– me during my dark night of the soul

The above is from a recent journal entry of mine. After reading this passage with a bit of perspective, I realize I’m experiencing a case of impostor syndrome.

Impostor syndrome is the psychological term for the feeling that you don’t belong in a position or situation because you lack authority, experience, charm, whatever it may be. It’s common any time you’re entering a new field or even a more advanced stage of a field you already belong to.

It makes sense. I would never want to steer someone wrong. That would be the worst thing I could do.

But come on, I need to have a bit of perspective. I mean, it’s just grammar and writing and editing. It’s not like I’m going to ruin someone’s career or wreck their book by giving advice that, at worst, might be mediocre. If people think I’m full of shit, they’ll just ignore me.

Whenever I feel like an impostor, I think of what William Zinsser says in his excellent book On Writing Well:

”Believe in your own identity and your own opinions. Writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it. Use its energy to keep yourself going” (23).

– William Zinsser, On Writing Well

Anyone who puts some idea, some advice, some personal experience out there is taking a risk. You have to have a healthy touch of ego to assume that anyone will benefit from what you have to say at all.

Always a Student

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The ideal cookie to coffee ratio.

As I look at my journal entry, I also notice my fear of being ”only” a student.

For one thing, that label of ”student” is arbitrary…and, I would argue, flawed. After all, should I be less of a student just because I’m not in school? I would never want to work with someone who has professed to stop learning. I’ll always be a student, and I should be proud of that.

I think of what legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier said:

”In all professions without a doubt, but certainly in cooking, one is a student all his life” (550).

– Auguste Escoffier, in Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Chef

And besides all of that, the best way to learn a profession is to do it. Again, it’s not like I’m a brain surgeon. If I mess up, the worst I might get is an upset client or a lost email subscriber. I want neither of those, but no one’s life is on the line.

How to Be Authentic

be-authentic-for-GIS-Be-Authentic-in-Writing

My mouth is already watering, and I haven’t even seen the food.

Still, the question of how to be authentic remains. What does that even mean? Is it something you can strive for, or does it just happen?

William Zinsser cautions that you shouldn’t try too hard. He’s talking about style, but what he says applies to the general struggle for ”authenticity”:

”This is the problem of writers who set out deliberately to garnish their prose. You lose whatever it is that makes you unique. The reader will notice if you are putting on airs. Readers want the person who is talking to them to sound genuine. Therefore a fundamental rule is: be yourself” (19).

– William Zinsser, On Writing Well

Everything has been written about by someone. People don’t just want information. There’s way too much of that. They want wisdom and personality and (dare I say it) heart. They want to hear it from a real person.

I know my writing could stand to show more of my personality. How much have I talked about the music I like (I’m listening to Radiohead’s In Rainbows as I write this)? Or the books I read for fun (I’m trucking through Patrick Rothfuss’s The Wise Man’s Fear at the moment)? Or “impossible” goals of mine such as setting foot in all fifty U.S. states before I turn twenty-five?

Some of the best bloggers out there make their personal and family life an evident, if not essential, part of their business. Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income comes to mind. His about page features a picture of him with his wife and kids! Doesn’t get much more personal than that.

You should share what makes you unique as well. Make the best gluten-free brownies on Earth? Tell the world. Even if you don’t run a food blog, people connect with those details.

”Only connect!”

– E.M. Forster, Howards End

Have kids or pets? Put up the occasional picture. As Chase Reeves points out in one of his excellent videos for Fizzle, pictures of babies and pets are almost cheating, they work so well.

Just don’t worry about being so professional all the time. Be a human being!

What I’m Doing Next

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Obligatory photo of a path.

Hope you don’t mind listening to my self-therapy. I know today’s post might have been a bit more soul-searching than most, but that’s what I want. I want my writing from now on to have a fun, personal element.

How are you injecting your personality into your writing? Share what works in the comments.

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