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There’s Nothing New Under the Sun: How to write with unchained authenticity

Writing with Authenticity

Write with Authenticity and Reclaim Your Creative Voice

Do you write with authenticity? Are your words truly conveying your feelings? Let’s just be honest with ourselves for a minute, this writing gig is tough and it gets tougher every day. Just finishing a single chapter is grueling for most and that is just the beginning of the journey. Once you finish the story, book, or series you are working on you celebrate, but then you realize that there is a whole new battle ahead. The battle for the soul of your story and for your own integrity as a writer. 

As a writer/author, our goal is to have our voices heard, to touch someone’s heart, mind, and soul with the inner vision that we summon when we put words to paper. It is an incredibly sacred process.

That is only the writing process, soon you realize that for people to read your work you need to make it ready for public consumption. That means alpha-reading, beta-reading, copy-editing, proofing, formatting, cover design, and finally marketing. When you look at this to-do list you feel small, very small. Not only do you have no clear idea how, but you also feel like somewhere in this process you might lose something precious.

Once you begin the post-production process you begin what I call the comparison process… You begin to notice that there are millions if not billions of stories brewing within the heads of people across the globe making it even more difficult to stand out. You notice that these other writers are good, like really good. Then doubt shows up…

  • Is your story is any good?
  • Is it original?
  • Will people/readers like it?
  • What will my fellow wordsmiths think of my work?

Enter the panicked writer….

You cruise over to your favorite writing blog and realize that what you wrote doesn’t adhere to the RULES, it doesn’t fit in the formula, and it isn’t approved by the Writing Police. You share it with some friends who happen to be writers. They send you some feedback. I like it, but…

  • It doesn’t have the right POV for the genre,
  • Its structure doesn’t follow the Hero’s Journey,
  • Your style is odd, it needs to be more readable,
  • Your characters need more description, more dialogue, etc
  • You have too many info-dumps
  • Etc, Etc, Etc,

These are just a few of the notes you get back. You think, no biggie this is great feedback. Now I can make my story better.

You hurry back to your manuscript and you shred it, tear to pieces, and reshape it and after weeks of work you finish it. It follows the rules, it fits the popular formula, and your writing peers approve of it. But…

It no longer resembles what you originally envisioned. You like it, it has been deemed good by all of the communal standards, but it is lacking something… It lacks heart… It lacks soul… This is your unique brand…

How did this happen?

It happened because we sacrificed the most sacred aspect of our art to the writing gods, simply so that we could feel validated…

Then we release our work into the wild and we find out that our product is somewhat well-received, but it is also very much like everything else… What went wrong? You followed the RULES! How can that be bad? Man, because art is about breaking the damn rules!

Before I get too deep into this, I want to warn you, this is not your standard blog. This touches on something that is intensely personal, spiritual, and crucial to realizing a truth not only about our craft but about our lives. There is a sneaky little virus roaming about in our small writing communities and it spreads through one of the most devious delivery systems ever devised, through altruism.

Sick isn’t it? It is transmitted by the good-will of our closest and most-trusted peers. It infects us when we let our guard down and blindly accept all of the advice we are given on blind faith. When we do this we allow other’s to employ their own personal mythology, their own personal power on our story. It is an invasion by an egregore, a memetic entity that has been created by the community, it is sometimes called the Writing Police. 

Now I appreciate that this is some deep psychology being employed to describe what I believe is happening but hang with me and I’ll unpack it all.

Letting our guard down is the first trap… Rules are great, but they can also be binding, destructive forces. 

Writers are people pleasers, to begin with, it is in our blood, in fact, it is one of the primary drivers to write. We want to tell stories and have them well-received. When they are not well received it wounds. Often our immune response is to “fix” the story, to make it more likable, readable, to force it to conform to the public’s standard. This is how it is, it is part of the process, and I want to tell you why it is also very wrong.

FIRST OF ALL: Your story does not need to be fixed…

It may need to be tuned, it may need to be refined, but its core, its spiritual essence must remain intact, and it is your job as the author to defend this core with reckless abandon against those who would inadvertently seek to disrupt the message that your soul, your spirit must communicate to the world. This is about authenticity, your calling, your gift to the world, your destiny.

How do we lose authenticity in our writing? 

We are told by others, particularly our fellow wordsmiths that the best way to achieve success in this gig is to hone our craft. Brush up, clean up, tighten up and the readers will appear and they will love our work… How do they know this?

Because they did it. They followed the steps that other successful writers have in the past, and it turned out that it worked… For them.

We say, “Oh wow that is great…What’s the catch?”

Then we find out that in order to achieve that level of success we must first sacrifice something very sacred to the writing gods. We must give away a part of our creative control. When we give it away to beta readers, agents, to editors, publishing houses and proofers. We give it away to readers who cast poor reviews, and we give it away so that we can feel validated and accepted by our peers.

I know that isn’t a bad thing, it is a necessary evil and it helps us grow as writers, but it comes with a shadow side. 

When we give away our creative control we must be ever-vigilant to not let other’s dictate the story.  

One of the tell-tale signs that you have given up something precious to your soul is your gut.

Have you ever written something that you loved only to have it trashed by a reader, editor, reviewer? Feels like a punch to the gut, doesn’t it? Why? Because it is an affront to our souls. This is a natural part of the writer’s world, but where we get into trouble is when we allow others who do not jive with our spirit song to control how we create, how we originate, and how we sing our spirit song.

Take the time to think about this… Would you give away your soul for the chance to be famous? For peer validation? 

Often we do this without knowing it. We take the advice we implement it and we let go of things we shouldn’t simply to play the publishing game.  We feel sick about it, but then we see some success and we think yay I have found the silver bullet…Soon I’ll be a millionaire! Then once I am settled I can go back to writing the way I like. 

We’ve sold out, and we know it.

The thing is we all do it, and thus many of us have accepted the chains willingly, for a shot at grasping a phantom. How do we as writer’s avoid the pitfalls of this memetic disease? First, we need to know what the warning signs are…

Pitfall #1: Treating writing advice/suggestions as LAW…

There’s loads of advice on the internet and in writing groups about how to write well, how to craft the perfect narrative, which is the right POV, the proper tense, the correct grammar, lifelike dialogue, how to build an accessible world, etc.

There are widely accepted, DO NOT lists. DO NOT use this technique, do not switch tenses, do not switch POV, do not break the rules (until you know them, then break them like a pro….god I hate that one… It has been said so often by so many that it has lost its meaning entirely.)

When I first started getting truly, really serious about my own craft I was in the middle of writing my first novel, Nemeton: The Trial of Calas. To make sure that novel was the best I could possibly make it, I read countless articles, blogs, and books about the craft. I found a wealth of information that helped me fine tune my roughest areas. In fact, it made me better in areas outside of writing, which was a huge positive. However, after awhile I started to feel the constraints of the advice I had been given by other “more successful writers”. I started to feel boxed in, and what’s more important, I started to feel unlike myself. Soon I couldn’t even recognize myself in my own writing. Everything I wrote started to sound like everyone else’s work. It had lost what was essentially me somewhere in between the lines…

It was a huge RED FLAG for me, and I soon realized that I had broken one of my own life rules.

Pitfall #2: Letting others dictate your own character/voice: 

Be accountable to your heart first, readers and peers second. 

I had become a carbon copy of the writers that I had taken the advice from. I was fitting the mold of the “perfect indie writer”, and in turn, my writing itself began to reflect what I call the “Indie Author’s Straightjacket.”

It was clear, concise, readable, the POV matched the reader’s expectation, and I broke zero rules. Then I noticed something, it lacked heart, emotion, and the ineffable human quality necessary to draw the reader in. It was robotic, constructed, and wholly lifeless. 

Why? Because I had fallen for the same rouse that countless other writers had. I played it safe, and I didn’t take a risk.

This may sound like a rant, from a stubborn rebel who merely won’t conform, and although this is partially true, the real truth is that by adhering stringently to these rules we are STIFLING OUR OWN CREATIVE GENIUS.

I asked myself would my favorite authors do this? Would they be relegated to the confines of fear and insecurity? Would they change what made their voice truly unique and authentic just to sell a few more books?

The answer was and always will be no. Playing it safe will get you nowhere fast, especially in the creative community.

Pitfall #3: Not trusting your gut

Over the past four years, I have noticed that there is something that is quite lacking in the vast community of indie writers. That quality is authenticity. We no longer trust our own creative instincts, and we sacrifice all too easily just to please. 

Everywhere you look there are carbon copies of famous authors, popular gimmicks, genres, or even characters. Whether it is a paranormal shifter romance, hard sci-fi with a strong female lead or another first person POV Teen fantasy that reads exactly like Twilight had a baby with the Hunger Games, inauthentic works exist and they are populous in droves.

Now is this fair? As we all know, there isn’t a truly original idea left in the realm of stories, the wares we peddle are recycled and reshaped versions of humanities most classic tales. Most of us who have been at this for awhile know this to be true. We also know that writing a successful story requires authenticity.

 

What is Authenticity?

To many, it is a buzzword, a word that has lost its meaning.

Is it your voice? No, is it your truth? Is it originality?

Authentic literally means of undisputed, or genuine origin. At its basest form, being authentic means that we are originating ideas that have never been put forward before. Now before I go to deep down the rabbit hole of the amazing subconscious, I want to offer you a cooling balm, authenticity is not all about origination if it was it would not be possible to succeed in telling stories for a living. What I am stating is that we have already seen, read, heard, or know every story we come across because they all stem from the same place, the unconscious mind.

The human subconscious is a vast as the universe itself, in point of fact we do not know the extent of its function nor if it has limitations. This is the playground of all germinating ideas within the mind of a writer, it is our sandbox the infinite and eternal place where our creations are born.

Imagine a swirling mass of infinite ideas built by a wide range of accepted archetypes and myths. This is where all of our stories come from. Our mind pulls from this infinite web of the collective subconscious/unconscious and it creates a new world, that we then transcribe onto paper. It is a truly magical experience for both the writer and the reader. It is in itself an act of pure creation, not unlike the physical world we live in. Now all this metaphysical mumbo-jumbo might be cool to some, to others it is bull-hockey, but the truth of the matter is that authenticity is hard, if not impossible to achieve. Why?

Because every story ever told, is an amalgam of these accepted ideas, archetypes, and myths.

So how do we as writers and authors guarantee, neigh, attempt to “sound” authentic if everything had already been done?

First, we need to shake off the yoke of the perfected Indie Writer and get back to doing what we do best, create from a heart-centered attitude. What makes our stories even remotely unique is how our individual minds/brains think. While two separate people may have the same general idea to tell a story about elves vs. orcs, two completely different stories will emerge from the writers. One may come at the reader from a serious point of view, with a third-person-omniscient High Fantasy epic, and another may approach the same topic from a point of comedy and lighthearted friendship. Both would be unique when compared to each other, and both would be authentic because they remained true to the spirit of the creator.

Where we get into trouble is when we see a functioning work, a book, series, or author that has had success writing a certain way, and we attempt to emulate that style. At this point, we have stymied the one thing that truly made the other writer a success. He/She remained at least in some part, authentic, or true to his creative muse, whereas we decided to abandon this sacred instinct.

Let’s take a journey back in time…

Remember what it was like when you first sat down to write. How did it feel? You were excited, maybe a little scared, but you were creating. You were doing it for the joy of it. This is the root of all of your creative endeavors. Once you cut off this avenue, you begin to lose access to the source of all creativity. Before our minds became drilled with “the way it is done.” We were blank slates, and we wrote from a completely different place than we do now. We were righting with honesty, we were writing from our hearts. 

All too often, our minds take over and dictate our lives. We have an idea that comes from the heart, a feeling, an emotion that is driving our obsession to scribble down this idea. Once we get started we are excited, we can’t wait to share it with the world, it is everything to us and then… in comes the mind. 

  • We start to think, is this a copycat? Of course, it is, everything is…
  • Is this original? Originality is bunk, what is original is how you tell it.
  • Am I following the rules? Damn the rules, use them to your advantage, but don’t get pinned by them.
  • My story contains techniques that my fellow authors say should not be included? Trust yourself…seriously.
  • Does it fit the genre? Don’t mimic your genre, unless you want to sound like a parrot. 
  • Does it adhere to the rules of narrative? These rules have changed over time, they are not rigid. Break boundaries.

These questions are not helpful…

Soon we find ourselves tearing the idea apart to fit a mold, the mold of the Indie writer. My question to you is, who made this mold? Who determined that this artform must follow a certain formula or else it will be unreadable. Often when in conversation with my fellow authors I come across this very topic. Someone will have a truly magnificent idea, it is heartfelt and brimming with potential. Then in comes the all too eager critique. Slowly this idea gets trampled, dismantled, and forced to fit into the model that we all have accepted without question. Not because of some vicious ploy, but because we just didn’t know any better. We trusted our peers.

Our peers are our only true support system on this journey and although their help, feedback, and commentary are absolutely necessary it is not the word of GOD. I have seen many a writer trash an idea simply because someone they trusted torpedoed the idea because it did not fit the mold.

Now I want to be clear, this is not done in a mean spirit, or simply to bring someone down. It exists because we have fallen into a sinister trap, an egregore, a mental entity that exists because we believe in the falsity of the indie book blueprint.

Be honest with yourself for one minute…

  • Have you compromised your honest, heartfelt creative self in order to validate your craft?
  • Have you gone against your most sacred instinct just to please your peers?
  • Does your writing lack the emotional foundation necessary to craft a truly remarkable story?

If you answered yes to any of these, then you may need to reevaluate the reasons you are writing.

Being authentic in your writing is about following your creative genius, your muse, and your heart. It is not about originality, or story structure, or dialogue, or any formulaic aspect of the craft.

Being authentic is about trusting your own instincts when all of your peers are saying that it doesn’t fit convention. Well quite frankly, convention can go **** itself. Creativity and the arts are not, have never been, and should never be about conformity and convention. Producing a story that is not intrinsically linked to your own spirit and soul is a crime against nature. There is a reason you are a writer/author, it is because you cannot bring yourself to walk away from this life without spilling your innards all over the bleepin’ page.

THIS IS YOUR DAMN PURPOSE, and I want to ask you, are you going to allow someone to stifle what is truly sacred to you?

I would certainly hope not.

Now is the time to really give this some thought.

  • Where have you given up personal power?
  • Where have you sacrificed a part of your sacred creativity to conform?
  • Next, I want you to ask why you did that?
  • Why did you allow another to control the destiny of your progeny?

Then I want you to evaluate whether or not the rule/convention you adhered to is truly worth the cost of your authentic voice.

This aspect of yourself is what is inextricably you. It is what sets you apart from everyone else. Only you can tell the story the way you do. If you allow others to determine how that story is told you will undoubtedly lose a significant chunk of storytelling power. More importantly your story will suffer for it.

To wrap this entirely too long blog post up I want to leave you with a few pieces of creative advice that I have found helpful in maintaining authenticity in my own writing.

Replenish your Authenticity with these simple practices:

  1. Perfectionism cripples your creative genius, keep an eye on your shadow side.
  2. Done is better than good. Write the damn thing, tinker, then let it go. You’ll grow immensely.
  3. Write for yourself first, your audience second, the Writing Police last or not at all.
  4. No one gave you permission to write, and no one can tell you how to write your story, only you can do it.
  5. Keep your craft sacred because it is your magic.
  6. Feed your creative wellspring by writing with abandon, who cares if it sucks. Inspiration comes from release.
  7. Turn off your internal editor, he’s/she’s a jerk
  8. If advice feels wrong, it isn’t right for you, trust your gut.
  9. Don’t ever let anyone tell you it can’t be done, they are scared.
  10. Break down walls often, try new techniques and build a unique voice through trial and error. 

Ramble and Rant ended…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christopher Eichenauer
Christopher Lee is the author of Nemeton: The Trial of Calas, Westward, Bard Song, and Pantheon. Christopher Lee is an independent, self-published author, copywriter, ghostwriter, and wordsmith extraordinaire... ok maybe just a wordsmith... Christopher is an avid history buff, mythologist, bardic poet, and keeper of the old ways.
http://www.christopherleeauthor.com
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