How to Become an Authentic Writer (When You Know You Aren’t)
I am not an authentic writer. There, I said it. Are you?
Let’s start today’s edition of White Space with a question that was bugging my head this week.
Are you 100% authentic and original? That’s a debate you need to have with yourself one day.
“Be original.” “The best niche is you.”
Okay, that’s sweet. But can you cultivate that thought and bring those notions to life by writing as an original thinker?
The truth is that most of us don’t do that. But the good news is that being original is no necessity.
A writer's growth is from synthesising others’ ideas in the beginning. The dots connect in their heads only after they have done it so many times.
A couple of days ago, I was debating whether being authentic should be normal. Or should it be the zenith to aim for as a writer? Or should it not matter at all?
I was talking to this friend over a call when it hit me: “We take so many references from our lives and experiences. Are they happening with us for the first time?”
“Details matter. They create depth and depth creates authenticity.” —Neil Blumenthal
For me, that quote was worth a lot. It was as if I read it at just the right time.
Look, I know it’s a cliche to say that all we ever want to write has already been written about. Our bad.
But it hasn’t been written from our perspective, has it?
But, again, what is our perspective and what does it consist of? Let’s find out.
Acknowledge the fact that we’re all an imitator
And being one is totally okay.
As children, we learnt a heck lot of things by simply observing and imitating.
“Papa,” the child will say one day, out of the blue. That’s because it’s been observing and trying to imitate all this while.
We can do the same. We do the same.
We try to sound like our favourite writers. We want to write like they do.
I can give you countless examples of writers I try to imitate. I try to incorporate everything they do into different combinations.
Liked something they did to ace the presentation? Wait a sec, I’ll do the same in my articles.
Wow, they played really well by adding that first-person perspective or a little anecdote there! I’ll just take a note.
Consciously or subconsciously, we all imitate. But that doesn’t make us any less authentic. That doesn’t make us a copycat.
Acknowledging this goes a long way.
I made this mistake early on by thinking everything needs to be 100% of my own to be ideal for my publishing values.
Little did I know that I was actually limiting myself by having that mindset.
Now I just focus on marginal improvements. No matter how small a change it is. Until it’s a change for the better, I’m more than okay with it.
Lesson: put everything you learn from reading books, listening to your favourite podcasts, a newsletter you can’t have a week going without reading, or simply a tweet.
Bring it in. Know it’s okay to learn and write about your learnings. That’s how you’ll become better as a writer and learn faster as a human.
Being authentic means having depth
That doesn’t mean an ocean is more authentic than a lake lol.
We all can have depth when it comes to the topic we are comfortable talking about. No one needs to earn a PhD in a subject to do this.
First-person stories, illustrations, data, and anecdotes are a few things that can provide your stories with depth.
Having depth in your writing forges trust between you and your readers in the long term.
I read a thread on Twitter a couple of days ago. It was about the rising screen time among millennials and GenZ.
The writer started with graphs and trends of mobile usage… supported how mobile screen time accounts for the majority of our time online… some more charts and data points… and then moved on to serious concerns and ended the tweet on a negative note of concern.
I read another tweet that simply said: “A vegan diet is 100x better…”
It’s obvious the first example has depth while the latter one doesn’t.
But that doesn’t mean you have to write long-form content or quote a million research papers to impart more depth.
You only need something that your readers can anchor to.
A story that connects.
A jump in time and talk of history.
A data point that proves your point.
Anything. The sheer lack of anything viable in the second example makes it shallow. 100x is just a random throw of stone in the lake. It’s just random.
Though that looks sexy, it doesn’t forge any trust between the writer and the readers. And if it doesn’t help forge trust, it isn’t deep.
Strive for the perfect mix of breadth and depth
In the end, it’s a power tussle between being a generalist vs being a specialist.
Writing comes in different shapes and forms. For some, being a generalist adds up to their advantage. And for the other, the case is totally opposite.
But what I have observed from my favourite writers and creators is that they are the perfect mix.
A perfect mix of breath and depth of knowledge and experience. They play with different combinations of the mix. They use it as a tool in their arsenal.
This is one of the reasons why we are so excited to read them. It’s something new every time. Guaranteed.
We can steal that blueprint and incorporate it into our writer self.
But before that, we need a little introspection to see if it’s a fit.
“Do I really need this or am I well off with being a specialist, let’s say?” Your call can be different, and it’s okay.
What’s important is to entertain this question and explore the aspects of being a generalist or a specialist or a mix of those.
So, yeah, that was it for today. I hope you had a good time reading this.
I’m planning to write issues of this letter like this. It’s fun writing in a conversational style.
And occasionally breaking a couple of grammar rules. It's like starting the previous sentence with ‘and’. Grammar Nazis, sorry.
Let me know how we can make this newsletter better, together. Hit reply, comment, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.