Each time I write, I picture an audience. Sometimes it’s the general public, other times it’s a team of Archeologists who unearth my notebook thousands of years from now. Do I worry what conclusions they might draw about me, or the people of our time based on my love of toilet humour? Sure I do! But that doesn’t stop me from expressing my raunchy side.
It’s not always easy to prioritize honesty over the imagined opinions of your reader, but it’s important for art’s sake. When reading something you’ve written, ask yourself if you’re more concerned with writing your personal truth, or with gaining your reader’s favour. If you’ve spent your entire life writing academic essays or pandering to the opinions of editors and critics, it can be hard to tell the difference. Here are some suggestions to get you headed in the right direction:
Defend Your Voice
Growing up, teachers always told me to elaborate on my thoughts. Sure, I developed a teenaged fascination with my thesaurus, but even then, I was stingy with my words. As it turns out, expository essays weren’t for me and I discovered my truth in short bursts of poetry. I filled notebooks with three or four-line commentaries on life as a farm kid, and life with a disability. These small poems saw me through a lot, and I began to know myself through them.
When left to your own creative devices, where do you most often end up? Do you find yourself writing long, stream of consciousness pieces? Satirical essays? Memes? There’s room in this world for all types of expression. Be open to learning new things, but don’t fret if you keep coming back to a particular genre or style. This is you, developing your voice.
Dig into Your Creative Archives
If you’re unsure how to recognize it, or you have yet to find your writer’s voice, old journals are a great resource. Flip through the pages and find those pieces you’ve written that still hold up: Do they possess a certain tone, or honesty that you recognize even now?
Time and distance have a magical way of helping us see things more clearly. If you’re unsure about what you’ve written, let it sit for a while. Come back to it weeks, months or even years later. Think of it in light of all the other things you’ve written that you’re proud of and that you know contain something of yourself. How does it compare?
Engage Your B.S. Detector
I’ve written a ton of B.S. in my day, I’m sure we all have. It’s unrealistic to expect strong, honest writing to come of every attempt. Sometimes you have to let the bullshit out before the truth of what you’re really trying to say, can surface. That’s where practice comes in. The more you write, the more chance you have of purging all that half-true, clichéd stuff from your brain.
View your writing with a critical eye. Look beyond spelling and grammar to assess the degree to which you’re being authentic. Do you believe your own words? Would you stand behind them if challenged?
Listen to Your Gut
When you’ve written something of substance, you’ll know. Your heart and mind will light up in unison and you’ll want to share it with the world. If you’re a private person, you might simply choose to share it with yourself by reading it aloud and settling into the happiness of your own accomplishment.
If you do decide to share your writing with others, expect that they might feel a little differently about it. That doesn’t mean your message isn’t true. Consider their feedback and make changes if you wish, but remember that your opinion matters the most.
Answer Questions About Your Work
Ask a friend to interview you about the piece in question, or grill yourself by asking things like: What inspired me to write this? How does it make me feel to read it? Does this theme appear in any other pieces I have written? Do I have more to say along these lines? Etc. Understanding why you have written something will give you a solid foundation against which to judge it.
Or –If this kind of intense investigation feels too overwhelming— start by reading the piece out loud. Record it on your phone, then listen back. If, by the end, you feel slightly unsatisfied, know that you need to dive deeper into your subject matter to find the truth you’re seeking.