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Writing the Truth: A Reflection on Authenticity in Writing and Life

Book writing coach lisa tener
Your Book Writing Coach

On the Virgin America airplane ride back from a writers conference, I watched three movies—a decadent luxury for this mompreneur.

After watching a documentary about the life of one-time musical prodigy Ben Lee, I found myself inspired and wrote a song—not something I usually do. In fact, my family used to joke about how un-musical I am;  my childhood piano teacher begged my parents to send me for dance lessons—and not because she loved my Plié or Relevé.

I found the song writing experience surprising and soul-nourishing in a way my other writing hadn’t been lately when I’d tried to write about the topic of my writers conference presentation, even though I was truly excited about that topic in its own way.

Later, as I thought about that experience and other recent writing, I realized that a truer voice was coming out in the shorter pieces—the ones where I set aside expectation and just played with words, witnessing what came forth. You might call it an “authentic” voice. Have you had that experience with certain writing of your own?

“Authentic” seems like a buzz word these past few years. You see it almost everywhere—on websites, in blog posts, social media and magazines.

Why are we so taken with authenticity? I believe we are being called to step out of the old mold of who we think we are and step into a truer—and more powerful—sense of ourselves.

This authentic self has more to offer others and can bring a greater sense of fulfillment than the outer layers of persona. But how do you access that authentic self? How do you:

  • Make decisions
  • Speak
  • Work
  • Connect
  • Love

from that inner landscape of authenticity? It can feel vulnerable, unfamiliar, shaky.

Start with writing:

  • You don’t ever have to share this writing
  • Instead, give yourself permission to explore on your own with no one peeking over your shoulder.

writing courseWriters often refer to a writer’s “voice.” Recently, my friend and client, Bonnie Leonard, told me she wasn’t sure she had a clear voice as a writer, but then someone who took her self-study course: Reinvent Your Life: Write Now told her, “I could hear your voice as I read the materials.” Clearly she’d achieved authenticity—the words “rang true” and the reader fully connected.

So, how do you achieve that on the page? Here are three different writing secrets for discovering your voice as a writer and—in the process—getting in touch with your authentic self:

1. Free Write: Set a timer for 5 to 10 minutes. Just write as fast as you can in a notebook as your pen swiftly moves across the page without hesitation. Don’t take the pen off the paper. If thoughts come in, just include them in the writing without censor.

Write about the first thing that enters your mind. If another thought interrupts, write that down. When your timer rings, read what you wrote and see if something calls to you, or seems a particularly juicy spot to continue exploration. It might be a word, a phrase, a paragraph, an idea, or a page—follow it. Set your timer for another 10 minutes and explore the subject without editing or censoring—just write.

If the  critic’s voice arises, you can write it down and respond on the page (more writing). Repeat the process one more time.

2) Dig Deep into Detail: Authentic writing is true writing: the reader experiences your story come alive for them. If you write, “I felt nervous” or, “She turned the page slowly,” there’s little to make it come alive. But if you describe your arduous journey up to the speakers’ podium, sweat dripping from your fingers, your reader shares in your anxiety and the experience comes alive and connects you. Now, you’re reaching your reader and magic can happen—for the reader and for you.

3) Write beyond what you know. You can start your writing with what you know about something, but it truly becomes interesting and engaging when you explore beyond what you already know or planned to share. Allow for space to explore an aspect you hadn’t looked at before—perhaps a forgotten memory that surfaces as you write about that trip to the podium. Where does it lead you?

True authenticity is about being present. When you are present, you allow the creative force inside you to lead you—whether you are talking, teaching, writing listening, playing, working, singing or creating anything. Authenticity requires being open, allowing yourself to be led by the wise, creative force within you that nudges you deeper in your relationships with yourself and others.

Not only will authenticity make you a better writer, but a better partner, friend, employer, employee, spouse, parent, creator and human being. Click Here to Tweet this.

Rather than try this process with your book, you may want to start exploring with some journaling instead. Here are a few journal prompts to get you started. Choose a phrase that calls to you and write those words in your journal. See where they take you. I suggest writing with pen and paper to free you up.

  • “My bedroom window faced…”
  • “I’ve always wondered what it would be like to…”
  • “Ever since ____________, I’ve harbored a resentment about ____________. It started…”
  • “I often wish that…”

Remember these writing secrets:

  • Don’t edit, just write—the faster the better.
  • Fill your writing with specific details.
  • Use different senses to convey details—hearing, touch, sight, taste and smell.
  • Let the writing—and your authentic self—lead you. Let go of trying to control the process for now. You’re not writing for anyone but you!

Share your discoveries and comments below. What does “authentic” mean to you? How do you access your authentic voice as a writer?

Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

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