If you’re not sure what I mean, let me rephrase: Are you fully confident in your authentic voice?
One way to find out is to pay attention to how you feel when you’re writing. I’m not just talking about your journaling practice (although, for many of us, our journals are vital tools for self-discovery) but about your articles, blogs, books, and e-books―the pieces of writing you put out there into the world.
The voice you unleash in your journal is raw and real, full of emotion and your certainty about that emotion. The writing you present to the world is different: it’s more polished, more refined; it’s honed, edited, and organized. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be every bit as authentic and powerful as what you write in private.
The best writing is a melding of the two worlds: the private world of raw emotion and heart-connection, and the public world of organized and polished content. When she finishes reading your piece, a reader should feel like she knows a little bit about you―like she’s been invited into your world. Chances are, you’ve read writing like this, and you probably went back for more from the author.
In my work as an editor, I see firsthand how confusing it can be for writers to reconcile the two different sides of their writing. It’s also my observation that most people, without feedback, tend to err on the side of caution. They back down from what they really want to say in order to make their writing more “universal,” or less inflammatory.
Don’t get me wrong: changing out harsh words for loving ones will almost always enhance, rather than detract from, your message. But sometimes, cultivating a more “general” point of view can be an excuse to hide your authentic voice behind a screen. When that happens, your readers will feel the disconnect, and your message will lose some of its power.
Why do we hide in our writing?
It’s an important question, and one for which there are as many answers as there are writers. Suffice to say that many of us are still afraid to speak our truth, and glossing over tough issues and emotions in our writing is one way to steer clear of those uncomfortable places.
The written word is a powerful and effective means of communication. Because we can revise, rework, and polish before anyone sees what we’ve written, we can create a targeted channel of energy through our words that cuts straight to the heart of the matter. In my own writing, I’ve actually seen that channel open up like a gleaming vortex; when that happens, I know I’m on the right track, and that I’m connected to an energetic superhighway which will transport my words directly to my readers’ hearts and minds. But when the wormhole closes, and my human mind gets a grip on whatever words have just gushed onto the page, there’s always a temptation to tone it down. “I can’t say that,” my mind will tell me. “That’s too much!” At that point, I have to step away, take a breath, and ask myself, “Is it really ‘too much?’ Or am I simply afraid of it?” The answer is almost always the latter.
Here are three ways to tell if you’re hiding in your writing:
- You “tone down” your narrative as you edit. Do you constantly find yourself choosing new, “softer” words in your revisions? Do you edit out your conclusions in case readers think they’re “too much” or “too weird?” If so, ask yourself why you feel like your message doesn’t deserve your most powerful, decisive words. Do you feel on shaky ground because it’s a new idea, or something you’re just starting to process? Or is your reluctance coming from something deeper?
- You often use words and phrases like “I believe,” “I think,” “probably,” or “might.” If you constantly add qualifying statements to your writing, ask yourself what you’re really scared of. Do you actually think that your opinion statements might be construed as irrefutable facts without that disclaimer (rare, unless you’re in journalism)―or are you afraid of being wrong, and want to cover your butt just in case? If it’s the latter, what aspect of what you’re saying doesn’t feel certain to you? What would happen if you owned it?
- You dance around what really happened. Admittedly, the line between “totally vague” and “TMI” is a tough one to walk―but most of the time, that’s not why writers shy away from their stories. I hear it all the time: “I just don’t want to go there.” To which I usually reply, “You’re telling this story to teach your readers something, so you need to tell the whole” If you suffered, say so. If you hurt someone, say so. Unless the details of your story could be considered libelous (a discussion unto itself, and one which I’ll address in a future post), please don’t drop hints and hope your readers will follow the breadcrumbs. Lay it bare. If there’s a nugget of truth or wisdom in there, give it all the space it needs to come out.
One of my favorite aspects of developmental editing is coaching writers through their fears. We have all, for one reason or another, been afraid of ourselves and our greatness. However, if we want to connect on a deeper level with our audience, we need to move through that fear and fully own our message, instead of just writing circles around it.
Engage in wordplay!