Starting to write with authenticity

by Joanna on September 2, 2007

Writing with authenticity means being open, writing from your own experience, telling your own truth.  Or at least that’s one of the possible definitions of authentic writing… and it seemed like a good a place as any to start.  Because the truth is: I’ve been struggling to find the words to kick start my new themed approach to Confident Writing.

It’s a form of writer’s block I guess, and I’ve felt it before - when leaving a comment on a new site where everyone else seems wittier and more confident than you, or guest writing for another author whose work you respect and admire.  The words that normally flow suddenly become frozen as you imagine how a different set of readers will interpret your words, wonder if your writing will be adequate to the purpose, if you can live up to the expectations of the different medium.

Here’s the truth: writing to match the imagined expectations of a notional set of readers will always cause your fingers to freeze.  You have to make your focus more specific: write for just one person, for the possibility of connecting with that one person who will find your words of interest and of value.  Have the courage to forget what anyone else might think.

And then I realised that something else was getting in the way: the fear of setting myself up as an expert.  As if deciding to go for a focused, themed approach was like declaring myself the expert on this subject, while all the time I have as many questions as the next person.  Like why we should think twice about how much we reveal of our public face, or the relationship between authentic writing and sales copy, or the importance (overstated or otherwise) of authenticity and transparency in social media.

But hang on a minute.  As Confucius (and Dawud Miracle) remind us, you don’t have to know everything to be an expert.  “When you know that you do not know a thing - to allow that you do not know it: this is knowledge.”

So I come back to the advice that I give to others when they get blocked in their writing.  Forget other people’s expectations.  Forget fears about setting yourself up as knowing more than you do.  Focus on the positive intention and let that drive your writing.  And my intention?

  • to provide a new focus for my writing
  • to share what I already know about authentic writing
  • to learn from others about what they know and what they do
  • to develop a network, perhaps, of other people who want to write without the mask
  • to encourage others to write with openness, courage, from the heart

And that focus, that positive intention, is enough to drive through those fears, to start writing your experience again, to tell your version of the truth however inexpert that might be, to acknowledge what you don’t know but commit to exploring and learning in the spirit of openness and curiosity.

Which seems, right enough, like a good place to start:-)

This article is part of a series exploring what it means to write with authenticity.  I’ll be exploring this topic throughout September so if you’ve got an idea, a question, a challenge you’d like me to consider or a contribution you’d like to make just drop me a line at or leave a comment in the box.  The more voices that share, the more we can learn together.

Joanna Young, The Confident Writing Coach
Because our words count

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Emma Bird 09.03.07 at 9:26 am

Hi Joanna

I know you were struggling with how to kickstart this themed month but this post is peppered with authentic writing. Congrats.

For the record, I agree with writing without the mask. But, perhaps, I’m comfortable with that because it’s how I am in every day life, too. In my case, my writing authentically is a logical extension of who I am anyway.

When I’m writing books, I always have one person in mind, just like you suggest. I even fill in a character chart about them so it makes them a real person. It helps me write with far more of a purpose.

As for the network, yes please! Why don’t you set up a club on Facebook now that you’re on there?


Karen Wallace 09.03.07 at 12:04 pm

Joanna, it seems like not only a good place to start, but the best place to start… bravo for your clarity and (dare I say it?) authenticity in this quest you have set out upon.

I have felt what you talk about when going to leave a comment on a blog that is new to me - I wonder how little ol’ me can add anything to this already rich conversation…(and where there are already many comments on each post before I even wake in the morning). I struggle for what to say and oft times, leave, without saying anything. To “Have the courage to forget what anyone else might think” is a worthy goal indeed.

Bravo, Joanna, you are a women who always writes with authenticity and from her (beautiful) heart. I’ll join as someone who wants (always) to write without the mask!

Joanna Young 09.03.07 at 12:55 pm

Emma, thank you. I think the trick is to focus on writing what you know, the reality of your experience - even if it’s the state of stuck-ness:-)

I’ll keep pursuing the idea of the network - as you know I’m exploring Facebook just now - are there any other good options out there I should be looking at too?


Joanna Young 09.03.07 at 1:01 pm

Hi Karen, it’s lovely to hear from you and I’m glad you felt able to join in this conversation :-)

The commenting thing can be tricky and I too have found myself drifting away from something interesting, not knowing how I can add value. But if I really want to join in I try and focus on the positive intention behind it (whether that’s being friendly, extending the discussion, offering constructive feedback or whatever) and using that to give me courage and switch off the internal critic…

I’m glad you want to join the network of authentic writers! Please let me know if you’ve any ideas as to how we could make this a (virtual) reality :-)


Rob 09.08.07 at 1:04 am

Hi Joanna,
I like this article because it reminds me of my approach to my own writing. You see you are an expert in relaying your own experiences. Nobody can possibly know what your experiences are like as well as you do.

Your own personal journey provides you with as much expert knowledge as you need, so yes the only thing you need to keep you going is the confidence to just write with no attachment to what people will think.

I play guitar and I used to believe I couldn’t sing backing vocals in my band, not because I couldn’t sing, but because I had to concentrate on playing the guitar. I couldn’t do both together. Then one day I suddenly realized that I had been singing and playing without really paying any attention to it. I think I must have stopped worrying about whether I could do it or whether people thought I was any good or not. The result is that I love my performances more for doing it and people love what I do! It’s just a case of being true to who you are and the ones that stick around and read your words are the ones that you are here for.

Thanks for your words.

Joanna Young 09.08.07 at 6:28 pm

Rob, thanks very much for your comments and for sharing your experience with us. It’s interesting what you say about how your beliefs got in the way of singing as well as playing. I think those troublesome limiting beliefs get in the way of a lot of things! It’s great when we manage to banish them.

As for what you say on writing - you’ve captured the power of authentic writing in a few short words (thank you!) “Nobody can possibly know what your experiences are like as well as you do.”

When we focus on that all our fears fall away and it’s just amazing what we can write.

Thanks again


amypalko 05.20.08 at 9:31 am

This was exactly what I was just talking to you about, Joanna! Thank you so much for leading me to this post: it, along with our chat, has increased my confidence tenfold :-)

Joanna Young 05.20.08 at 10:12 am

Amy, I thought I recognised the symptoms! I’m glad to have been able to help.


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