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The meaning of authenticity: over to you (part 1)

What do we mean by authentic writing? The dictionary’s one place to go for a definition (and I will be exploring that later) but I’m also curious about what authentic writing means to you. Going beyond the dictionary definition to what the words mean for you, how they resonate with you or maybe your experience of what changes (has changed) when we decide to write from the heart.

I’ve already started gathering some of your definitions - from comments and discussions here and on other sites, or from the writing of other people. I’ll be sharing what I find throughout September and from what I’ve got so far I think we’ll have a pretty stupendous, multi-layered definition come the end of the month…

Adam Kayce (the Monk at Work) introduced me to a great metaphor for authenticity: the currents of the ocean. “authenticity” in this case I mean being true to your feelings, especially the deepest ones you are aware of. To continue the ocean metaphor, think of currents in the sea, and how you can find multiple layers of currents stacked on top of each other.

You can follow the surface/superficial currents (the fleeting, easily influenceable whims), or you follow the deeper currents (the yearnings of your soul, the longings that compel your heart to act in accordance with that which brings you the most fulfillment and joy). Being authentic is about honoring your soul’s currents; “marching to the beat of your own drum”, so to speak.

I don’t know about you but I find the concept of layers of authenticity convincing - it’s something we’re aware of in our life as we strive to live authentically, and in our writing. Sometimes it’s okay to write from the surface level, other times we want to delve deeper.

Rosa Say highlights the difference that authentic writing can make. As September’s going to be a month of change, of learning to make a difference, this is a timely reminder:

You had asked us, in the post before this one, for “thoughts on what authentic writing means to you - not just the dictionary definition, but what changes (has changed) when we write from the heart,” and THAT kind of authenticity is needed for the change that truly does make a difference. Authenticity is what sustains us for the long haul, because it is our truth

It’s interesting isn’t it how these definitions point back not just to the impact on our readers but the difference that we experience ourselves as writers. Although telling our truth requires some courage - perhaps it also gives us courage and confidence. Is part of what sustains us for the long haul…

I got the first entry in the soundtrack for authentic writing from Brad Shorr at Word Sell. (I hadn’t thought of a soundtrack before I started but why not?!) His definition of authenticity - what the words means to him - connects in a very immediate way back to a song (= music, words, expression, power: another form of truth-telling…)

Here’s what he says:

when I think of authentic writing, I immediately think of Bruce Springsteen. Take for example one of his best, Thunder Road–

Don’t run back inside, darling, you know just what I’m here for
So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore
Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
You ain’t a beauty but, hey, you’re alright
Oh, and that’s alright with me

The Thunder Road lyrics get to me every time, no matter how often I hear them. Springsteen’s writing strikes me as so richly authentic because - it’s straight from the heart, it talks about something true and something real.

No dictionary definition can compete with all this. I can’t wait to see what else you come up with.

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 just drop me a line at
or leave a comment in the box. Oh and don’t forget to tell us your definition!

If you’re interested in these definitions you can explore them further by:

  • Following the discussion on the ocean metaphor for authenticity at How Deep Is Your Rudder (don’t forget to dive into the comment box!)
  • Checking out Brad Shorr’s piece on the question of whether and how authenticity and sales copy mix

Ocean deep picture courtesy of Bigfoto

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  1. Brad Shorr says:

    Adam’s ideas about layers of authenticity seem spot on and comforting - you don’t have to “go deep” every time you write.

  2. Adam Kayce : Monk At Work says:

    Thanks for the mention…

    And from what I’ve seen, one of the greatest keys to authenticity is self-awareness. If you’re writing just from a mental abstraction or understanding about your topic, it’s a whole lot different than writing about your feelings (and so on).

    Authenticity doesn’t have to mean “expert” — you can be perfectly up-front with the fact that you don’t know much about what you’re talking about — but hey, that’s being authentic right there.

  3. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Brad, I find it a helpful (and comforting) analogy too. It gives you a framework to think about ‘how deep’ you’re going, and why, and how it relates to your writing purpose. I’ve found that it also helps me to be aware of ‘where’ I’m writing from (which links to the point that Adam makes too in the comment box)


  4. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Hi Adam, the thanks are to you really for helping me work through this thing called authenticity.

    The self-awareness point is interesting - being more self-aware (including awareness of our senses as well as our feelings) helps to make our writing more specific, more powerful, more alive…and I think writing our experiences also helps us to become more self-aware (and I guess, in the long run, to be more authentic, to live more authentic lives)


    PS I figured out the expert point myself too - after a bit of painful soul searching!