What to do if your writing feels fake.

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Despite my best intentions to always be brave and honest, sometimes my writing feels fake. This happens when I'm trying to impress somebody with my sentences -- that could be myself, a publisher, Annie Proulx, or my Aunt Mary Lucille.

When you write to impress, you're not being yourself. You're trying to be something that you think someone wants you to be.

When falseness happens, it feels gross. You would never act that way around your friends!

The books that I love to read are beautiful because the writing is risky, weird, honest and uncommon. I love writing that is funny, unexpected, and truthful - writing that refuses to fake it.

I love writing that speaks out of line, even when it knows it might not be nice to say the truth.

(Of course, these are the same qualities I adore in my close friends.)

Author Don Miller gives three words of concentrated advice that snap us out of it:

Don't be careful.

Yeah!

Stop walking on those delicate sugar crystals!

When you're being careful, you're not being real. You're not being yourself. You're operating from somewhere else - some projection of yourself that is false. It's false for whatever reason - fear, shame, insecurity, etc.

Your best, most creative work comes from your core self. This part of you - the language she uses, the opinions he expresses - may be flawed, weird or uncommon.

Alors! This is precisely what gives it character.

In fact, it's what people want to read. It's what you want to read. And when you are honest with yourself, you know that this is also what you want to write.

You can only truly connect with people through your writing when you are not being careful. Anything else is fake.

So please write whatever you want to write. Say what you really think. Write your characters the way they really are. Describe the world the way you really see it.

Snap out of it! Write without trying to impress anyone; just enjoy writing.

As yourself.

xo,

Sarah Selecky

What my piano teacher taught me about writing.
What to read over the holidays.

10 comments

Brenda Brooks

Sarah, It seems especially brave these days for a writer to be concerned with her own authenticity, even over the wishes of a publisher or agent whose values may be more market driven than ever. That state of disciplined abandon you suggest seems the only way to achieve the raw, unforced voice that is really unique. In the end it seems that what we're left with, no matter what happens to our manuscript in the end, is how we answer the question: Did I write the story I wanted to write? (As for Aunt Mary, well, even Uncle Leroy couldn't really please her:) PS I enjoy your site.
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Kathy Martens

Thanks for the insight Sarah...and the permission. I need gentle reminders that my goofiness is my greatest gift.
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Sarah, this came just at the right time as we finish up the Story Intensive. I feel like I've been gathering "marching orders" the past few weeks. "Stand on your own molehill" (courtesy of George Saunders) is one; this will be another!
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Thanks Sarah. Reading this post is such a great way to start the day. (Here in Aus.) Especially as I'm up to chapter 12 the 'quick' pass-through of my novel re-draft before putting it out into the world to see if it has commercial appeal ... speaking of courage ... Thanks again, xo
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I agree! one thing that helps me - to know what I actually think - is to spend time with creative 'yes' people. People who laugh at your stupid pun, your slightly distasteful joke... Who like when you get expressive, not perfect. I always find that the good ideas reveal themselves once they know it's safe to come out. Perfection is the enemy.
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Cookie's Mom

Thank-you for this. I've written several notes to hang above my desk: "Don't be careful!", "Don't write to impress!", "Write what you want to write!", "Say what you really think!", "Write your characters the way they really are!" & "Describe the world the way you really see it."
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I'd like to say I agree. I sure feel that this sounds true. Gonna go try it out. Thanks for pointing this out. Saves a lot of heartache.
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Great reminder, and beautifully said. Thank you! Sometimes I get really self-conscious about bad grammar and incorrect use of phrases/idioms (English isn't my first language) and out comes this bizarre uptight 'proper' voice that isn't me at all! Bleuch. Snapping out of it now : )
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Thank you, Sarah. I have printed this off and plan to tape above my computer. Must read often.
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Stephanie Pitcher Fishman

It's often the smallest sentences that have the most power. Thank you for the reminder that we have words in our heart for a reason: to share them! We need to share them and not be worried about what they may sound like to someone. Instead, we might lose what they would have sounded like in the process.
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