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On Being Authentic (and how writing can help)

It’s hard to be ourselves, these days.

 

We are constantly seeking a place to validate our thoughts and feelings on paper, or on screen. To see those words, and have them responded to respectfully and emotively is often all we crave. To receive a few kind words of encouragement or understanding. But the power of social media today means that we misplace that intention into a great fizzing ball of everyone’s insecurities, hang-ups, stresses and day to day life.

We do not heal ourselves by writing about our dead cat on facebook. We open ourselves up to derision, insincerity and judgement. But to write in a private moment about how we feel about such things, about our day to day life, our losses- it is our moment of understanding in expressing these things that matters, not the reception.

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It is so expected that your realisations and thoughts should be public, to be related to or ignored, that people cannot even define what is important to them. The loss of self, of authentic voice is more prevalent on social media sites than anywhere else. I am sad today. Well, if I tell facebook, people will tell me to cheer up, if I use twitter I am limited to characters, perhaps I’ll text a friend and they will comfort me. Nowhere in this scenario is sitting down and using words to consider why you’re unhappy today. You are too busy trying to figure out if your feelings matter enough to be considered your ‘status’ or if they are appropriate for the medium you’re using. That is the power of private writing- or even of therapeutic writing that is shared- there is no inappropriate, as long as you are authentic.

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An Exercise in Connecting to the Authentic:

Take a moment to ‘check-in’ with yourself. How are you today? Do you feel good? What one word would sum up how you are right now? Say it aloud. Own it. It is surprising? Is there anything more to be said? Have you picked a word that gives little away, like ‘fine’ or ‘okay’? You don’t have to limit yourself, or be polite, you are just interacting with yourself. If you feel content, if you feel anxious, if you feel awful, all of these feelings are okay.

 

Take out a watch, or a timer on your phone. You’re going to do five minutes of ‘free-writing’. This means you will write whatever comes to mind, you won’t form it, you don’t have to worry about spelling or punctuation or sentences. Go with what feels right. Try and almost bypass the brain in this exercise, imagine your pen is connected to a delicate thread that goes up through your arm and into your centre. The pen connects with the subconscious, just let it do what it wants. Start with the word you used to define your state of being. Run with it. Write as much as you can, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t look back, just keep writing.

Okay, so you’ve done that. Look back. Was that check-in how you really felt? Did anything become apparent? How do you feel? Writing this way, writing for ourselves, not for any validation, recognition, or to fill a space, is a powerful thing. There might not be any writerly ‘merit’ in the thing you have written, but if it feels honest and true to you, then that is merit enough. You may also find a phrase or word that you really like in there, and can use that to jump onto a more structured piece of work.

 

Authenticity is important- we are surrounded by the noise and pressure and expectations of others, things to do, places to go, how we should be, that sometimes we just need to centre ourselves again.

That is just one small and simple exercise in how writing can be therapeutic. Why don’t you try it out and let me know what you created? If you’re interested in the therapeutic possibilities of writing, remember I’m doing a Writing for Wellbeing Workshop in Barnet on Saturday 26th April. Email andrealmichael@aol.com for more details!

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Submitting to Submissions

Hey, mothers, here’s a question: Do people come up to you and tell you how ugly your baby is? No. No, they don’t. Because generally, when you’ve put a lot of time and effort into creating something, the average person isn’t inclined to come up and shit all over your achievement.

So, why are writers so scared to put their work out there? A writer friend and I have been discussing this recently. He finished his book, and wincingly told me he was going to submit it. My response ‘That’s awesome, wahoo!’ Because I say things like that, obviously. It wasn’t until I had to gear myself up for that same process months later that I realise what he was getting at.

So far, if I’ve shown it to people, it’s trusted friends and advisors, people who know what they’re talking about. Or people who are too polite to tell me if it’s rubbish. And if I leave it like that, then I don’t have to deal with the possibility that I might not be any good at this. It’s writer’s denial. It’s stranding yourself on an island and knowing that, yes, you created something, but no-one’s going to come rescue you unless you start putting the flares up and screaming at the top of your lungs. That analogy needs some work.

 

So, I’ve been doing so gradually, working my way up. I started with the Mslexia Novel competition, in which the book was longlisted. I recall it being some crazy number, from 700 submissions down to 100. So that means something. Then I entered it into a competition run by Bookline and Thinker, which I’ve yet to hear back from. And now it’s doing pretty well on Authonomy. But as The Walrus said, the time has come. Because, okay, I write for pleasure. But if I was just writing for me, I wouldn’t bother entering competitions or putting it on websites, would I? Books are written, and they are made to be read. That is their function.

There’s also the fear of seeming like a crazy person when you submit. You know the ones:

‘Hi there, this is my AMAZING book about THINGS AND STUFF. My mum really likes it, and the dog pissed on the first draft, so I think it’s lucky! Get in touch when you realise how awesome I am, and how I will make you millions. Well done for choosing me!’

 

Having belief if your art is important. Realising that you are one tiny person, and that in whatever you do, there will always be someone better and worse than you, is also important. It might be a matter of timing, it might be conflicting interests. It might be nothing to do with you at all, because the publishing market is having a hissy fit right now. But…what if it is me? What if I suck? What if I’ve spent four years and two degrees and a good portion of my life trying to do something that I am incapable of? These are just some of the questions that arise when you decide to submit. It’s not just a case of paying for some stamped addressed envelopes. This is the psychological shit, right here.

So what can you do? You can be prepared to respond badly. You can convince yourself you don’t care. You can bitch about the current titles offered by such a publisher. You can drink an entire bottle of whisky and tell yourself it didn’t do Hemmingway any harm. Or you can shrug, try and take on any criticism, and move on with your life. Maybe it’s just not your time right now. But be prepared.

If we’re going back to your manuscript being your baby, then would you send it on a plane ride by itself without knowing it’s being taken care of? Wouldn’t you wrap it up warm, and pack an extra bottle and do all that mother-type stuff that means you care about this little package of trouble more than anything else? What am I saying? Don’t send off half-finished, unedited bullshit. That is the opposite of being a good mother. Or writer. Be prepared, have a go, and if all else fails, I’m sure the whisky helps.

 

Happy Writing, and even happier submitting!