Authenticity Is Not The “Golden Rule” Of Writing Everyone Claims
I’m in a crabby mood today. Do you want to feel that emotion when you read my story, How To Implement A Direct Marketing Plan For Under $100? I’m guessing you prefer I spare you the negativity and stick with the facts.
I read a story recently where a reader commented that she had to unfollow a particular writer. The story that triggered the reader/writer breakup was not cringe-worthy or filled with hate. Yes, it was a bit of a rant, but so what? I’d estimate a good third of what we read on social media today is some form of a rant. I read the reader’s comment a second time. I nodded. It made perfect sense.
The writer in question was authentic with his emotions, and it cost him a reader.
What’s Wrong With Authenticity?
Let’s start with the basics. You’re a human being. On some days you’ll feel happy. On other days you’ll feel sad, bitter, angry, or combative.
As a writer, you pick your audience. I don’t mean individuals specifically, but the type of people who will gravitate to your work. The subject matter is essential. That’s obvious. Style is another consideration. But there is another aspect that matters just as much, if not more.
Your tone of voice determines the kind of reader who will connect with your work. If you read lots of blogs today, you’ll find stories that are happy, bubbly, angry, sad, antagonistic and any other emotion you could fathom.
The tone of your writing often reflects not only who you are, but what you feel as you write. This truth explains why the same writer could emit a positive, optimistic vibe today and an angry, antagonistic tone tomorrow.
There’s a lot to be said about writing about what you feel. It can be therapeutic. If that’s the purpose behind your writing, then go with it.
But, if you are looking to build and maintain an audience, keep in mind that your audience expects you to present a consistent voice. If your readers follow you because of your extreme optimism, you’ll likely disappoint if you suddenly transition to pessimism. The converse is true too. Some readers prefer pessimism or anger. It sounds crazy, but it’s true.
I follow several writers on different platforms. I’ve seen some of them change their tone from positive to negative, seemingly out of nowhere. In some cases, it might be a strategic change. It could be they switched to a different subject matter which lends better to a more hostile tone.
More than likely, they are going through a rough patch, and it comes out in their writing. Their readers notice too. The comments look something like this (a paraphrase of the comment I mentioned at the beginning of this piece).
“You used to be so positive and uplifting. Now all you do is complain. I had to unfollow you.”
Don’t Readers Want Authenticity?
I know. Authenticity is a popular buzzword today. I’m going to challenge modern conventional wisdom. I don’t think readers want authenticity, at least not the way it’s defined today. Readers desire your unique style, voice and approach. I do not believe they necessarily seek out your day to day emotions.
Here’s what I mean.
Let’s pretend you’re scheduled for surgery today. Let’s also suppose your doctor is going through a divorce and has been feeling bitter and stressed. Do you want her to give you the pre-surgery talk in her authentic voice? Do you want her to bring that authenticity into the operating room? No, I’m guessing you want her to put that emotion aside and focus on serving you.
The Professional Approach
I approach writing like I would any other job. If I go to the office, my coworkers expect a professional attitude regardless of whether I had a bad day. They demand a professional manner regardless of what happens in my personal life.
I approach writing with the same mindset. My readers expect a particular style and voice. They don’t care if I’m in a crabby mood because I just got a home repair bill for $400.
I try to deliver each piece in the same tone. There’s plenty of pessimism, anger and hostility in today’s world. It plays well. It snags tons of readership. It’s just not me. That said, I get into moods. Something will piss me off or anger me, and it shows in my writing.
Your tone of voice will attract like-minded people. If your writing consists of constant complaining, you’ll attract an audience who shares your penchant for complaining. If that’s your strategy, then go for it. Keep it consistent.
Putting Aside Your Authenticity
What do you do when you’re emotions don’t match the voice your readers expect? Go with the feeling. Sometimes you just need to rant. There’s nothing wrong with that. Rant away. Consider it your therapeutic version. Get it out of your system.
You don’t need to publish everything you write.
For your second draft, turn it into a how-to story.
Here is what happened and here is how to prevent/fix/recover or whatever works.
Another option is to add a bit of humor or satire. I’ve seen that technique work well with writers who try to maintain an edginess to their work when the subject matter fails to elicit strong emotion.
I’m not suggesting you remove all emotion from your work. That would make it boring. Instead, repackage it in a way that feels professional and is in line with your readers’ expectations.