Who are you, exactly? Are you the name your parents chose for you? The house you were born in? The books you’ve read? The movies you watched as a kid? The people you spend the most time with?
Who’s you? And when is that you the most authentic you? When around other people, or when by yourself? Are you made up of the noise around you or the silence within? Or is it the other way around?
Are you your thoughts? Which ones? The ones you have early in the morning, or the ones that you have late at night?
Are you words and stardust? Are you a bit of magic, too? Or are you simply the physical manifestation of the universe trying to understand itself?
Who do you believe you are? The one staring back whenever you step in front of a mirror?
Are you who you want to be or are you who you think others want you to be?
Who are you, exactly?
I am asking all these questions because they are notoriously difficult to answer with any degree of certainty. The curious paradox is that what follows after the words “I am” defines your thoughts, your beliefs, your words, and your actions.
Oh, and what and how you write.
Write like yourself
Did you ever feel nervous in a certain situation and someone told you to, “just be cool?” Didn’t that make you a bit angry? Yet, in a way, it was precisely what you had to do not to be nervous; it also felt like an insult and the most useless advice ever.
Write like yourself. This is the insult-advice of the writing community. Some people interpret this as write what you love. It’s not.
To write like yourself means to be authentic, honest, to write in the most convenient style possible. It’s so damn hard to do this.
We all write like a bunch of other people, especially the writers we admire the most. But that’s not who we are.
So, how do you write like yourself?
1. Just be cool
Yeah, in order to write like yourself you’ve got to be cool.
You think of all these strange things, all the time. Whether or not your words will matter, whether this book you’re writing will sell, who is the target demographic of your novel… what are people going to say? Oh my, what are they going to think about you when they read this embarrassing story you just wrote?
One way to successfully kill your imagination and creativity is to worry too much about other people. It makes it impossible to enjoy the journey.
Whenever you find yourself being nervous, ask yourself if the thoughts you’re having serve you. And then just be cool.
2. You need to feel “naked”
All great writing comes from a place of vulnerability. You feel like you’re walking down the street naked. Everyone can see the real you; the mask has come off. Your deepest desires, most hidden dreams and aspirations, all that you ever hoped to be, all of that can be found in your words and stories.
Yet what do people do?
The want to establish authority. They want to appear as the expert. The boss at blogging. Somehow, there’s this idea that leaders sit on a golden throne and tell others what to do.
Out of all the soldiers in his army, Alexander the Great had the most battle scars. Think of that.
Vulnerability is the way to go. To own your own ideas, thoughts, and feelings. To own your experiences. To own your tears, for they are as much a part of you as anything else.
We’ll all love you for it.
3. Write to a one reader – your ideal reader
“I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person — a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.” – John Steinbeck
I wrote my first novel because a woman I was desperately in love with thought my idea was cool. I wrote the second one for a different person. The third, kind of the same idea.
My best writing was always about one person. A real person. My ideal reader. Someone who wanted to read my words, someone I wanted to get to know me, to get to understand things about me that I could not say out loud.
Imagine you’re talking to a friend. You’re out, having fun. How’d you talk? What’d you say? You’d be funny and sarcastic? Serious? Too serious?
Your reader is your friend. Each and every single one of them. And since you’re addressing your reader as an individual, you should use the personal pronoun “you” as much as possible and also refer to yourself as “I”.
Also, you can use we. “In this day and age, we feel more and more under pressure to be just like everyone else.”
This makes you sound even more like a friend to your reader.
4. Assume responsibility
We all had this great idea at one point or another, yet chose not to write about it, because we knew it would have pissed some people off.
If your best friend is screwing up their life by doing some stupid thing over and over again, would you tell them that? Would you give them a wake up call? Wouldn’t that be your responsibility?
Your readers are your responsibility.
Your thoughts are also your responsibility. Write whatever you want. Tell it as it is, no need to sugar coat it.
5. Don’t write to impress
When I was seventeen, after having won a bunch of National Awards here in Romania, after becoming a bit of a rockstar at my highschool and being allowed to do whatever I wanted, I decided to enter a short-story content with a bunch of my friends.
And I’d be telling them what to write, how to write it, all that stuff. And at one point, one of them argued that they didn’t put me in charge, and asked me why was it that I thought I was better than them. So I wrote a piece. A short fragment. To prove to them how good I really was.
It was a petty thing to do. Yeah, it did impress them, but I don’t think it was such great writing.
And I’d always do that. Trying to write some story in such a way that it would blow minds and stuff. It doesn’t work like that. Not at all.
You should write for a cause, not for applause. Write to express, not to impress.
Your words should mean something to you. Words are so powerful, so, so powerful. They can give a voice to the oppressed, the downtrodden, the rebels without a cause, the ones who’d like to change the world and don’t know how…
Never sell yourself short by writing words that mean nothing to you in order to impress others.
6. Use the most accessible language
“Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out…Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.” – George Orwell
Like I said, it’s like talking to a good friend. You’re feeling comfortable around them, so you can be yourself, which is calm, comfortable, cool. Friendly. Fun. Carefree. A bit weird, fully assuming it. Owning it like a boss. You use the first words that come to you, because you know your friend is not judging you in any way.
If you feel like saying “fuck,” you say it. If not, you don’t. If using certain words is not you, you don’t use them. If talking about a subject is against your core values, you don’t.
You feel at ease with this friend. He has long given you permission to be yourself. He has never tried to change you. That’s why he’s your friend.
Wouldn’t you like your readers to be your friends too?
“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” – Elmore Leonard
Whenever I find myself struggling to write, it’s mostly because I’m trying to write like someone else. I’m not being myself. I’m either trying to impress someone, or using words that I normally wouldn’t, or I’m just afraid to put myself out there.
And doing this takes all the fun out of writing. It begins to feel like a chore. I am the prisoner of some famous writer’s words. I am no longer free to write my stories and posts the way I’d like to.
I have become the prisoner of imaginary expectations, fears that will never materialize.
Writing like yourself is simple. It is you who is turning it into such a terrifying process.