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Writing Authentically

Recently, I have been assisting a friend with putting together a PowerPoint presentation as part of an application process. The PowerPoint theme I have chosen is quite nice. and I was thrilled with the changes we made as they identified content to put into each slide. At some point, we got to a slide dealing with diversity in their application and they paused. What, they wondered, would the members of the audience who were not a part of the specific groups they identified as potential collaborators and research areas think. Would the author/applicant come off as too liberal? Not reverent enough to the department's existing program?

It's a concern I have engaged with often as a writer and as a writing consultant be it as a proofreader, editor, instructor, or even as a friend. In fact, last summer another friend reached out with much the same question. They asked if I could read a piece on diversity in K12 education that they were writing. I did and I told them that I felt a few sentences seemed only "okay". There was nothing technically wrong with the sentences, but they did not seem strong and I marked them for potential deletion.

"There's good information here, but you're really not telling me much," I said.

"I'm worried if I write these sentences

the way I want to, I will offend my readers," they replied.

"Rewrite them how you want and then let's see if they should still be deleted," I suggested.

And, you know what? The revised sentences changed the tenor of the whole article, I suggested they move them up earlier in the draft and restructure a bit, and, "voila" the piece came together beautifully and it told a much better story that will hopefully help some educators to think differently about their task.

The point is, when we are not writing authentically, much like when we are not living authentically, it's obvious. And in our writing, it creates barriers to understanding and empathy.

So how can you write authentically?

I have three thoughts:

  1. Write as if no one will read your writing except you - Allow yourself space to free write, to write unedited, and don't throw that stuff away. Keep it in reserve, much like in cooking, where you don't throw out the drippings from roasted meats because they can later be used to flavor gravies, soups, etc. Keep that freewriting as a separate draft that you can come back to later. Writing to your audience is important but if you lack an authentic voice, it won't matter who is reading, the piece will not have as much value.

  2. Continually ask "so what?" - Maybe an English teacher told you somewhere along the line to answer this question in your thesis, and while that is always good advice, it bears repetition throughout your writing, whether a blog post, a PowerPoint deck, a quarterly report, or an extended academic essay. If you don't care, your audience won't either. Continue to answer this question throughout your writing.

  3. Workshop, workshop, workshop - Identify a trusted friend, a fellow writer, a professional proofreader/editor, etc. that you trust. Their advice in improving your writing will serve you well. A good editor will take time to understand your voice so they can help craft in your voice and will know when the writing is "off". The difference is remarkable.

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