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Tips for becoming more open and honest in your writing

The Write Yorkshire Scribble spill the beans on how to spill the beans. This week we're answering one of your questions - how to become more open and honest in your writing.

This is a really interesting one, because it’s something I had to learn for myself about eighteen months ago. Getting to grips with this concept changed the way I write and create stories, and broke me out of my pre-existing (rather shallow) mould.

There is a singularity of truth twisting at the centre of us and you need to learn how to reach in and touch it.

Sounds cheesy and unnecessary, doesn't it? What I'm getting at here is finding the rawness in a moment or a character or an action, and that rawness comes from you. I'm talking about creating something powerful that your reader will recognise and connect with.

When They say "write what you know", they don't mean "you're a golfer, so write a story about golf". Get under your own skin and examine the nuts and bolts of your experiences, decisions, feelings and relationships. Learn about what makes you tick. Learn what makes you human. There's a wellspring in there.

A good place to start is a private notebook and the full intention not to share or publish. Do some freewriting and write about who you are, examine those parts of yourself that you normally refuse to look at. Tell some secrets. Talk candidly about your experiences. Don't censor yourself, don't stop to think - just write.

Now reintroduce some creative structure and write about some of the moments in your life that had a powerful impact on you, that helped define or change you. Those moments usually come hand in hand with some powerful emotions. I drafted mine in first person present but this is not a masterclass and I'm not a master, so do what works for you. When you've got something that resonates, show someone you trust, to see if you get the reaction you're looking for.

Look for opportunities, going forward, to stitch in a thread of truth here and there.

This one is about your gut. You have to listen to it, and you have to write from it. This is not an easy thing to do. As humans, most of us go about our lives trying very hard not to feel things too acutely, just so we can get through our day. So we put things away, tamp them down, bury them under our busywork and skate on the surface of our lives.

This is fine, for a while, but it doesn’t make good writing.

Good writing needs the ring of authenticity if it’s going to resonate with readers. The hardest work I do as a writer is to find and stick with my authentic self, so that I can write as truthfully as possible. It isn’t easy and it’s had a profound effect on my non-writing life too - but it’s been one hundred per cent worth it.

Even fiction speaks the truth, and if you’re writing from a place of inauthenticity, you’ll know as soon as you read your work. Even if it’s polished and professional - hell, even if it’s published - you’ll know if it’s hollow.

How do you get to that authentic self, the one that isn’t afraid to speak their own truth? There are various paths and I’ve walked most of them. Therapy, journaling, meditation, hypnotherapy, writing workshops…all useful ways of tapping into your own truth and stripping the small fictions away in order to access your real voice and your stories.

It’s scary, of course. And it hurts, sometimes. But if it’s scary and it hurts to write something down, chances are you’re onto something. You don’t have to share it, and if you do, surface details can be changed to protect the innocent (or guilty), but I guarantee that truth will improve your writing (and your life) immeasurably.

This one's difficult because I find that, often, you only know when you've been truly honest in your writing with hindsight. It's easy to become so wrapped in a piece that you write a version of the truth, rather than the actual truth. There's absolutely no harm in doing that, but if it isn't your intention it can be frustrating.

I usually find getting a draft done and then leaving it for a while before editing can help me be more objective. It offers an opportunity to come back and be more objective, to make sure the story I'm telling is honest. This particularly applies if writing the piece stirred strong emotions, I think we all know how hard it is to be objective when dealing with certain feelings!

Speaking of emotions, my best tip for being more open in your writing is to poke at what hurts. I'm not saying it's a fun process but that's how I started writing my truths and opening up via writing. Find what still aches, and jam your foot right in it. It'll probably be incredibly painful but actually, writing about the painful things I've experienced has been very cathartic. If you're not quite ready to inspect old wounds, then my second best tip is to think about the moment you felt the happiest. I'm talking sheer, unspoiled joy. Then try and communicate that, with your writing, in such a way other people would understand what it felt like and why. It's a more fun way to go about it, and I'd say it works.

The most important thing to remember is that you can be as open and as honest as you want to be, sometimes it just takes a little bit of time to get the result you're looking for.

What I’m going to tell you here is also the best piece of skateboarding advice I have ever received: don’t be afraid.

I know that seems too simple. It is. Fear is the number one thing that stops us from doing what we want to do. You want to learn to drop into a bowl or learn a new trick, fear will stop you. You want to write honestly, from the heart and tell your truth. Fear will stop you.

Sure, you might fall or somebody might laugh at you. That’s the risk you have to take. The thing you realise after a while, that makes it easier to let go of the fear, is that it can only hurt so much. Yeah, it can be painful to open ourselves up and look inside. It’s difficult to write honestly about the stuff that we normally keep locked up, the stuff we might struggle to tell our friends. But once you get through it, once you’ve thrown yourself in with no elbow pads and you come flying out the other side and land it... That feeling is near unparalleled. Totally worth all the frustration and anxiety that came before.

Simple does not equal easy. It can be daunting and tough sometimes, but it’s worth it. So, there you go – don’t be afraid.


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