Authenticity or Bust

There is  a lot written about the need to find one’s own authentic voice when writing.  You hear stories of people working for years struggling to find that turn of phrase, that rhythm that is uniquely their own, that tone which expresses their intent precisely.

At the beginning of this year WordPress suggested it as a topic for a post.  Have you found your own authentic voice?

I made a note of the idea in my diary, a subject to keep in my back pocket for when I needed one.  I wasn’t quite ready to write about it immediately; I needed the topic to settle a little; I wanted some time to ponder the idea of authenticity.  It means reliable, genuine or trustworthy, doesn’t it?

How can I judge my own?  Everything I’ve produced, I’ve written myself; every email, letter of complaint,  application form, powerpoint presentation, short story, every blog post, a completed novel, several novel false starts, hundreds of writing exercises, thousands of words explaining tax and accounting rules.

I wouldn’t know how to begin to copy anyone else’s style, and I would never (well hardly ever) brazenly copy someone else’s sentences word for word, but I am different people in different contexts, I express myself differently depending on the circumstances.  Is one style more authentic than the other?

Is the stream of consciousness email, full of non sequitors, partial sentences, grammar and spelling mistakes, any less my voice than a formal document setting out a business proposal on which I have worked hard to make fluent, clear and persuasive, even for non native English speakers (let’s leave out the hideousness that is a bullet point list, of which I have been a guilty use in the past)?

Is a spontaneous timed writing exercise any less my voice than the 20 chapters of my completed novel?  Does working on something make it more or less authentic?  Sometimes things written at speed with no thought of where they’re heading have more fluency and originality than something which has been edited and re-edited. A case in point is Chapter 1 of my novel, which, since I first wrote it longhand sitting on the roof of a rented house on the Greek Island of Syfnos, has gone through at least nine iterations.  I no longer have any idea whether it has authenticity of any kind.

And what of the near 200,000 words I’ve written on this blog since January 2011?  Of course they’re authentic, but are they my polished self, or the spontaneous one?  I think they’re somewhere in between.  Sometimes I write them at great speed, with very little editing along the way (with apologies for the grammatical and spelling infelicities that sprinkle them), if I didn’t I would never have managed to post something most days; sometimes it takes me longer, especially if I want to give a considered comment on something I’ve read or seen.

I’ve realised that a key element to maintaining the regular posting is that no single entry can be allowed to matter too much.  If any one had to carry a weight of expectation or be of superlative quality, wit, relevance or erudition, I’d worry too much about them, I’d spend hours havering over this word or that, they’d become like homework rather than my own little soap box.

So, authenticity of a sort…….

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