Authenticity is one of my favorite words. The people I get along with most are the ones that I feel like I don’t have to hide anything from. I don’t like hiding things.
Lucinda Williams, that blues-americana goddess, is a great example of artistic authenticity. If you want to “hear” authenticity, hit the play button.
I just want to live the life I please/I don’t want no enemies/I don’t want nothin’ if I have to fake it.
You don’t have to fake it, Lucinda. You prove that very well.
And so it goes with writing. Especially with writing fiction, which calls us to be more authentic than ever because we have to persuade the reader that the story they are reading is true. Not real, but true. There is a distinction and it’s our job to search out what that distinction is, exactly.
Part of being an authentic writer is to be honest with ourselves about where our story is at. We can’t fix its problems if we don’t acknowledge them. This means that when we get a critique, we allow ourselves to be pissed for a few hours/days/months until that negative energy rolls away and leaves behind a constructive thought we can take to the revision.
It also means that we are honest with our drafts about the paragraphs we’ve stuck there as place-holders so we can bypass the hard scenes to write–the ones that make us uncomfortable. Often those paragraphs are full of inauthentic sentences.
If you’ve taken a fiction workshop, you’ll know that a lot of time is spent on logic. Our colleagues scan our work with a BS radar and look for places where it seems like we’ve bent the truth to get through a scene that we don’t feel comfortable writing. Writing takes courage, folks. Meanwhile, our colleagues mark our drafts for the sentences that don’t convince them. (Robert Olen Butler, by the way, is a genius at this. I got to take a five person workshop with him here at FSU and he would go through our drafts, sentence by sentence, and point out where the words lost their contact with authenticity. It’s on the shortlist for best workshop I’ve ever taken.)
Part of the fiction writer’s job is to convince the reader, and that doesn’t come from learning how to lie real well. It comes from being as authentic as possible on the page.
Oh, and being authentic off the page is good practice for nailing authentic sentences.