We live in a time with a lot of false pretenses. Often we think about this in regard to social media. But I’m not one of the “down with social media people.” It’s just the nature of social media that it will never be able to show the whole picture. I think it’s a great tool that can be a major time suck, but I digress.
But it’s not just social media. There are a lot of other things as well. I mean at this point we don’t know what body parts are real, whether photos are real, it goes on and on. This is where transparency may be more important now than it’s ever been.
We’re craving real things in the midst of so much sparkle and glitter.
Everyone looks like they are living their best life and meanwhile you are downing a gallon of ice cream trying to figure out where it all went wrong. It’s the moment that we take the time to say, “No, I felt that way too” or “Today I am happy, but the other day, I didn’t know which way was up.”
It’s not that we have to spill out all the negative things about life either. It’s just that everything needs balance. So as much as we show the vacation pictures, it helps to also show the times when you have literally been in the house for multiple days and on the brink of becoming a recluse.
People want something real when they read your writing. Often I have talked about writers’ battle with transparency vs. oversharing. In the beginning of the personal blogging wave, people were leaving it all out on their Blogspot pages and it was a place of connection. But that type of purging for public consumption can also be depleting. Some of the most authentic writers that I have known have figured out the matrix to seemingly sharing a lot without sharing every detail. This is important.
I’m a pretty open book. It’s just part of my personality. Where other people have a more private nature, I often have had to learn the discernment of what to share and what not to. But at this point in my life, I know exactly how to talk about a theme or concept without letting you into every juicy detail of my life. Some things are sacred and the people I love are some of those things. So you will never catch me airing them out in my work. Each writer will have to decide what things are sacred to them.
However, outside of that sacred space, you cannot fear honesty in your work.
You have to learn how to “go there” in your writing. You have to learn how to confront yourself, the world, society, the status quo, whatever it is if you are ever going to find the authenticity that keeps readers longing for your work. If you are having trouble connecting with your audience you may want to evaluate if there is more that you can say. Can you dig deeper? What did you leave out? How can you really bring it full circle? These are the things you may find yourself asking to create your best work.
The most important thing to remember in regard to having the courage to be transparent is that your work is bigger than you. If we can take ourselves out of the equation and think of the story that needs to be told, we are often more able to muster up the gull to write what needs to be said. Your story is for the girl trying to figure out how to cope with being sexually assaulted but longing for a real relationship where she isn’t afraid of intimacy. Your story is for the guy who wanted something different out of life but got caught up in the streets because that was the only option they thought they had. Your story is for the person who is terrified to quit their job and pursue their passion because they have no examples of entrepreneurial success. When I tell you that your words have the ability to save a life, to provide comfort, to exonerate, I am telling you from personal experience.
As harsh as it sounds, the world cannot wait for you to find your confidence. The story will get told with or without you. But it would be great if you were willing to step up to the plate. If you were willing to shed the layers of shame and self-doubt and connect with the deepest parts to write them out.
Be something real for your readers and you will never be starved for an audience.
In order to overcome the stumbling blocks of shame and fear of transparency, I encourage writers to do some self-assessment and exploration in their journals. Below are a few prompts to write to for yourself. As you muster up the courage in your private writing, I promise you, it will begin to spill over into every other area of your writing.
::: Ashley M. Coleman, Author and Writing Coach
The thing that I judge in others that is within me …
Your biggest fear? Now the one that you don’t tell anyone?
What was your most painful memory? How did you cope? How did you overcome it?
What has been the most important lesson in your life so far?
Who has been the most influential person in your life so far and why?
What’s your biggest source of insecurity?
What have you wanted to say in your writing that you’ve been afraid to?