blog, creativity, Pat Aitcheson writes, writing, writing process

How To Be An Authentic Writer Without Feeling Exposed

the truth doesn’t have to hurt

Photo by W A T A R I on Unsplash

Anyone who is going to be a writer knows enough at 15 to write several novels.
May Sarton

They say write what you know.

Be authentic and write from the heart. But what if that’s too painful? What if, like many writers, you’re afraid to be exposed by your words?

It happened to me. I wrote a story that I was afraid to publish.

Not because it was risqué or difficult. It was honest and true. And that was the problem. It was too honest, too raw, and reading it over felt like dissecting a part of my heart and leaving it open for anyone to see.

As we all do, I drew on experience as well as imagination to create my world. Something sneaked past my filters and on to the page. I wrote it for a competition, but missed the deadline while I agonised over whether to let it go.

How could I be prepared to send this off to be judged by strangers, but hesitate to post it on my own media?

The difference was anonymity.

The story was too close to uncomfortable truths. I usually bury those truths within the lie of fiction, but here they were all too visible to me.

Many writers know this feeling. What if someone who knows me reads it?

I wanted my stories to be strong. But I didn’t want to write them with my own blood.

Was I right to hesitate?

All Eyes On You

Have you ever heard the expression: Walk a mile in my shoes, and then judge me? And write your own books.
Ann Rule

You know how it feels when you’re anxious or shy. You feel as if everyone is looking at you and worse, judging you harshly. But that’s not true. Everyone is as consumed by thoughts about themselves as you are.

This is known as the spotlight effect. You hide because of the erroneous belief that everyone is watching. They’re not.

Remember that as the author you know everything about your story. You know where you found events and people that appear in it. Nothing is disguised. But the reader doesn’t have that inside knowledge. As long as you change details, especially about real people, the reader’s unlikely to draw the conclusions you fear.

You have to trust your story, and your judgement, and move forward despite anxiety.

Feel The Fear

You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
Eleanor Roosevelt

One day, heart pounding and mouth dry, I attached the story to a competition entry and pressed send. I felt sick.

Months later, heart pounding and mouth dry, I read that prize-winning story to an audience of writers. They told me how they had been drawn in by the emotions portrayed.


The dilemma we face as artists is the need to be authentic, to bleed onto the page, while retaining our emotional integrity. Deep connection with a story is visceral recognition, a punch in the gut that speaks more eloquently than any words could.

And it is the drop of your blood, the moment of vulnerability, that makes the connection true.

Channel real emotion into honest writing.

If you’re writing memoir, events can be portrayed as they happened, letting the reader experience them with you.

If you’re writing fiction, you need to get emotion on the page without revealing your source material. Change names and places. Combine elements of real people into a new character. Writers have the power to immortalise or demonise friends and enemies — but a libel suit or worse, an angry relative is best avoided.

When you write betrayal, for example, think back to when someone let you down. Allow yourself to experience it again and jot down the first words that occur to you. The first words are the true ones, before your brain has time to filter and censor.

How would your character express those feelings? The circumstances are different, but the emotion is familiar.

You don’t know how it feels to hide during an alien invasion. Or maybe you have been that person, frightened of being discovered or left behind. In any case you do know something similar; fear, despair, anger, hope. That’s what you write.

Only Connect

It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader.
Paul Gallico

I don’t suggest you should spill every secret on the page. But some experiences have lessons worth sharing. In sharing experiences and lessons learned, we connect. We give people the chance to recognise themselves on the page, and feel less alone.

Show us a glimpse of your soul, show us what it is to be human.

When you hesitate because it feels too personal, write it.
When you pause because it’s still a little raw, write it.
When your heart pounds at the sight of those true words, write it.

Someone needs to read your words and recognise themselves within them.

Have a comment or suggestion? Leave it below.

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes

What getting Kinky* can teach us

(*Boots, that is)

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Film and music and theatre and books. All are entertainment, escapism often, a way to leave the humdrum real world behind and just have some fun. There’s no need to look for a deeper meaning.

But the stories that stay with us often have layers, some essential truth that we can take away and think about. It might not be the same lesson for everyone. In fact the very best of them have more than one idea buried in the glitz and action. They stand up to close or repeated inspection.

To a confirmed sci-fi fan like me, the more outlandish the concept, the more amazing the special effects, the better. Theatre is the opposite. The story unfolds in front of you with actual people in real time. Theatre is concrete and immediate.

Still, it’s good to broaden your horizons. So when I had the chance to see Kinky Boots (KB) at the Adelphi Theatre London recently, I went. I knew almost nothing about the story and hadn’t seen the film. Musicals aren’t really my thing.

I did not expect to have so much fun.

The cast sparkled with energy, aided by high kicking drag queens, amazing costumes, and more glitter than you could shake a six-inch stiletto at. Simon-Anthony Rhoden dominated the stage as Lola, and there was plenty of humour as well as spectacular dance numbers.

KB had many lessons that apply to commerce and creatives alike.

Find your niche.
Discover what your customer wants, and supply it.
Innovate when necessary.
Ignore haters and critics.
Play to your strengths.
It’s okay to have fun with your work.

Be yourself

Western culture prizes individualism above all. We’re told to be true to ourselves. Then we discover that we can only be accepted if we are true to a prescribed version of ourselves. This edited self discards or ignores large parts of who we are; sometimes, the biggest and/or best parts.

This editing usually begins at home, and continues in wider society.

KB explores disappointing our parents, whether by actively escaping their chosen path, like Lola and his father, or passively following someone else’s path, like Charlie and Nicola. Neither is a route to happiness or authenticity.

If you don’t build your own dream, someone will hire you to build theirs.

In KB the road to acceptance is fraught with detours and wrong turnings, but it’s a journey worth making. What do we long for, if not to be seen as we truly are and loved in spite of our scars? That’s the place we call home. Lola finds a home in the drag scene, but Charlie is caught between two versions of himself, and feels like a misfit in both.

We must make peace with our past in the present, before we can truly claim our future. That means accepting the ugly and painful truths as well as the pretty ones.

It means accepting your own self first as a whole person made of both light and shade.

The truth is out there

It’s easy to play safe, to stay in the middle of the herd and pretend we don’t carry a burning desire buried in our heart. What if people saw? They’d mock and laugh and we’d never live it down. Fear of failure and ridicule stops us from pursuing our dreams in case it doesn’t work out. Charlie must brave the fashion critics of Milan with something new. Lola must risk stepping outside the persona that has sheltered her for so long.

But what if it did?

There is certainly risk in pushing the limits of your comfort zone. Too many unknown monsters and well-meaning naysayers can have you scurrying back to what is familiar, even if it is slowly strangling the real you.

There is a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path.
Morpheus in The Matrix

It takes courage to admit you were wrong about yourself, change direction, and strike out from the herd. Charlie and Lola both face their own dark moments before they reach the triumphant final number.

The big prizes – authenticity, self-actualisation, happiness even – are all out there, waiting for you to claim your share. So dust off that dream and refuse to play small in life. Let your heart set the goal, and use your head to plan the route. You were meant for more.

Find out just how fabulous you can be.
Sequins and feathers optional – but in the spirit of Kinky Boots, you may as well look good while you’re killing it.

Your need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world. Risk being seen in all your glory.
Jim Carrey