Authenticity: a writer’s necessity

​Diaries, Erasing False Lines and Annie Ernaux

The ability to distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ writing is a skill gradually acquired and perfected by the most avid readers.

Some may attribute it to a simple game of recognition, where the skill of a writer is compared to the skill of their literary forefathers. If it seems stylistically similar or inspired enough, then the title of good writing is altogether easier to grant. The reality is that this measurement of good writing is too simplistic. Rendered to a pattern of recognition, of what resembles what, and why that makes it good. In the alternate case, where a piece of writing is bad, it is often reduced to ‘trying too hard’, an indication of amateur-ness that every aspiring writer receives very painfully. Nonetheless, both examples of good and bad writing may use the same creative technicalities.

Sentences may be filled with flowery metaphors, strong vocabulary, and profound observations. But what makes one good and the other struggle to achieve that same merit? The most reasonable answer may be that it is all down to the feeling it entices in its reader. The most probable is that what good writing possesses is a sense of authenticity that bad writing, on the other hand, lacks. This may be something that we are subconsciously able to feel, and with practice able to detect. Yet it does not come easily.

Cover of Amina Cain’s ‘A Horse at Night

Most recently, Amina Cain’s ‘A Horse at Night: On Writing’ brought up some intriguing discussions on writing authentically, specifically through the ways this practice can be applied to the stylistic choices of writers. Authenticity, as a practice for improvement, can illuminate the reason as to why many writers are unable to re-visit their old work without purging it completely, and why some are unable to even read it in the first place.

The experience feels universal, as most writers can vouch for this self-criticism. Yet many fail to acknowledge its root, and simply scrape at the surface. Could it be that the reason for this relentless self-criticism stems from the writer’s writing being their own? Like a sort of self-saboteur that ultimately does not want the writer to ever finish their work? The idea appears entirely plausible. Or could it be that – in line with unauthenticity – its root is a form of self-deception that is traced in every other line? If those lines were erased the writer would be left with something incoherent, with half of their initial word count gone. This is something that cannot be afforded. Keeping false lines, in this case, may feel absolutely necessary.

It appears that writer’s diaries, such as Annie Ernaux’s ‘Getting Lost’, don’t struggle with unauthenticity. Unlike some fiction, diaries are not overly decorated, or flowery, or emulating a specific writing style for an ostentatious purpose. It is the simplest of sentences, as found in diaries, that carry the most truth and authenticity. These surmount a sense of falsehood that is possibly inherent to writers. Mostly because, although it does not contain any creative skill, it contains a skill that is possibly even greater; that of writing authentically, of using a mode of truth that you can derive from for the purpose of good writing.

The writing in Ernaux’s ‘Getting Lost’, bravely unfiltered, gives no impression that it is meant to be read by anyone other than the writer herself. As evidenced in the language, and the stream of different thoughts contained within paragraphs, it reads like something Ernaux might have initially preferred to bury prior to publishing it. There was clearly no intention to have a readership. Authenticity fires her pen throughout the entirety of the text, and accordingly positions the diary as a suitable medium through which authenticity can be practiced.

It may be that once writers acknowledge their unauthenticity, and are finally able to detect it in their own writing, they may resort to desperately trying to rid themselves of it. In this case, the diary should be considered as the most suitable option through the several ways in which authenticity can cease from being reflected on, and instead, be practiced:

Writing for Yourself:

‘I want perfection in love, as I believe I attained a kind of perfection in writing with A Woman’s Story. That can only happen through giving, while throwing all caution to the wind.’

In order to practice authenticity, the first step is to give up on the idea of a reader completely. If diaries are to be the medium in which authenticity can be put at work, then writing for yourself must feel as the most necessary condition. After all, diaries are personal, and your writing should be seen as just that. A good writer’s perspective must shift from the attempt at creating a perfect arrangement of sentences on a page, to the conception of the words that flow from the most inner parts of ourselves. These are felt as entirely authentic.

Writing When You Feel Like It:

Not necessarily an innovative suggestion, yet it feels necessary in order to reiterate its importance. The function of a diary – to keep a daily written record – doesn’t have to be taken so literally. Going days, or weeks, at a time without writing won’t make you lose your flair. Instead, it will position writing as something that has become reserved, and only carried out at the moments when you are most inspired.

Writing on Paper:

‘Words set down on paper to capture the thoughts and sensations of a given moment are as irreversible as time – are time itself.’ Writing on paper ensures that lines are kept rather than continuously edited. They cannot be rubbed off, scribbled out, or re-written, as doing so would defeat the purpose of putting authenticity at work. For the purpose of authenticity, and at the risk of getting too philosophical, writing on paper has to be seen as a lexical manifestation of the Self. That being the most inner part of ourselves that was previously mentioned. For this reason, it’s imperative that writing is carried out with pen.

Erasing false lines:

At the point in which writing authentically comes with a little more ease, a necessary step is to practice erasing false lines. This means to re-visit your older writing, and to pick out which sentences feel unauthentic. When a line, no matter how impressive, simply does not feel right, with the impulse to keep it being almost unshakeable, and the thought of doing the opposite feeling the most distressing of all the feelings writing can possibly entice – it must be erased. This is a tendency that must be eradicated for good writing, for the purpose of a creative truth that is otherwise unattainable without the erasure of those false lines.

Authenticity is characterised by writing that is fully autonomous. Abandoning any sense of unauthenticity that is felt outside the writing in diaries does not mean to abandon any literary techniques. The idea is that these have to be used modestly, with a mode of truth as a guide in exchange for the intention to impress. Essentially, what needs to be conveyed through this practice projects with more ease and assists writers in the realisation that diaries are necessary medium through which their creativity can be unleashed at full force without rules governing the outcome. It is key, for the purpose of good writing to understand that authenticity is solidified once you start writing for yourself, and that publishing it is merely a bonus.