And the overriding persona of the net citizen (or netizen) is that of the know-it-all. Right here, right now, you have access to all of the human knowledge in all of our history, within a few taps of your fingers. However, somewhere down the line the internet as a whole decided that everyone must now be automatically correct on every single issue, and woe betide you if you don’t have your facts straight. This is why so many online conversations that could’ve been decent debate-fodder descend into the act of softening your statements with phrases like ‘most of the time’ and ‘in my opinion’.
How I’m not here to talk about the nature of discourse on the internet. But does lead me into today’s topic about writing with authority. You see, perhaps this is just me but I’ve noticed that this online must-know-it-all-persona is bleeding over into other parts of our life too. Think about it: as little as twenty years ago it would’ve been fine to simply put your hands up and say ‘I don’t know’. It was OK to admit a lack of knowledge or a lack of authority on a subject. But now, because so much of our time is spent online, and all of the knowledge of the world is accessible from a device in our pockets now, so many people are terrified of speaking or acting with any authority in real life. You’re not allowed to be a layman or an understudy in a topic. This paralyses so many people from getting involved in new fields of interest or speaking about anything with merely a basic understanding of something.
And this mindset cannot – CAN NOT – be taken into your writing.
What do I mean? Well, you’re reading an example right now. Those of you who read my musings on writing and my fiction will have surely found contradictions between blog posts, or even to my writing proper. Why am I giving advice and saying to NOT do something when I go ahead do the exact opposite in my own writing?
Well, the answer is simple: I am a human being. We human beings change over time, we forget, we form opinions that are contradictory to what we held as true the day before. Being seen as a hypocrite is apparently one of the harshest criticisms you could level at a person and yet in today’s modern society is impossible. And I’m not going to try: I’m not in the business of tying myself in knots to keep my opinions watertight and consistent. Heck, I am well aware that the topic of this post overlaps heavily with another post I wrote a few months ago, but I don’t care. That’s the point!
And neither should you. Write with authority. Believe in what your write. It’s your writing. When it comes down to it, you make the rules. Constantly second-guessing yourself and tearing your hair out to make sure that every single plot hole is explained and all of your facts are impeccable in a first draft that will at best be an exercise in mental gymnastics that meanders frantically to keep all of it’s proverbial ducks in a row and thus buries the story it was trying to tell. Or at worst, it will be first draft that never gets finished.
Oh sure, in second drafts and beyond, go for it! Pull out that magnifying glass! Second and third-guess yourself! At least then you will be editing around a solid narrative by a writer who sounds confident. Because then you can tweak to make sure that that confidence is justified, rather than scrambling for that level of accuracy in the first place.
Why do this? Because readers love few things more than a confident, capable writer. You know of whom I speak. Those books that you pick up and within the first paragraph you know straightaway that this is a writer who speaks with power. You know instantly that this writer will take you on a journey worth hearing. Those are the writers who will have readers follow them right through until the back cover – not because they were scrambling feverishly to bulletproof their writing against grammatical mistakes, character inconsistencies, or plot holes. But because they knew what came first: telling their story and telling it well, with authority.
So next time you’re telling ghost stories around a campfire or sharing anecdotes at the pub, listen well to those who make the biggest impact, where everyone falls silent to hear. Were they the ones stumbling over their words to make sure they recalled their facts correctly? Or where they the ones who told the unlikely tale with fervour and panache and charisma? The answer, I think, is obvious.