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The No-Bullshit Guide to Authentic Writing

When "Just be yourself!" isn't cutting it


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When I first started freelance writing, I imagined glorious days spent writing in spiral-bound journals with ample free time to learn about the written craft.

Lol.

The reality is most of that time was spent remembering to send out invoices, telling clients where to find their stuff (again), and juggling proposals, contracts, and meetings.

Moxie can help. It handles all the humdrum business minutiae – accounting, invoices, scheduling, etc – so you can focus on the stuff that actually got you into the field: Writing.

The No-Bullshit Guide to Authentic Writing

List your three favorite authors. Maybe that’s Bill Bryson, Stephen King, or Jia Tolentino (Fine. Those are mine). The point is if you had to match a text excerpt to your favorite authors, you could do it in under 30 seconds.

That’s why you love these authors: Because their writing is theirs. It’s easy to spot their humor, quirks, and style from a faceless crowd of thousands.

The question is…how do you learn to write this way?

Listen: I haven’t personally chatted with Jia or Stephen (but Stephen, if you’re reading this — call me) but I can reasonably assume it’s because these people know themselves. Thoroughly.

They have a firm grasp of their personality, preferences, and perspectives — all that good stuff.

Knowing who you are is the key to writing that’s brimming with personality. You’re not pretending to be someone else or pandering to an audience (which leads to terribly stiff writing that makes your ass itch).

This is known as — please forgive me — authenticity. This is the “Big Thing” people tell you you must have in your writing, or to build an audience.

But little is said about how to unearth and birth it into the world. I can speak for both of us that if you read one more platitude on “Just Be Yourself!” you’re going to lose it.

So, I’m going to – as plainly as possible – give you some suggestions on how to do this:

Catch Up With Yourself. Chances are, you spend an embarrassing amount of screen time keeping up — with the news, with influencers, with loose acquaintances. That’s fine. But if you’re not also catching up with yourself, you’re missing out on some seriously deep stuff that could be great writing material.

For example: Maybe you get into a squabble with your partner or your kid just started school. How do you really feel about it?

If you give yourself some time to sit there, to meditate or journal or record a voice note, I guarantee something is going to pop out that’s going to have you go, “Wait, where the hell did that come from?”

Maybe the fight prods you to ask if love is enough. Maybe your kid going to school sparks an existential crisis on the passing of time. Use these deeper insights as a starting point for your writing.

Pay Attention to What You Pay Attention To. No writing is more bland than from a writer who doesn’t want to be there. Bored Writer = Bored Reader. This is why writing about stuff you actually want to explore (or are passionate about) is so important.

It should be obvious. But so many people don’t do this!

Ray Bradbury has excellent advice to fix this:

You have to write the way you see things. I tell people, make a list of ten things you hate and tear them down in a short story or poem. Make a list of ten things you love and celebrate them. When I wrote Fahrenheit 451 I hated book burners and I loved libraries.

To figure out these things, pay attention to what you pay attention to. The next time something zings you out of autopilot – pause. Write it down. No need for a fancy system — I use my Notes App. You’ll soon notice a recurring theme of topics you’re naturally drawn to.

Trust Your Taste. To show up as your full self on the page you’ve got to trust your instincts. J.K. Rowling wouldn’t done diddly squat if she’d deferred to the opinion of others before writing anything. She wouldn’t have created 772 characters (seriously) by asking “What do you think?” 24/7.

You must be decisive and confident — and a good way to practice this is to stop relying on reviews to form an opinion.

If you loved that new restaurant in Crown Heights or the movie ‘Past Lives’ — hell yeah! Who cares if people on Yelp or Rotten Tomatoes hate it? Be steadfast in what you enjoy (or don’t) and let this confidence guide your writing.

Self Love. We’re entering woo-woo territory. Bear with me. But self-love plays such an important role in embracing your inner voice.

If you’re deeply uncertain of yourself you’ll put every word under an oppressive microscope: Are people going to judge me for this? Do I sound tacky? Is this too braggadocious?*

Isn’t this word fabulous? It’s the perfect word for sounding uppity.

The result is you delete the wrong stuff — the juicy, interesting, vibrant stuff that makes you, you. You’re then left with watered-down writing that even your own mother couldn’t recognize.

“Okay Alice, but how do I find that self-love?” This could be a whole other essay, but in a nutshell: Keep your own promises. If there’s a dream you’ve always to pursue, do it.

Maybe you’ve always wanted to get into rollerblading or move to Oregon for a month or ask out your co-worker — whatever.

The more integrity you have with your word, the deeper respect – and ultimately, love – you foster within.

Now go forth and write.

✍️ Quick Freelancing Tip

The best way to invoice your client is to divide the project into phases with a cost for each phase — and charge the most upfront.

Instead of:

✖️ “Hey [client]! The project total is $1,000. I’ll send the invoice once the project is complete. Looking forward to it!”

Side note: Never, ever say this unless you don’t want to get paid.

✔️ “Hey [client]. Below is the invoice: 

• Phase One: Ideation and Draft → $600

• Phase Two: Writing and 2 Rounds of Edits → $400

This front-loaded payment model is great for two reasons:

  1. It protects you from working for free.

  2. The client is more motivated to finish said project as they’ve invested more from the get. 

This tip was inspired by Art for Money by Michael Ardelean. There is no better book out there for freelancing than this one.

 🥒 Content Diet

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott — I’ve read dozens of writing books. Anne’s is different. Instead of sterile, bland instructions on “How to Write,” this novel is a warm and encouraging note from Anne as she distills her best advice on the wild writing world. 

I’m telling you, Anne is the real deal

Shaan Puri: 3 Principles to Mastery Storytelling by How I Write – I love everything about Shaan. His positivity is contagious and he’s just so damn excellent at what he does — namely, storytelling. This 90-minute podcast flew by and was full of gems. 

Mike Monteiro: Fuck You Pay Me by Creative Mornings — Get paid for the work you do. It should be so simple, but it’s…hilariously not. This video will drill the importance of a contract and how to structure it so you don’t get stiffed. 

Thanks for being here! I apologize that this newsletter isn’t a reliable, once-every-Wednesday vibe. I only want to be in your inbox when there’s something worth saying.

Have a beautiful week, wherever you are.

Stay Creative,

Alice 💌

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