Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The importance of authenticity by Sue Irving 14th October 2015

Now that the days are getting darker and wetter, my favourite piece of clothing is a woollen jacket in the colours of the rainbow. I have nicknamed it my “technicolour Joseph dream coat”. I still remember buying it in the local market. Our house had been flooded due to a burst waterpipe, and we were temporarily homeless. My mood matched the weather: grey and miserable. The jacket made me smile as soon as I tried it on -the world suddenly seemed a brighter and more optimistic place. It still cheers me up whenever I wear it, especially when the world around me seems to be drained of colours.  

However, I am aware that the jacket is a bit like Marmite: it strongly divides opinions. There are those who tell me directly or indirectly that the jacket is too bright and garish. At the other end of the spectrum are those who run up to me and tell me how much they LOVE the jacket and want to find out where it was bought. They get where I am coming from and say that seeing the jacket cheers them up.

If I were trying to please everyone around me, I would constantly have to take the jacket on and off, depending on the tastes and opinions of those I meet.  This would of course be a frustrating and ultimately futile undertaking . We all have different tastes, and it is therefore impossible to please everyone.

It is interesting that those who don’t like the jacket per se will often still comment how much it suits me. I believe that this is due to my choice of clothing reflecting something of who I am.

I am aware that in the area of writing I can find it harder to be true to myself and shake off my people-pleasing tendencies. Here are some things I have to watch out for:

1)      Being reluctant to share what I have written if I think that my work may be criticised and misunderstood. I may rob myself of a learning opportunity and someone else of something that may help and inspire them by pre-judging their response.

2)      When getting feedback, getting defensive inside because I take the criticism personally. I can find it hard to step back and ask myself whether the other person has a valid point or is merely expressing a personal preference.

3)      Trying to imitate someone else’s style, wishing I could write like them. The resultant piece tends to be mediocre. It’s like trying to wear someone else’s tailor-made clothes. Their style and colours may not suit my shape and colouring.

I believe that writing has more power and depth if it expresses our heart and mind, so I am aiming for authenticity.


About the author:
Sue Irving is the co-ordinator for the Creative Communicators in Petersfield. She has co-written a book with her husband John about their experiences when climbing Kilimanjaro. How to conquer a mountain: Kilimanjaro lessons is available as a paperback and an e-book on Amazon, with all proceeds going to charity.


  1. I love this comparison between writing and clothing. Being true to ourselves whilst being aware of others around us is something we need to keep in careful tension.
    I shall be thinking about this all day!

  2. Yes, a great comparison, as Jane says. Just as clothing is part of our identity, we feel the same about our writing and can get too precious about it. I had a similar experience with clothing in that I wore a rather dramatic shirt once with a black and white geometric pattern to school and a student in my class said, 'Miss, I hate to be rude, but your shirt is giving me a migraine and I can't concentrate on what you're saying.' I wore it under a cardigan after that.

  3. I love that jacket! Which market did you get it from?! It is so true that we have to strike a balance between writing what people actually want to read and being true to ourselves. I also love the comparisons you made :)

  4. Great post - thanks. I totally relate to your people-pleasing tendencies, but so want to be authentic in my writing ...

  5. Your comments encouraged me to go back to the Wednesday market in Petersfield and buy myself a second jacket - in bright colours of course (as a reminder that I want my writing to be as bright and colourful as my clothing). :)