Show Your Humanity in Your Writing

Ryan Fan of my articles have a typo, two, or maybe even more. No matter how many editors I work with or eyes I have on a piece, there’s usually at least one awkward sentence, one typo, and one grammatical error.

It frustrates me to re-read my pieces and see how I could have possibly overlooked such an embarrassing mistake, or how multiple people or even an A.I. tool like Grammarly could have all overlooked the same mistake.

Helen Cassidy Page once, however, wrote about how typos are God’s gift to the self-righteous, to both self-righteous writers and editors.

Helen illustrates an excellent point — every book has a typo. Almost every article has a typo.

And you know what? Typos are human. If we had a long, comprehensive piece without a single typo, maybe a robot could have written it. by Sylas Boesten on Unsplash

I may have gone on a tangent about typos, but the point is that to improve your writing and be compelling, you have to show your humanity. This doesn’t only apply to typos, but how you write and your process for doing so.

Read through your writing, and then ask yourself: could a robot have written it?

Robots don’t make types, but they do also give mechanical and generic tips and advice.​ No one wants to read something a robot wrote. It’s boring, mechanical, and overall not compelling.

The biggest mistake I made myself, and that I see a lot of new writers make is trying to adhere to some formula for how to succeed as a writer and write what they think readers want to read. And when it feels like a robot wrote an article, how is it unique?

I once urged people to write someone no one else can write. And I stand by that advice — someone would much rather read about your experience with depression or your contentious relationship with your father than “12 Ways To Be More Productive”.

Do you know how people feel when they feel your humanity? They relate to you. They start to see themselves in you. They’re more forgiving of your shortcomings because you’re transparent, honest, and you communicate your raw and vulnerable feelings.

I have been much more understanding of my friends when I know what they’re going through in their personal life or at home. You never know everything about a person, but when I learn more and more about my friends, I learn to reserve the fury of judgment because I know that I’m not going through everything they’re going through, and I will never understand completely what their lives feel like on a daily basis.

I have seen my friends similarly be more understanding and become much more understanding when I’ve become vulnerable and allowed them a window into my life, my family, and why I am the way I am. My cross country friends in college know me best because they’re the friends we’ve shared the most vulnerable moments with — and they’ve seen the most of my humanity that no one else in the world has ever seen.

To show your humanity, be vulnerable.

These days, just hearing the term of vulnerability might make you shake your head. It’s mentioned all the time and often overused, and often a luxury for the privileged people who won’t suffer drastic professional and life repercussions for being vulnerable.

But vulnerability is not overrated. I have experienced personally how vulnerability has changed my life when I opened up to my team about my family — and in that moment, I wasn’t trying to get more readers. I wasn’t trying to sell. I wasn’t trying to make money.

I had something to get off my chest to the people I trusted most, and I did it.

So when you’re trying to improve your writing and make your writing more compelling, life works in often strange ways. When you’re not trying to do something, it often happens. When you’re trying too hard, it rarely comes.

So make it a goal in your writing to show your humanity, because people don’t want to read the work of a robot. They want to read the unique writing of a human being who shows them a world they have never seen before and a life they’ve never lived.

And do you want to know a secret? You’re the biggest authority on your world and your life. No one else knows your life better than you do, save your higher powers if you’re religious.

So show that to the world, and while I can’t guarantee that you have a surefire path to material success, what I’ll tell you is that sharing your humanity in your writing is much more rewarding than writing a generic piece about productivity or making money will ever be.

Show your humanity in your writing — you’ll expose yourself more than you ever did before, and I can’t say that there won’t be harsh people who won’t attack you for it. The world, and especially the Internet, can be very cruel and unsympathetic places.

But you will be more at peace and fulfilled than you ever felt before. And that’s a feeling that I, personally, wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.

Photo by Laura Dewilde on Unsplash

Originally published on The Ascent on May 23, 2020.

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Believer, Baltimore City special ed teacher, and 2:40 marathon runner. Diehard fan of "The Wire," God's gift to the Earth. Support me:

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