Tools from the Front Lines of Life: Authenticity

Some things have happened in my life in the last few months that, were I to put them in a novel, readers would say, “That’s just not believable. No way all that happens to one person!”

Yeah. Wouldn’t that be nice?

But here’s the thing: Hard times, good times…struggles, peace…abundance, desperate lack…sorrow, joy…

It’s all gold for writers.

Now, I’m not saying to go out there and experience every terrible thing in life can so you can write about it. But when the terrible things come, when the times of rejoicing arrive…be present. Open your eyes to what God has for you in those moments. Because friends, when we go through the fires, we learn a lot. About ourselves. About faith. About others. And we can use it all as we write.

So for the next few weeks, I want to talk about some of those tools. The first of which is authenticity.

Webster’s defines authenticity this way: the quality of being authentic. (Really, Webster’s? So not helpful. Reminds me of the time Brandilyn Collins, at an ACFW conference, called her mother the doyenne of ACFW. Never having heard that word before, I pulled up Webster’s and searched, only to receive this definition: the feminine form of doyen. Who knew Webster was a comedian?? But I digress.)

The second definition is far more helpful: the quality of being authoritative, valid, true, real, or genuine.

How often have you read a book that handled a deep or difficult issue with a platitude or an easy answer? Or started reading a book only to set it aside thinking, “That author hasn’t got a clue.”? Those who have been in the dark places know when a “poser” steps in. And they have little patience for them or their easy answers.

Authenticity, on the other hand, gives our writing power. When we come from a place of soul-deep understanding…a place of compassion and empathy because we’ve been there…our words will resonate with the readers. Because they’ll know we understand.

Whatever you’re writing, take hold of the tool of authenticity. Be willing to be vulnerable–to share the good, the bad, and the “I-was-stunned-to-realize-I-could-do-something-like-that”—with your readers. Don’t let fear or pride or any other obstacle keep you from offering the best you have to give: words bathed in God and surrendered to the lessons He’s taught you. When we do that, we give our readers more than just good fiction or encouraging nonfiction. We give them our hearts. We give them honesty. And depth. And the knowledge that they’re not alone.

We give them hope.

And it doesn’t get any better than that.


21 Responses to Tools from the Front Lines of Life: Authenticity

  1. Jessica Nelson March 25, 2015 at 3:50 am #


  2. Jackie Layton March 25, 2015 at 4:01 am #

    Great post! It’s not easy being open and authentic when deep down you’e an introvert. Thanks for the reminder because I want my stories to give readers hope.

  3. Ane Mulligan March 25, 2015 at 5:38 am #

    Karen, this is so good! Thanks for the reminder. I love what you said about “be present” to what God has for us.

  4. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser March 25, 2015 at 5:43 am #

    Last week i came close to dying from a particularly painful and unpleasant illness. Saw the Light; got sent back.

    Apparently God hasn’t stocked enough beer yet, nor has He got the breakables under hard cover.

    As I was going from breath to breath, a part of my brain was thinking…

    “OK, now how do I write this?”

  5. Elaine Marie Cooper March 25, 2015 at 5:51 am #

    Amen. I experienced the vulnerability of being open and honest when writing the memoir of my daughter’s journey with cancer. It was frightening to be forthright. Yet those were the passages that seem to minister the most to readers. “Because they know we understand.”

  6. Chris Storm March 25, 2015 at 5:59 am #

    Praying for you, Karen. Been there. Done that. Know how you feel, authentically. Psalm 84:5 Blessed are those whose strength is in You, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca (Place of Tears) they make it a place of springs. They go from strength to strength until each one appears before God in Zion.

    • Virelle Kidder March 25, 2015 at 2:15 pm #

      Wonderful post, Karen. Often, the last thing I wanted to write about was exactly what someone asked me to write. It hurt. But what came out, after many revisions, changed lives. I’m sorry to hear you have been going through such fires. I will pray.

  7. Judith Robl March 25, 2015 at 6:13 am #

    Karen, life is sometimes more than we can handle alone. Sometimes? Most times. Grateful that God is there for us and with us when we walk through the fire. Thank you for your wise words. Will say a spare prayer for your journey. You are a precious daughter of our father and a beautiful sister to your writers. Grace and peace be yours today.

  8. Theresa Santy March 25, 2015 at 6:51 am #

    Whenever a close writer friend has been knocked to her knees emotionally, the first thing I want to say is, “grab a pen and notebook!” I know. I’m not always the best Bestie (but I’m an awesome writing buddie!)
    I’ve tried it myself…. Writing down the painful thoughts and emotions while they are raw, and the results are nothing less than pure, authentic emotion.

    • Jenelle. M March 25, 2015 at 8:38 am #

      Theresa, I agree with you! Thank you for your comment!

      Yesterday was a day that Hollywood couldn’t have written and I wouldn’t have believed all that happened to me if I hadn’t lived it. And more unknowns are to come. I was so wiped out last night, that when I sat down with Jesus journal, I couldn’t write those pure, authentic emotions. I scribbled words of praise for grace and mercy and pleas for healing and more mercy, which now that I think about it were utter raw emotions. Huh. This morning I’m able to think clearer and don’t want to miss this opportunity to write down past events and emotions and my goal is to get super real with my reactions to what happened. No hiding behind a curtain fear. Vulnerability is rough for me, but it’s also so freeing!

      Truth really is stranger than fiction.

  9. Amber Schamel March 25, 2015 at 8:58 am #

    Great post, Karen. I know that’s something I need to work on. Being PRESENT during my life.

    Amber Schamel

  10. Carol Ashby March 25, 2015 at 9:04 am #

    Some of my friends found my response funny when I told them about hitting ice on a bridge and going into the ditch backward at 40 mph. As the 4×4 crew-cab F250 began the full swing after the fishtail, I just closed my eyes and prayed. As we began the roll-over, I opened them to see what was actually happening. After rolling more than 110 degrees and having Someone flip us back onto the tires, we came to a stop upright and pointing at the road. Did you know airbags don’t inflate if you hit going backwards? My first question: “Is everyone alright?” (We were.) Second question: “Where’s my laptop?” (No kidding-I had been writing and had just closed it and placed it in the soft case. It didn’t break, even though it did bounce off my husband’s head as we rolled before ending up in the back seat. That is one tough 10” Gateway – and one hard head!) After we drove up out of the ditch with a shattered windshield and a cab roof bent from where it hit the ground, you can imagine the thanksgivings we offered! My son was completely uninjured, my husband only had a bump where my laptop hit (oops!), and I had a rapidly swelling bruise on my elbow. My thought as I looked at the lump sticking out almost an inch and turning purple was…I can watch the colors change and see how fast the lump goes down. Yes! Research for how my hero will recover after an assassin threw him off a cliff and left him with only broken bones and bruises! Authenticity!

    Glad to have you back, Andrew. Even those of us who usually lurk missed you and had you in our prayers.

  11. Sandy Faye Mauck March 25, 2015 at 11:18 am #

    Yes, Andrew- you were missed and in my prayers. God’s not put the welcome mat out for you, yet. We’re glad. (<;

    Karen, I have been praying for you, too. I can sense when people are going through it. Not just because of who I am but because I have been through a lot.

    God set me down some 20 years ago and said. Write down everything you have been through. Oh, my! Tons of stuff. And the list keeps growing. Been through a lot. Still there. I found it impossible to write when going through the really killer times. You can tell from my 30 years of journals. That is the way I talk to God and He talks to me and in the killer places—nothing but empty pages. I couldn't talk. And He just got me through. Kind of like going through the fire or flood. You don't have time to think—just get through it. Later—maybe even 10-20-30 years later then I could write about it.

    I have a part in my book that tells of something that may seem contrived to some and hopefully I will get to tell them at the end of the book that it was exactly the way it happened to me. I have lived the miraculous and the hellish. But in the end it is Christ in us the hope of glory.

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser March 25, 2015 at 12:39 pm #

      Sandy, thank you so much. It is really good to be here again. A week ago, I thought I was – truly – for the high jump.

      But not quite yet, it seems, and perhaps that is the greatest authenticity I, personally, can bring…how really, really nice it is to be alive today.

  12. Mark Morrow March 25, 2015 at 12:33 pm #

    Greetings to you Karen, I am basically a newbie in this arena called Christian publishing and this is my very first time to reply to a blog. I totally agree with you both personally and professionally about the importance of being Authentic…..and allow me to add the term Transparent. As a professional counselor who recently hit the three decade mark, I don’t know how many times I’ve shared with my client’s that while my wife and I are both licensed counselors and Born Again Christians, that does not mean for a second we don’t struggle with the same types of personal and professional issues that they do. People need to hear that they’re quite normal and they need to take off the gloves and quit beating themselves up so bad. I can’t wait to meet The Prodigal Son when I get to heaven. Oops, none of us have to wait that long, all we have to do is look in our mirror and at those that we share life with. It’s not that we fail, it’s how we recover. Hurray for Authenticity and Transparency in our books, words and actions. Romans 8:28

  13. Lisa Taylor March 25, 2015 at 1:36 pm #

    Beautiful. Thank you — and blessings on your journey though.

  14. Carolyn Miller March 25, 2015 at 1:41 pm #

    Thanks, Karen for this encouragement. Authenticity can feel raw but realness can bring healing – for us and the reader.

  15. Mary March 29, 2015 at 5:38 pm #

    “The authentic self is the soul made visible.” Sara Ban Breathnac

    That’s the challenge we face. Baring our soul. But when we do, it gives our writing wings.

  16. Mary Albers Felkins April 15, 2015 at 6:01 pm #

    This is a great word! I’ve learned that when life gets tough start taking notes because the Lord is writing tension into my own story, fueling material for my characters.

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