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Butter versus Margarine

Ham versus SPAM (the ‘food’, not the unwanted emails). Cheddar versus Velveeta. Labradors versus Dachshunds. Mac versus Dell. (sorry, that one just slipped out)

Do you see where I’m going with this?

I just got an email from my good friend, Andi (who writes a great blog about French things and other awesome stuff). Long story short, she’d done something pretty amazing for me and I’d thanked her. And her response began with 4 words:

Friends help friends. Period.

It’s true. They do. But only the real ones. The ones that fall under the category of margarine, SPAM, Velveta and Dachshunds? Not so much. Those ‘friends’ flee in times of trouble. They’re not quite there for you. You can see them standing there, but it’s through a veil of fog. There’s something missing, there’s not much to hold on to.

So, how do you tell the difference?

It can be tricky. Because (besides the Lab/Dachshund example up there) looks can be deceiving. But once you get in there and get the feeling for what you’re holding in your hands, putting in your mouth or talking to, there’s really no contest. The real and the fake show themselves readily. It’s hard to hide the plasticy taste of Velveta. To tell the difference, you sense it. You see, hear, smell, taste and touch. And feel it in your gut.

I think our writing follows the same map.

As a writing coach, people talk to me a lot about trying to be genuine in their communications. Should they be serious or funny? Should they try to use words they would never say out loud in conversation? Should they follow the step by step ebook they found that says you should use ‘these 10 words in every post you write and it will make you millions’? (Um, eww)

My answer is this: how does it feel? When you’re writing? When you’re reading it back to yourself out loud? When you’re reading it to someone else? Does it fill you up or collapse in your mouth? Does it sound like you or does it sound like someone else? Are you proud of it? Is your very essence oozing out of it? Does it make you tingle?

Start with you. Ask yourself these questions – and answer honestly. If you do and you act on the answers, you will find your voice, you’ll hit your stride. Then think about your reader. Because, they’re asking these questions too. They’re looking for real writers, real messages, real connections.

I don’t know about you, but I spread my butter high and thick on my bread. I’m drawn to it like hotdogs to a BBQ. And when I see margarine on the page? Click. I close the tab.

Image credit: nanio

Join the discussion 13 Comments

  • Mary says:

    This is a great post–well written, sincere, helpful and well…butter;-) and I’m glad to find your blog through a post on Facebook.

    I understand the angst and concerns of new writers for I was also a new writer just a few years ago, worried that I’d do it wrong. As a writer starting out I was very concerned about my voice but as I had more and more deadlines to meet I sort of forgot about thinking about it and just wrote what I felt needed to be written. I now write essays about nature, art and theater and have two weekly columns, a monthly column and many reviews, feature articles, etc. under my belt at this point. The first thing people tell me is that they love the way I write because it sounds like I’m there in the room with them. And when I’m writing, I am in the room with them, telling them my story, my thoughts, etc. so for me, this is a wonderful compliment and I appreciate it.

    My first writing was awkward and self conscious but now I just write as I see it, feel it, breathe it and I think in the end, that is where my true voice is. It’s not about wanting to be real or trying to be authentic. As you remind us, it is about simply being real and authentic and that really shouldn’t be too hard ;-)

  • --Deb says:

    Yeah, yeah, great post … but, how does Labrador/Dachshund meet the same real/fake criteria as those other pairs? Hmm? Are you implying that dachshunds aren’t real dogs? Hmm??

  • Julie Roads says:

    Why, yes, Deb – I am! I grew up with two of them…

    (and I was being glib, sarcastic and obnoxious)

  • Julie Roads says:

    Hi Mary! So great to meet you. Thanks for following that link and taking the time to leave this wonderful, heartfelt comment. From what you wrote, I can tell that you are pure butter!

  • Edgy Mama says:

    I’m with you…except for the Dachshund part. We have a half Dachshund mutt (or really, he has us) and he’s the greatest dog ever–much smarter than any Lab. Don’t diss the Dachs, dude.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Edgy – it’s just that I really like BIG things. You know, dogs and such.

  • --Deb says:

    Nothing wrong with big dogs, but that doesn’t make dachshunds less dog-like! In fact, ask any dachshund and he’ll tell you that he is, in fact, BIG, just that the furniture is inexplicably high. Swap out a stuffed animal type dog in your analogy, and we’re set..

  • Andi says:

    Thanks for the advice on finding your voice. I think it is something that we have to continually remind ourselves, some times we need a reset. Funny too, the small dog/big dog fight is classic ;-)

  • Julie–one of your best posts ever. So odd that people want a formula for sounding genuine. You sound geniuine when you believe in every word you write.

  • Mary says:

    LOL, Julie! I just look like I have eaten a lot of pure butter ;-)

  • Amanda says:

    This post made me hungry. Also, I like margarine. Not as salty. I think that makes me a bad cook. Or a bad Italian. Or both.

    Anyhoo, I recently wrote about how terrifying it can be to be transparent on the Internet but how important it is to write with honesty. You can tell a bald-faced lie and still have it sound as honest as maple syrup (hah, Canadian stereotype for the win). Good, honest, and truthful writing is the tastiest. It tastes like chocolate chip cookies. Nom.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Um, Amanda? Just buy unsalted butter. Margarine is plastic and poison. They did an experiment where they left butter and margarine out – within a week or so, the butter had colorful, happy mold growing on it. TWO YEARS LATER the margarine was sitting there looking exactly the same. Even mold doesn’t like it. It isn’t food. Please, I adore you, so stop eating margarine. xox

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