Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Writing "Truth" is Not about Writing "True"

Frost’s quote popped up on Facebook and shortly thereafter was shared at my local romance writers monthly meeting.

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”     Robert Frost 

I get what Frost was saying. Yes, I get it. And yes, I believe it. But doing it? Aye, there’s the rub!

To be really genuine, truly authentic in writing, to tell what you fear most is in itself terrifying. Honesty may be the hardest trait for an author accustomed to making up stuff. That would mean writing about a very troubled relationship with a father, a cousin’s sexual abuse when young, estrangement from a brother, admitting to the lies told, revealing disguises.

Oh, how I admire the “ Girl on a Wire” author-bloggers like Karen Chilton Wilder who fearlessly opens herself for all to pick at like a clam lying open on the shore, shredded by gulls. Her books also open up wounds and lets them bleed in front of us. And she’s not the only one.

And I admire the people who write revelatory books about really big deal topics like Jody Picoult does so well. And she’s not the only one.

But to step off the ledge that way is difficult for most of us. You have to trust your parachute will open, that the net is furled below you, that the fall won’t smash you to pieces. And most of us just aren’t willing or have enough faith to do that.

We couch it in terms of privacy. We tell ourselves that it’s no one’s business we engaged in adultery, or had that abortion, or felt responsible for the death of a child during an accident, or shoplifted some jewelry. Why reveal a child let go to adoption, or the affair with a best friend’s husband, or cheating on an important exam?

See, just reading this makes you wonder, “Which of these admissions belong to Angelica?”, right? That’s one reason some authors hide our own peccadiloes. We want your regard. We fear your opprobrium.

I have come to realize, very slowly over the years, that tapping into my well-spring of disappointments and sins doesn’t mean, necessarily, revealing all as in a supermarket tabloid. Rather it means going deeper than the transgression, down to the feelings surrounding it. Guilt, fear, anxiety, relief, disgust.

It is capturing what it means to be disgusted at an action and translating that into a character’s response and actions. Honesty, authenticity come from releasing the pus of the abscess and using it as ink to write your scenes.

You need not reveal it was you who had an affair with a professor, but you do need to probe what led to the decision and how one could get through each day anticipating yet dreading the next encounter with its concomitant fear of discovery.

Yes, that’s the authenciticy, the honesty authors owe readers. So, while I may never confess what I have done, and we all have our share of secrets, I do need to draw the mucky water beneath the clear to find truths hidden within to share with my readers. I have to pick at the scabbed-over memories and transfuse that blood into genuine action and words in my stories. Readers will know if I do.


  1. Ha! I find it difficult, if not impossible, to have any faith that a chute will open, or even to hope that there is a chute-- but having been a poet first, then a songwriter, and only after that a fiction writer, I'm used to throwing myself off of the ledge just to see how far down it goes. I think that poetry (reading & writing) can help us learn to expose ourselves to the truths that are necessary; necessary to face, and to reveal. At least, that has been my experience, and something I've seen in a few others.

    1. I have always admired poets: the discipline to pare down an idea with only the most essential words! I never thought about that being the case with revelations of truth. Thanks you for the insight, Exploding Mary! You are one of the genuine ones!