Am I telling the truth? How to add power to your writing

Recently, I judiciously used the f-word in a blog post.

I was feeling frustrated with myself for not writing my truth. I was suffering. But, more importantly, my writing was suffering. It had become anaemic, half-hearted. It wasn't packing the punch it could. 

In an article about writing poetry, Wendy Cope says:

"I find that the most important and helpful question to ask myself when I'm working on a poem is "Am I telling the truth?" T. S. Eliot said that the greatest difficulty for a poet is to distinguish between "what one really feels and what one would like to feel"."

This last part especially interests me. We are creatures burdened with ego. We spend a lot of our time wondering, 'What's she thinking about this outfit I'm wearing?' or 'What word can I use here to make me sound really clever?'. 

This ego-building, understandable though it is, doesn't do our writing any favours. People don't want to read stories that are trying to be clever. People want to read stories that cut us to the quick with their honesty.  

If you're interested in truth-telling, you might like Brad Blanton's book, Radical Honesty. A warning - he uses the f-word much more liberally than me! But as writers, we have a lot to learn from those who are brave enough to speak their truth. Do share your own favourite truth-tellers in the comments section. 

When people speak their truth, it enables us to speak our own. As writers, it is our duty.

If you'd like to rediscover your own truth, join me on my next e-course, Writing Ourselves Alive. This will run in partnership with She Writes from November the 7th.

Dedicate a month to investigating curiosity, honesty, compassion and passion with your fellow participants in a private group here, and with essays, exercises and daily emails from me. As a side-benefit, I guarantee that you will produce some creative writing you are proud of.

Find out more and register here - it'd be lovely to have you along.

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Comment by Sherrie McCarthy on October 20, 2011 at 7:36am

I will check that out!  I look forward to reading yours as well I checked out your blog (sorry I lurked!) and you had me laughing out loud.  I had a brief fling with an Italian my first summer in Europe and some of it was a little too similar! But I think baby steps are brilliant. If I think about everything I freak out.  Small manageable steps, I just need to step back sometimes and remind myself things DO take so much longer than anticipated. 

Although to bring it back on topic and suggest a favorite truth teller, as often as people recommend her, I love Alice Munro. Runaway was a collection of short stories so raw that I sought out all her other books.  But I think there is a certain bravery in exposing yourself that way.  I think I use humor to try and deflect it.  But maybe with time and practice!

Comment by Dianne `Cakes' McCain on October 20, 2011 at 4:26am

I once read a book called "Flaming Iguanas" by Erika Lopez and it was about a woman who drives cross country on a bike that doesn't know how to drive one - very funny, great book! (if your interested)

 I agree with you as writing the query and proposal, and working on platform material can be really time consuming. I had started and have some rough drafts, but I have left it for now (I decided I wanted to go back to my manuscript and do a little more work first).  I bought a whole lot of books on the subjects though, and may illicit the help of one of the pros here in SheWrites very soon, but ya... big undertaking and intimidating for non-published first time writers. The only way I am keeping from freaking out is baby steps!

The best of luck, it all sounds great and you're really focused! I look forward to reading your work!

Comment by Sherrie McCarthy on October 20, 2011 at 3:39am

Truthfully when I read about what was involved (marketing plan etc) I just thought that the time I would be writing that was time I could be self promoting, especially since they want you to do so much self promotion anyway. I am also lucky in that a friend is a graphic designer and willing to do the book cover for me, so really it is just the editing! I like the idea of having the control of my book as well.  I am a but of a control freak in that way! Plus the book is not a traditional male motorcycle book, neither is it a solo woman's journey, so it does not fit into either of the most popular lines of traditional bike tales. 


So I actually think I am going to go the opposite way, and see if I can be successful self published first, and use traditional publishing as my back up!  :-P

Comment by Satya Robyn on October 20, 2011 at 1:59am
Sherrie - love the sound of your book. Yes, what Dianne said!
Comment by Dianne `Cakes' McCain on October 20, 2011 at 1:13am
Sherrie, Why not try also to go via mainstream publisher? Can a book be too female?  - interesting question. I wouldn't think so, considering the popularity of Chick-lit. You've got nothing to lose! ;)
Comment by Sherrie McCarthy on October 19, 2011 at 10:03pm

Love this article, I am dealing with a lot of the same issues as Dianne at the moment. I am finishing (editing stages! wheee!) my first book and it is a travel memoir of my trip through Iceland by motorcycle with my partner last summer. The entire time I was writing it I was trying to balance truth with "but how much is too much?" I sometimes wondered if I was being flippant ( I just try not to take myself too seriously) but I also wanted to include the difficulties I had at times as a female on a large bike offroading. At times I wondered if I was being too negative, but in the end I went with it is my truth, and the readers can tell me if they like it or not! 

As scary as the changes in the publishing industry can be, I think at the moment there is one thing that e books (especially self publishing) allows and that is we can now afford to find our audience. Perhaps my book was "too female" to go mainstream (truthfully I never even tried) but the long tail of e books means we can tell our truths without having to worry about being told flat out "no." A couple of thousand readers is not enough for traditional publishing, but an e book takes up no shelf space and so that cost is gone.  We can find readers we otherwise never would have. So we have a new space to tell our truth which can still be commercially viable even if it is on a smaller scale.

Comment by Dianne `Cakes' McCain on October 19, 2011 at 10:50am
As I am writing a memoir (my first) the whole premise is essentially egotistical, ;) I don't think I hold back emotionally as I generally hold truth in the hightest regard, (and hopefully don't go off on tangents of negativity). But in a way I am nervous about undermining other elements in the body of my writing like the irony and humourous side of things which are strong element in my work, especially if I begin to write more freely  - content that is more prevalent sexually than maybe I have divulged previously. Can this happen? Or is it positive evolvement? I think about the reader in this respect... what they are thinking, how much is too much... and do they really want/need to know?
Comment by Satya Robyn on October 19, 2011 at 8:16am
taking off masks and removing safety nets... yes, I'm thinking the most powerful interactions I've had with people have also been when I've done this. feels scary every thinking about it ; ) (thanks Amy)
Comment by Amy Dionne on October 19, 2011 at 7:47am
I find that the passages in my writing that I don't censor, the ones that come straight from my center, the ones that I could consider raw and emotional, are the very ones that my readers seem to resonate with the most. It's as if people need me to take off the masks and remove the safety net. I'm far more real to others when I'm being honest with myself.
Comment by Satya Robyn on October 19, 2011 at 6:00am

RYCJ - ; )

Dianne - it is an interesting line. Again I wonder if intent is important? The line between self-indulgent and 'art' - I'm thinking of the kind of people who are in a difficult place and who tell you all about their problems (in great detail) whether you want to hear them or not... I wonder if this is something of your fear, of being like those people? It is an interesting topic... would be interested in hearing what anyone else has to say. Thanks for your comment Dianne.


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