Telling the Truth in Writing

The first chapter of the book, Bird by Bird: Some Instruction on Writing and Life by Anne Lammot, begins with the opening sentences:
“The very first thing I tell my new students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are.”

One of the great things about writing is that you can tell the truth. It is great because we as writers can get away with being brutally honest. We can make characters say or do things that people in real life may be afraid to do or say. There is a reason why we can get away with such honesty. A reader reads a story and relates to a character. A character can do and say things that might be taboo, or over the top. These actions are actions that the reader might have done or thought about doing. The thoughts are actual thoughts that the reader has had. The reader in real life might have felt guilty or ashamed of even just the thought of those actions. But, when the reader reads of them in a novel the reader doesn’t feel guilty. In fact, the reader rejoices because the reader doesn’t feel alone, and can let those thoughts and actions be real in a fictional character. We all have thoughts that enter our head that if people actually were aware of them they would think we were freaks, mean, or just plain insane. The great thing about writing is that I can have a character think or do those things, and in the end, it is just a piece of fiction.

I must confess though, that writing the truth can be a scary thing. No matter how fictional the story may be, there is a part of the author in the story or character. I’m not saying that every thought or action is personal, but there is always a little part of the author in every story. So as the writer writes the truth, we are revealing a part of ourselves. We are letting the reader into our life. But, I believe that this is why writing, and art in general is so important.

Anne Lammot wrote, “We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are.” Often, what I write is inspired or borrowed from real life. I have discovered that life itself has some wonderful stories and characters. I often think that the reason God allows me to go through some of the things that I go through is so that I have some good material. For me, and I speak only for myself, as a writer, that good material isn’t just an end to itself. It isn’t just for the story. That good material is given to me, and I must be honest. I must tell the truth because it helps me understand me. I must tell the truth because it might help someone else to understand who they are and what they are going through. It isn’t that I write with the thought of helping someone. I write to tell the story. And that writing tells the truth. That truth is then read by the reader and the reader does with it whatever he/she chooses. My only obligation is to tell the truth.


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