On Truth-Telling–in Writing and in Life

Truth-telling was passed down the family chain the moment I took my breath. I swear it must be part of my genetic code.

“Always tell the truth,” my mother told us even before we could speak. And so, I grew up telling the truth. It would be hard to find someone out there who does not think I am honest. I am often honest to a fault—volunteering information so it doesn’t eat at me from the inside.

I am an anti-hider. A volunteerer of truths. I’m sure that is a point of pride with my mother. She raised a lot of honest kids. Why do I have so much trouble doing this with characters.

Characters who are lying, cheating sons-of-undesirables

They don’t always tell the truth! My cousin Mickey told me not so long ago, “I am glad you are working things out, but be careful. Always look for the truth.”

So there I was grinning like a fool—Mickey was echoing the words my mentor, Vivian Hansen. But Vivian had already warned me about the dangers of truth-telling/hoarder in regards to my characters.

What’s your point, Rach?

This post isn’t about the honesty of my friends and family members, but about what Vivian called “hoarding.”

“Writing is about honesty.  It is almost impossible to be honest and boring at the same time.  Being honest may be many other things –risky, scary, difficult, frightening, embarrassing, and hard to do–but it is not boring.  Whenever I am stuck in a piece of writing, I ask myself, “Am I failing to tell the truth?  Is there something I am not saying, something I am afraid to say?”  When the answer is yes, the writing shows it.  There is a softness, a tentativeness, a rot to it that telling the truth instantly dispels.  Telling the truth on the page, like telling the truth in a relationship, always takes you deeper.” (Julia Cameron, The Writing Life)

So, for those of you who write, if something is not quite working out, go back and look at the scene possibilities and your character sketches. If there’s nothing more to divulge there, take a look at your setting—what is hidden in the landscape? Look towards a dramatic force that can propel the plotline.

For those of you who don’t write, think of the stories you tell yourself about your own life and see if there is something there you are hiding. And then write it down in your journal. Sometimes when we tell ourselves our own stories, we are freed of what we’ve been unknowingly hoarding. This is why I love writing nonfiction. It puts the past back into an order that makes sense. Often I uncover reasons I keep failing in my current relationships/projects/dreams just by uncovering the truth of what really happened thirty years in the past.

Hoarders and Truth-Telling

I think the concept of hoarders as people who collect “stuff.” This stuff, as I understand it, is what is not being said or revealed. It is the hidden truths my characters are afraid to utter or face.

In my stories/novels there are characters who hoard information—but for the development of the story, it’s important that they do hoard it. Sometimes my characters, like the people we know and love, have to unravel their own stories bit by bit.

Other characters sit like lumps on a log. They have more potential than I’ve given them. Maybe they are hoarding something and I don’t even know it! These characters should be able to reveal something.

Now what?

And that’s it for now. Take a look at an older post about decluttering. They go hand-in-hand. Oh, and then look at how to let go. It’s so good to feel lighter–good luck with your truth-telling!

2 thoughts on “On Truth-Telling–in Writing and in Life

  1. Therese Laverdiere says:

    I guess your mom and I often think alike. We always told the girls to tell the truth no matter the outcome chances are they are better than the outcome of lying. Well you are always a wealth of information dear Rachel. Thanks , love you and can’t wait for your next writing.

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