“…trust the truth enough to keep unveiling yourself on the page.”
–Mary Karr, author of Liar’s Club
We are all liars because we are afraid the truth isn’t good enough to stand on its own.
And in a way, that’s true. Truth needs to be stripped to its essentials, to its naked power in order to touch us.
I believe that’s the real work of a writer. We do it for ourselves and our readers.
How do we access the truth to tell our story (fiction or nonfiction)?
Intention works but rigidity does not; command does not. Sometimes we need to scream, sometimes to remain silent and just feel the pressure of birth.
Sometimes we need to gather tinder and the equivalent of a match to light it, and blow gently to get it going. Be patient. The fire will blaze, but it won’t start out that way.
Truth cannot be called up on demand. It emerges like a surprise: the way a cat will sometimes jump on a relaxed visitor’s lap and lay there content.
In your core is where you will find what you have to share with the world, but you must discover that truth and own it fully first. It’s a bit like an archeological dig. You can’t really tell the story of what’s there until you unearth it.
There are helpful techniques. Urging the mind to explore the depths is a conscious act. Here are my favorite ways to do that.
1-THOUGHTFUL READING from a book I am loving (Pat Conroy’s My Losing Season—amazing memoir). Not loving any book right now? Then grab an old one that you’ve loved before. Connecting with another mind and soul intent upon the truth is an arrow that can pierce through and connect us with our own truth.
2-WALKING IN NATURE. In a woods, by a stream, a lake or ocean. Some aspect of wildness, untamedness must be present. Occasionally, a visualization can take the place of this natural encounter.
3-MEDITATION. Inner silence for its own sake will clear your mental palate. It’s the first activity of the day after I make my ritual cup of coffee. Lazily or with impatience (usually the latter), I watch thoughts and feelings arise and eventually die down of their own accord. Irritation from the night before. Worry about a project deadline. Need to make that tire appointment.
What I Learned in High Tech
I came up through the start-up business school of writing. Advertising. Press Releases. Brochures. Articles. Web sites. Not too literary. I respect this school because it taught me: focus, clarity, succinctness, and writing to a deadline.
Ms. Jewel, the Director of Corporate Communications, was my first mentor in high tech. The most important thing I learned from her was to appreciate the difficulty of capturing and holding someone’s attention with words.
“Can you make this one page instead of two?” was her favorite question.
How to Write
In the spirit of what’s essential, here are the Writing Guidelines I stand for and urge repeatedly upon the authors I work with.
Summon what lives at your core – and then in the actual writing of it, commit to a discipline of simplicity.
Be willing to strip out all the useless words, phrases and adjectives, embellishments, and pseudo-sophisticated sentence structures.
Go for lean, muscled, clear prose that doesn’t waste your readers’ time. Don’t burden them with bulky, crowded, messy language. Keep a clean house.
Start your sentences with verbs and nouns as much as possible, not phrases or adverbs.
Mix up your sentences. Not all short, not all long. Give us a bit of rhythm to read by.
Lastly, lose the clichés and ditch the sentimentality.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
What helps you connect with the deep truth of your story? Do the guidelines I offer helpful? Please share your thoughts and responses here.