For Writers

Honesty in Writing

“Be yourself. Above all, let who you are, what you are, what you believe shine through every sentence you write, every piece you finish.”

John Jakes


Honesty in writing is crucial. I don’t think a writer of fiction can fake it and get away with it for long. But what, exactly do I mean by that? Am I saying that a writer can only write about something he or she feels or believes? No. That’s not it. I believe that a writer can write about anything if he puts his mind to it and is open to exploring new and different worlds and beliefs. But it’s the being open part that’s the key here.

Be honest about your characters. Let them be who they are, say what they say, and do what they do. Don’t attempt to muzzle them because their vocabulary offends your delicate sensibilities. By the same token, don’t make them a bunch of potty-mouths just to prove a point. Likewise, don’t make them do things out of character just so you can get in a juicy sex scene or something else you think should be in there or you suspect readers want from you.

Be honest with yourself. A little edge is a good thing when you’re writing. Mystery writer Earlene Fowler once told me she’d been advised to write about what frightened her most, and that’s how her protagonist, Benni Harper, was born–or more specifically, how Benni’s first husband died. But if a topic makes you so uncomfortable, you just can’t sit with it, maybe you should let it go.

Don’t attempt to write a thing just because it’s the thing to write about at the moment. Not only does jumping on the bandwagon mean you’re riding the coattails of a fad, but if your heart’s not in it, it will show in your writing.

Blue FlowersBe honest with your voice. Back in my very early days, I met with a couple of other writers. Joe, the published one, had written a series of articles for the local newspaper that was also being syndicated. He’d also ghost-written a few books. He was the one in the know. Karen and I were not published, but we both wanted to be. We met on a regular basis, bringing pages to share with Joe, who advised us about our writing. Karen wrote beautifully. I mean beautifully. She was poetic and lyrical and her words transported me to a place I wanted to go. I tried desperately to be just as poetic and lyrical as she was, but…well, the results were a joke. A bad joke.

I can still remember Joe commenting on Karen’s writing one night, and then saying, “Sherry and I just write like one of the guys.”

I was crushed. Crushed, I tell you. I curled up in a ball and felt sorry for myself for a while. I don’t remember how long I indulged in the pity party, but then a strange thing happened. I began to understand what Joe meant, and I began to understand that there was absolutely nothing wrong with writing like “one of the guys.”  It was when I tried too hard to sound like a writer that I failed.

Be honest with your emotions. If you’re going to be a successful fiction writer, you’re going to have to deal with emotions. Emotions get messy. It’s just how they are. Emotions are complicated, and the honesty or lack of it can make or break a book. As a woman who experienced domestic abuse in my past, I can tell you within just a few pages which authors have either experienced or learned about domestic abuse on a deeply uncomfortable level, and which authors are writing about it from the surface, relating what they see from the outside looking in or what they imagine it must feel like.

Learning about some things can make us uncomfortable. Digging up old feelings of our own and putting them under a microscope can make us squirm. But being honest with emotion is the only way to do reach readers on that deeply personal level they;re looking for when they pick up a book.


Photo credits:

Mask: CC BY-SA 3.0

Blue Flowers: |||||||| via photopin (license)



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